Daryl Cagle: The Osama bin Laden of Editorial Cartooning

I’m a busy guy. Freelance cartoons for two major newspapers, three syndicated cartoons a week, a weekly column, books, comics journalism, freelance illustrations, media appearances, and trying to catch up with my favorite shows (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, the Partridge Family). But every now and then an existential threat presents itself that requires you to stop whatever you’re doing and respond.
Daryl Cagle is an existential threat, the Osama bin Laden of American editorial cartooning. His relentless quest to squeeze every cent out of the industry keeps leading him to new lows: aggregating cartoons into huge packages in which the cartoonists make pennies but he’s a multimillionaire (like Arianna!), repurposing editorial cartoons over and over to save time, encouraging the worst ethical practices, including undercutting already rock-bottom reprint rates, censoring comments posted by fellow political cartoonists who disagree with him from online forums, and of course plagiarism.
Now he’s sunk to a new low.
Most cartoonists can only sell to one ideological market. For example, I don’t get much traction with conservative papers. Mike Ramirez, the right-wing cartoonist, can’t sell to many liberal papers. But Daryl has come up with “Cartooning-by-Numbers.” That’s right: he sells the same exact cartoon to BOTH liberal and conservative papers! All he has to do is change a minor detail.
Here’s a cartoon he released yesterday. This is very, very, far-right stuff. After all, the whole point of Miranda Rights is that they’re a right. They’re not called the Miranda Privileges. Everyone gets them. Including accused mass murderers.130591 600 Boston Bomber Miranda Rights cartoonsAt the same exact time, Daryl released this ACLU-friendly version of the same cartoon:

130638 600 Miranda Rights ALL OF THEM cartoons


Daryl isn’t a good cartoonist, and does not have the respect of his colleagues, yet he is an extremely powerful man in the profession. This is because his aggregated syndication package, Cagle Cartoons, is so cheap that it is sold to about 800 newspapers (out of 1400 total) in the United States, and also overseas. His blog, which encourages cartoonists to self-plagiarize, is widely read by younger cartoonists and very influential. So this sort of thing could easily catch on. After all, who wouldn’t want to double their marketshare with a few strokes of Photoshop?


Fortunately, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) will consider taking a stand against this sort of thing at its annual convention in Salt Lake City in June. A strong code of ethics will be discussed and possibly enacted. In the meantime, however, we are seeing cartooning at the precipice of disaster, commodifying a once-proud profession dedicated to political ideas into a meaningless pile of plug-in-your-own-beliefs garbage.


  • At last, a cartoonist that overtly embraces the unprincipled priorities of what passes for the USA’s political system.

    What is important to the powerful is not the positions they purport to hold, but that two sides can be motivated into hateful conflict with each other. It is so much more convenient for the powerful that the 99% be divided into “right” vs “left” conflict within itself than that conflict of “upstairs” vs “downstairs” between the 99% and the 1%.

  • Sounds like the man is an innovator, perhaps even reinventing the form. Besides being industrious with his Cagle Cartoons, this swapping of ideology can be considered high art. As with any art, the artist that takes a position is preaching. Do we watch Raging Bull because Scorsese presents LaMotta as a dirtball scumbag that we should despise? No. He’s presented as-is and we make our own pronouncements. Similarly, making one’s cartoons neutral and selling them broadly enables the artist to simply put up a mirror, and allow the viewer to reflect.

    Frankly, this could be one of the biggest innovations ever in political cartooning if Cagle runs with it. He needs to do it relentlessly though. This may just be a one-off. If he hammers this idea over and over though, it will be considered a brave innovation. Time will tell.

    I don’t want to be preached to. An artist — any artist, political cartoons or otherwise — doesn’t beat their audience to death with their views. They don’t impose their person above their art. Hats off to Cagle for at least experimenting with this idea.

  • If that were anyone but exkiolaxian I would think it was sarcasm. Sadly, I think he really means it.

    I was struck by the lameness of Cagle’s Mad-magazine style of drawing in this example.

  • I’m not snotty to you Ted. I’m a fan! That’s why I came back even though that filthy Susan MODIFIED one of my comments. Not deleted, mind you — which is the right of moderators. She MODIFIED it. Still, I came back — because I’m a fan.

    That said, no one has refuted what I said about Cagle. It absolutely would be innovative for the cartoonist to take NO position politically, simply holding himself up as a mirror and reflecting what the audience wants to believe, based on their tribal loyalties. If Cagle actually ran with that idea, why would it not be considered an innovation? Because it’s tradition to take a position? Because it’s being a sell-out if you don’t? Because it makes him a shameless huckster? I call bullshit. Cagle may be on to something here, maybe not. Time will tell.

  • Ex promotes his comments as works of art crafted to provoke discourse, so it follows that he would see Cagle as an artist in the same vein.

    I see efforts of both as thoughtless appeals to market success, in the same sense as Democratic and Republican campaign rhetoric could be seen in this interpretation as ironic art.

    As if one day such statements would come to be known as jokes by a general public.

  • It’s the return of my puppet, Glenn! For those who don’t know, Glenn is my little puppet. Just pull the strings and voila! He dances to my tune.

  • He is the Barack Obama of cartooning: a man of no convictions who will do whatever he perceives it takes to boost his ratings

  • alex_the_tired
    April 26, 2013 10:09 PM

    I don’t think it’s fair to call Cagle the OBL of the cartooning world. Hijacking multiple jets and getting away with it? Luring the U.S. into an unwinnable war that has eaten away huge portions of the underpinnings of the American democracy (more on that in a second) and left our economy teetering? Waiting until a simpleton, a superannuated frat boy with a booze-pickled brain, was sitting on the throne with a cadre of war profiteer operators pulling all his strings?

    Sorry, I give credit where it’s due. Osama bin Laden was an evil fuck, but he pulled off a masterstroke. Some of it was luck, some of it was cold, calculated evil. But it was extraordinarily–hang on, I have to let the cops root through my backpack–effective. Cagle? Shit, he can’t even make a decent cartoon. I should be so lucky as to live in a world where the terrorists bring a Cagle-level standard to their work.

    The fundamental premise of the American form of government is clear: a steady (not perfectly steady, but usually) increase in the rights of the individual. The trend is toward greater inclusion of the entire population. Everything in the body of American law that stands out as a triumph boils down to the system siding with the individual over the state: Miranda Rights, the right to a trial in open court, the right to a lawyer if you can’t afford one, the right to bail, the right to be secure in your papers, the right to marry whomever you want, and so forth.

    Look at the things that history judges harshly. The Dred Scott decision. The internment of the Japanese during the war. The House Unamerican Activities Committee. “Separate but equal.”

    It’s the same damned stupid wasteful fight every single time. And Cagle’s cartoon (one of them) argues that, somehow, that’s a good thing. That’s why his cartoons are terrible. He isn’t doing any heavy thinking. The effort is surface deep. He makes arguments that have no actual weight, just emotional appeal. It really is the Old Testament (eye for an eye) vs. the New Testament (do unto others).

    To steal from Gertrude Stein: There’s no there there.

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