Another Convention, This For Political Cartoonists

NPR's Brent Baughman takes a visit to the annual Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' Convention in Washington D.C. and has this amusing postcard.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

A very important, somewhat political convention took place here in Washington this past week.

STEVE KELLEY: Fantastic. Oops. I hit the little button again. If you hit the button here...

RAZ: It was on the campus of George Washington University where we found New Orleans Times Picayune cartoonist Steve Kelley trying out a digital drawing board.

KELLEY: You know, the important thing on Obama, the most important thing, are the ears, right?

RAZ: The convention: an annual gathering of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. And as it turns out, for a group of people who make a living being essentially silent, they have a lot to say if you get them going.

BRENT BAUGHMAN, BYLINE: Can you describe where you're drawing the ears, Steve?

KELLEY: Oh. Well, I'm drawing the ears. They look kind of like a Mickey Mouse hat up on top of his head. I think that's a very good likeness of the president. This way, it'll never get on NPR.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLEY: A little NPR humor for you.

RAZ: Our producer Brent Baughman spent a few hours there. And here's who he spoke with.

MATT WUERKER: Matt Wuerker, cartoonist for Politico.

ROB ROGERS: Rob Rogers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

MIKE PETERS: Mike Peters, political cartoonist all my life. I also do a strip called "Mother Goose & Grimm."

DAVID G. BROWN: I'm David G. Brown, political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper.

FRANCOISE MOULY: I'm Francoise Mouly. I'm the art editor of The New Yorker.

BAUGHMAN: Wow, a woman.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLEY: Exactly, exactly.

MOULY: That's good. I hope you have this on tape.

BAUGHMAN: So how is this room of people different from any other room of people?

KELLEY: You mean the cartoonists?

(LAUGHTER)

KELLEY: Cartoonists are kind of a quirky bunch.

WUERKER: We all want to do something that's very serious at its core but frivolous, sort of, in its form.

MOULY: As does anyone who is asked to be funny, they're both very insecure and megalomaniac at the same time.

PETERS: We have things in our soul that we want to say, and this is our way to say it.

BROWN: How many people get the opportunity to make fun of the most powerful people in the world and get away with it?

BAUGHMAN: What do people say when you tell them you're a cartoonist?

ROGERS: Usually, if they're under the age of 15, they say: Draw me something.

BROWN: Make sure you don't draw me without any clothes.

KELLEY: Typically, it's wow.

WUERKER: All of them say: I've never met a cartoonist before.

KELLEY: And then they say: Well, what do you do for a living?

(LAUGHTER)

PETERS: A lot of people ask where you get ideas. And this one cartoonist, he had been around for many years, and he says, I've got an idea box. And I said to him, well, were those ideas editorial ideas or cartoon ideas? He goes: No, no. That's my bills. And I just go, I look at a bill, and I say, OK, I've got to do a cartoon. I mean, you know?

BAUGHMAN: Last one. Funniest thing so far this election cycle.

KELLEY: Oh, boy. Well, I actually went to cover the political conventions. And I have to say that Clint Eastwood, the chair.

WUERKER: The chair.

ROGERS: Empty chair was probably one of the funniest things.

WUERKER: Or the most bizarre thing I've ever seen.

BROWN: You know, if you search political cartoons, you'll probably see a ton of chairs.

KELLEY: You got to draw a cartoon the day after, you've got to do the chair. Because I took a flip cam and went around my hotel and interviewed empty chairs and asked them, you know, what they thought of Clint's speech. And I asked one chair that was upholstered which candidate would be the best for upholstered Americans.

PETERS: There's been a lot of cartoonish stuff happening out there that makes our jobs very, very easy. I mean, a couple billion dollars are going to be spent in this campaign, mostly on negative advertising. That's basically an attempt to take the other candidate and turn them into a caricature. And that's our job.

ROGERS: When people turn to the editorial page, you know, a few of them will read the letters. A few of them will read the editorials. But every single person who turns to the editorial page reads the cartoon.

RAZ: That's Rob Rogers, an editorial cartoonist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. We also heard from many others who spoke to our producer Brent Baughman.

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