NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
The visceral, and in some cases, violent reaction in the Muslim world to Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad raises all sorts of questions about the freedom of speech and cultural sensitivity in a globalized world. It also reminds us of the power of the political cartoon. In this country, cartoonists assigned Richard Nixon his permanent five o'clock shadow, put Pinocchio's nose on Bill Clinton, and had a field day with Michael Jackson.
Cartoonists will tell you that offending people comes with the territory. Unlike op-eds, which can take hundreds of words to develop a more nuanced point of view, cartoons have to be blunt and visually arresting to have an impact. Every once in a while, their work becomes an instrument for change. Historians credit cartoonist Thomas Nast's caricature of a glutinous Boss Tweed with helping to end the corruption of New York City's Tammany Hall in the 19th century.
Later in this program, cancer deaths drop for the first time in the U.S. for more than 70 years. But first, the rise of the political cartoon, and the art of it. In a moment, we'll be joined by two cartoonists, Pulitzer Prize winners, to answer your questions about what they do, how they do it, what they think of the current controversy, and whether there are lines that should not be crossed. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our email address is email@example.com.
Mike Luckovich is a syndicated cartoonist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in 1995, and joins us from the studios of member station GPR, Georgia Public Radio there in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. MIKE LUCKOVICH (Syndicated Cartoonist, Atlanta Journal Constitution): Thanks for having me on, Neal.
CONAN: And with us here in studio 3A is Ann Telnaes. Her work is syndicated with Cartoonists and Writers and the New York Times syndicate. She won her Pulitzer for a body of work in 2001. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. ANN TELNAES (Syndicated Cartoonist, Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate/New York Times Syndicate): Thank you.
CONAN: Mike Luckovich, let's starts with you.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah.
CONAN: When you set out to draw a cartoon, what is it you're trying to accomplish?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: You know, I feel very strongly about what's going on in our world and in our country, and so when I sit down, I just want to make my point. I want to cut through the bull and cut through the spin and get to what's really happening out there, the truth as I see it. And so, and I want to do it in a way that makes a point that's hard-hitting, but at the same time, I like to use humor to make my points, because I want people to want to go to the cartoon and to...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: ...and to want to see what I have to say.
CONAN: And day after day, you're in the same newspaper, so there's a value of returning, getting your readers back every single day.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh, exactly, exactly. My newspaper recently started a blog. I actually started the blog, and it's on ajc.com, and my cartoon is posted on the blog, and people just, it's great, because people, by the hundreds, everyday get on the blog and comment on the cartoon, either defending it or talking about what an idiot I am. And so, it goes back and forth, and it's really, it's really great that the readers now have sort of an outlet to comment on what I'm doing.
CONAN: Ann Telnaes, does that process sound familiar?
Ms. TELNAES: Yes, except I'm in a little bit of a different situation than Mike. I don't have a home newspaper. I'm syndicated, but I'm basically a freelancer, so even though I do have my newspaper clients through my syndicate...
Ms. TELNAES: ...I tend to value the Internet quite a lot, because I can reach a lot of people, not just nation-wise, but internationally.
CONAN: So you post your cartoons on the Internet, and then say, look here.
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah. I have my own website, and I post it there, as well as the syndicate also posts it in various places.
Ms. TELNAES: So, I find it a wonderful way to get feedback for my work.
CONAN: It strikes me, all of us have, you know, those little irritations of daily life. You guys and standup comics get to say something about it.
Ms. TELNAES: That's right. We do.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh. Yeah.
CONAN: Go ahead, Mike.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, instead of, you know, instead of kicking a cat when I, you know, at home, I'm able, this is like therapy for me. I can kind of get my anger and my angst out through my cartoons, and I'm sure Ann feels the same way. It really, I do these cartoons mainly for myself, to be perfectly honest.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Uh-huh. Yeah, I, when I do a cartoon, you know, I work on it so hard. I work on it, my deadline is 5:30, but I don't pencil anything in when I draw. I just ink on the board, so I go through a lot of whiteout, but I can draw very quickly. So, what I do is I sit and I wait till the last moment, coming up with ideas until I just run out of time, trying to do the best cartoon I can. And when I do a cartoon that I'm not happy with, I'm just, I just feel miserable, and I just want to redeem myself the following day.
CONAN: Hmm. Ann, let me ask you. How do you regard what you do? Is this art? Is this journalism? What is it?
Ms. TELNAES: I feel it's a combination of both. I mean, it is definitely journalism. I mean, an editorial cartoon is a visual opinion piece. It's just like a column that you would read on the editorial or the op-ed pages, except we use visuals. I think that's the reason, probably, why they can be so powerful...
Ms. TELNAES: ...as we've all kind of read in the newspapers recently. You know, everyone will gravitate toward that image, and that's another thing about, an image can, you know, can transcend, you know, countries and language limitations, and everything else.
CONAN: Let's get listeners involved in conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail is
ALEXANDER (Caller): Hello, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
ALEXANDER: Thank you. I really appreciate what this young lady there just stated, because that's what my statement is about. As journalists, with the underpinnings of the Iraq war and the Christian and Muslims seems to be the pain and anger. Do you feel that we have a responsibility, past the freedom of speech situation, to be sensitive to these underpinnings, 'cause it seems like this whole Muhammad depiction has been a catalyst to some very, very painful feelings that seems to be coming out because of this cartoon.
CONAN: Yeah, and also, and I'm sure you didn't mean to omit this, Alexander, but people have been killed.
CONAN: Yeah. Ann?
Ms. TELNAES: Well, yeah. I've been thinking about this issue quite a bit. I, you know, I have to be honest about this. I have a little bit of trouble with people that are talking about, you know, where is the line in editorial cartoons? An editorial cartoon, by its very nature, is very provocative. And, especially overseas, you know, people, editorial cartoonists, they get killed for some things they do. I mean, I'm with a Cartoonists' Rights Network, and, you know, there are countries that an editorial cartoonist will be arrested for something...
Ms. TELNAES: ...that he draws, just because people don't like being offended. So, I have a little bit of a problem with saying that there has to be a line where an editorial cartoon will stop, because I think that's a very slippery slope. I mean, we're talking about, you know, drawing Muhammad, and we can argue the fact that some of these cartoons were clumsy, because, quite frankly, if a cartoon is provoking for the wrong reason, there's something wrong with that cartoon. You know, if the cartoonist was trying to say something else by, as we all know now, the bomb and the turban, then he failed.
Ms. TELNAES: So, I do have a little bit of a problem with this whole, a lot of people are talking about not publishing the cartoons, not evening seeing the cartoons, which I have to say, I don't agree with. I think, you know, you have to have an informed readership. They have to see these things.
Mr. Luckovich: See, now I would disagree. You know, I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in the First Amendment. But an editorial cartoon is, it's to get a point of view across, and if people get upset about that, as people are going to, if you do a good cartoon that gets a point across, you're going to accept, you are going to upset some people. The cartoons that were done in Denmark, they were drawn just to tick people off. There was no other reason. And so, you know, I don't think that should have been done. And I don't think it's a slippery slope. I think that there is a line that you shouldn't cross. I don't think, you know, I'm Catholic, and I have done numerous, numerous cartoons hitting the Catholic Church. All my children attend Catholic school.
A couple of priests walked by my son a couple of years ago and said, John, we know you're Catholic, but what faith is your father? Because I had done so many cartoons hitting the Catholic Church. But I have never done a cartoon mocking Jesus Christ.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: I think you can, you know, religion is fair game, but I just don't' think that you go after the basis for that religion. I think that that is the line that shouldn't be crossed. And so, drawing Muhammad, I think you can make points about people in Islam who are going off the deep end, maybe, about things that really aren't that important in the greater scheme of things. I think you can hit things like that, but I don't think that going after or using Muhammad, I think that just is designed to infuriate people.
ALEXANDER: I think you're absolutely right. Thank you so much.
NEAL CONAN, host: Thanks for the call, Alexander.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
CONAN: Ann, I just wanted to come back. I mean, if there was to be a line, obviously, in this country, it would be a voluntary line. There is the First Amendment.
Ms. TELNAES: Well, that's right, but the problem that I see, and I hope this doesn't happen, is the fact that now that we've gone through this situation, that more and more editors are going to be hesitant to, you know, maybe publish a cartoon about a different subject...
Ms. TELNAES: ...if they think that they might be offending someone else. You know, there's a lot of things in this world that offend people. You know, it just sort of depends on your point of view. And that's what I'm saying. I don't argue with Mike with the fact that, you know, it appears as thought some of these cartoons really missed their mark, or maybe they didn't miss their mark, we don't really know that.
Ms. TELNAES: But the point is, you know, I do quite a few cartoons on Sheria law, because it has to do with women and equality.
CONAN: Yeah, we, at the beginning of the program, heard a description of a cartoon you did about the Taliban, The Women of Afghanistan, I think it was called.
Ms. TELNAES: Right. And, you know, that's Islamic law, and is that going to be off limits? I guess I just don't really understand who's going to make these lines.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, I assume, Mike, you're talking about voluntary lines here?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, I would just never do a cartoon mocking Muhammad. I could make my point about Islam, or about the Catholic Church without using deities or prophets. So, that's my line, and I think that if you cross that line, it's out of, you're either being venal or you're being ignorant. And, I mean, I, right after 9/11, I drew a cartoon, this was about three days after 9/11, and I drew the Koran, and I drew it as a building, you're looking up at it...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: ...and coming towards the Koran is a jet plane labeled, like it's going to slam into it, it's labeled Islamic terrorists. So, I was using images that are valued in the Muslim's value, but I wasn't demeaning it, I was showing that the Islamic terrorists were demeaning the Koran.
CONAN: All right, we're going to have to stop and take a break. Again, if you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, the e-mail address is Telnaes. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Our guests today are two Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoonists, Mike Luckovich, a syndicated cartoonist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, with us from the studios of Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta, and Ann Telnaes, a syndicated cartoonist with Cartoonists and Writers and the New York Times Syndicate, with us here in Studio 3A.
Of course, you're invited to join us, 800-989-8255, or e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's get another called on the line. Julie...
JULIE (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: ...calling form Georgetown, Ohio.
CONAN: Go ahead, please, you're on the air.
JULIE: I want us not to forget Walt Kelly, he is one of, he is the best political cartoonist I have ever seen, and he could be funny and very to the point at the same time. His most famous book being, I think, We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.
CONAN: Well, I always remember Walt Kelly for his famous Pew stamps, but I may be the only one. But, this raises an interesting point, Ann Telnaes. Walt Kelly, his stuff appeared on the comics page, not on the editorial page.
Ms. TELNAES: Um, yes.
JULIE: It was well disguised.
CONAN: Yes, let's let Ann Telnaes react to that.
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah, that's true. Even today, we have comic strips, Doonesbury, Boondocks that, you know, are political. I think that's fine.
Ms. TELNAES: The thing about it is, though, an editorial cartoon has to have a point of view. We can't just be funny. Funny, humor is a great vehicle for delivering that point.
Ms. TELNAES: But, it's not necessary to an editorial cartoon. I mean, this is my opinion. I do think that humor is wonderful, but there's different types of humor, there's...
JULIE: One of his books was entitled The Will Be That Was. And that sounds like what's going on now.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Julie. And again, let me ask you about that Mike Luckovich...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: ...again, Boondocks, you know, even, and, I don't suppose Hi and Lois ever get into too much politics, but it seems like every other strip on the funny pages is about politics these days.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yes, you know, I hate to admit this, Neal, but I don't really read the comics too much. I occasionally do read Doonesbury and Boondocks, and they're doing great work. But I tend to be kind of isolated in my little office. And I have four children, so I, you know, after I do my cartoon, I just sort of wander on home and hang out with them, and deal with their problems.
CONAN: Tends to be back in the back pages of the Styles section everyday. You'll find it there.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Really, I'm going to make a note of that.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Let me just write that down, okay.
CONAN: All right. Let's get another caller on the line. Leo? Leo calling us from Akron, Ohio.
LEO (Caller): Yes, hi guys.
LEO: I'm an editorial cartoonist. I work for trade publications, and, like Mike, I have four kids and I don't really read the comics either, which is kind of funny.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: All right.
LEO: But, yeah, I agree with what she was saying earlier, but your goal is to make people think...
LEO: ...or make people laugh, and/or both. It's not really necessary to make them laugh, but you know, I think because I'm working for publications, I know what my editors, I don't think you have to define a line. I think you if you have a relationship with your editor, you know pretty much how far to go, you know...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yes, well that...
LEO: ...without having being told how far to go.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Right. That's true. That's true.
LEO: You know, that's their role.
LEO: You know, they could say well maybe you could back off a little bit, or...
CONAN: What kind of trade publications do you draw for, Leo?
LEO: Like automotive type.
LEO: You know, major industrial-type magazines.
CONAN: So, do you make fun of your boss, or somebody else's boss, that sort of thing?
LEO: No. It's pretty much industry related.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
LEO: You know, that type of humor. But I just think that that's where your editor comes in, and I think that if you, you pretty much know those, where those bounds are...
LEO: ...and whether or not or how far to go with those bounds.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: But let me slightly disagree with Leo, because, you know, sometimes, and as you're sitting there at your drawing table, and you come up with an idea and you sit and you look at it all day, sometimes it sort of loses its meaning. It's like looking at the word "who," w-h-o. If you look at the word "who" long enough, you're going to think what the heck does that mean?
And so, you know, there are times when an editor is a great help because they can kind of say, well, that makes absolutely no sense, Mike, but there are other times when I'll bring an idea into my editor and she'll look at it and she'll say, oh, you know, I don't think you should do that. And I'll say, you know, I think it's a good cartoon and can I show it around?
And then what I'll do I'll go around in my office and I'll find the three people that tend to like everything I do...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LUCKOVICH: ...and I'll get them to sign off on it and then I'll go into my editor, she's Cynthia Tucker; and I'll say hey, Cynthia, you know, Fred, Joe and Susan, they all loved it so can I do it? And, she's very easy going with me and she lets me do a lot of stuff that might not get through.
CONAN: Ann Telnaes, you don't have an editor to bounce things off?
Ms. TELNAES: Well, no I don't have an editor, because I'm not on the newspaper; I mean, the syndicate does obviously look at them. But I've never been told that I can't do anything.
You know, along the lines of self-editing, which is different I think that self-censorship, I think that's a difference.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Ms. TELNAES: Even though I don't work for a newspaper and I can pretty much do what I want, I still self-edit. I still sit there and say, is this subject important enough and is this issue a strong enough issue that I want to make this type of a point that I'm going to use this image that could possibly cause a problem? I mean, I make those decisions every day.
CONAN: Mm hmmm.
Ms. TELNAES: You know, I don't tend to do shock cartoons for the sake of doing a shock cartoon, it's just not my personality; but I certainly will, if I think there's an issue that's strong enough, I will certainly do a strong cartoon.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Leo.
LEO: Thank you, guys.
CONAN: Editorial cartoonists have been making us laugh and irritating us for more than a century now.
Stephen Hess, co-authored of the book called Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons. He joins us now from a studio at the Brookings Institution here in Washington, where he's a senior fellow Emeritus in Governance Studies.
Stephen Hess, always nice to have you on the program.
Mr. STEPHEN HESS (Governance Studies, Brookings Institute): Thank you so much, Neal.
CONAN: And I guess we always have to begin with the great Thomas Nast.
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Mr. HESS: Well, you can actually begin with the great Benjamin Franklin, if you wanted, the first American cartoonist or you could begin with the great Paul Revere, who drew some cartoons during the American Revolution because, why, he made, he was, made those marvelous Paul Revere bowls, but they were pretty expensive. And when people didn't have, couldn't afford it, he would be out of business. So instead he used his engravers skills to draw cartoons. But of course, you're right, Thomas Nast was certainly the greatest cartoonist of the 19th Century in the United States.
CONAN: And his work had such impact and lest we forget, his is the enduring image of Santa Claus; he gave the elephant to the Republicans and the donkey to the Democrats among other things. But did his work have so much impact because it was a less literate society?
Mr. HESS: Oh no, I don't think so. In fact, his work appeared in Harper's Weekly and the great cartoonists of that time appeared in two other major weekly or monthly publications, which of course, were designed for a reading elite. They weren't for the illiterates.
It's an interesting point because, for example, some years ago, I was in Istanbul and was comparing some work with Turkish cartoonists and they were absolutely wonderful. And when I thought why were they so wonderful I thought well, they didn't have the crutch of words because it was a more, the lower literacy rates and they had to do more with their pictures and they couldn't count on a little balloon at the top.
So that can make a difference, but that wasn't the case with Thomas Nast.
CONAN: Do editorial, political cartoons still perform the same function for us as they did for readers in Thomas Nast's day?
Mr. HESS: I think they can. Unfortunately, they are less in journals of advocacy and more in commercial newspapers, where they may have a much broader audience and may be much tamer than they once were. And that's why I have a feeling that we're about to enter another golden age of cartoonists where, as Ann points out, we cartoonists can use the Internet. And not only can they do their own work in that way, as she often does; but of course, they can animate their things.
CONAN: Mm hmmm.
Mr. HESS: And they will become very valuable commodities to organizations like Washingtonpost.com or anyone else where these pictures can really attract. And moving pictures can attract people. So, I think we've been in a trough at the moment, but I think we're going to have some very good cartooning in the Internet age.
CONAN: And let me ask you also about that in the Internet age, in the old days, and Mike Luckovich, well, the people outside of Athens, Georgia perhaps, might not have seen what he did or wherever it is his pictures are syndicated these days. But now there's no newspaper too obscure not to find its political cartoon on somebody's front page somewhere.
Mr. HESS: Yes, not only that, but there's no person who's sitting in the back room, the back of a room in his 12th grade classroom who is doodling on his pad, who can't have an opportunity to be the same sort of cartoonist and show his work to the world. So, we're going to get an awful lot of people who are not dependent just on whether the Cox Newspapers of the Gannett Newspapers of whatever decide to have editorial cartoonists.
CONAN: Mm hmmm. Let's get another caller on the line. Paula joins us; Paula calling from Buffalo, New York.
PAULA (Caller): Hi. I apologize for the cell phone. I'm just a little shocked that your guests don't seem to be defending their careers a little bit more strongly. I think the last thing we need is non-offensive, soft editorial cartoonists. Who needs that?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: No, no, I don't think we're saying that.
CONAN: That's not what I heard either Mike or Ann say.
Ms. TELNAES: No. I'm...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Can I respond to that?
CONAN: Why don't you go first Mike?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Ok, no, no one's saying that we should be doing lightweight type cartoons. I think it has a lot to do with the subject matter, but, you know, I think the best cartoons are cartoons that are on issues that are important to people and are on serious issues. And if you can do a cartoon that really gets to the essence of an issue you're going to have an impact. I did, during the recently, when it was announced that the 2000th American soldier had been killed in Iraq I did a cartoon and it was just the word why, w-h-y, in bold letters, but I wrote it out using all the names of all the soldiers that had been killed to form the word why.
And that really became a big talked about thing here on my blog and just in general. We got lots of letters, both pro and con from service members and people who were outraged and people who were supportive. So that was probably in the past year probably the most feedback that I got from a cartoon. And so it was on a hard-hitting cartoon. So I think that both Ann and I want to, you know, we know that that's our job to be strong, to have strong opinions and to voice them. So, I just have to disagree with the caller's interpretation.
CONAN: And Ann, I didn't hear you backing off. You said there should be you do a self-edit but don't self-censor and that there should be no line, that nothing should be sacred.
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah, I, absolutely, I mean, in terms of this whole Danish cartoons issue, I do come down on the side that I don't agree that you should start drawing a line on what a cartoonist can do. Because we've seen cartoonists be intimated, be killed for what someone decides they shouldn't be doing. So, that's where I stand.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: But, of course, it's common sense, though. You do not yell fire in a crowded theater. Sometimes you just have to let common sense kind of be the kind, I think.
CONAN: Well, you don't yell fire in a theater unless it's burning. So, anyway.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Unless it's actually burning, right.
Mr. HESS: The History of American Political Cartoons): By the way, if I can get into the act since...
CONAN: Go ahead Stephen Hess.
Mr. HESS: ...since my work is on the history of American political cartoons, the greatest ones are the ones that were considered the most outrageous at the time. So, I do think that there's a very important right of the cartoonist to be outrageous. And right now, frankly I don't think American cartoonists are outrageous enough, so.
Ms. TELNAES: I agree with that.
Mr. HESS: I come down a little on the side of the caller, even though I don't think she was right in the case of our two other guests.
CONAN: Paula, thanks very much, a provocative question.
PAULA: You're welcome.
CONAN: We're talking today with editorial cartoonists. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let me go from the wide scale to the narrow. When you draw individuals a lot of the time editorial cartoonists will use caricature emphasizing one feature or another, make somebody who's plump really fat, somebody with a big nose into Cyrano de Bergerac. Do you ever think about being mean? Is it, you know, what's the, I know I you try to get a, you know, that person's personality somehow across very quickly, in quick strokes, but sometimes it's really mean too.
Ms. TELNAES: Well, gee...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Go ahead Ann.
Ms. TELNAES: I was just going to say I don't think that way when I'm doing it. I mean, a caricature to me is more about not so much how he looks but what he is. You know, what I think he's doing. Unfortunately, you know, stereotypes do come in and not just the hateful ones, you know, those are not the ones that you really want to do. But, you know, whenever I draw, for instance, a congressman I always draw him as sort of large, you know, like they did Boss Tweed. And I tend to draw him with thinning hair. I don't know why. It's not that everyone of them looks that way, but it's sort of short hand.
Having said that though, I do make a really conscious effort to put in people in just ordinary circumstances. Not that I'm trying to make about a woman's issue or, for instance, an African American issue. But to put in like if two women are talking I put in, you know, a black woman and a white woman. Not because I'm making a point about that, but just because that's what we all are. So, that's something that you have to sort of think about once in a while.
CONAN: All right. Here's an email question that we got from Richard Rose: did you ever have to pull a cartoon that you were asked to pull? Mike Luckovich?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, it was interesting. Our governor is Sonny Perdue and when he first became governor, this was two or three years ago and Georgia was involved in the flap regarding the state flag which was a Confederate flag and he kind of campaigned, he did campaign on keeping the Confederate flag. And then he got in and he was kind of, you know, just trying to manipulate the issue and it just became very silly and really made Georgia look bad. So I did a cartoon, I'm trying to remember what the cartoon is, it's a big, oh, it's like Georgia's, a flag that all Georgia can agree on. And it's a big flag and on the flag is a finger pointing and it says on top I'm With Stupid and then next to it is Sonny Perdue.
So, you know, it's that I'm With Stupid t-shirt thing. So I did it on the flag. And so Cynthia Tucker, my editor, approved the cartoon, and this was after he'd been in office for maybe two weeks to a month or something. So, the cartoon went on the page and then Cynthia reconsidered. She felt like we should give him a little bit more of a honeymoon before we really started attacking him. And so the next day it didn't run in the newspaper, but Cynthia had forgotten to tell the web people not to put it on the ajc.com web page.
CONAN: Oh, the miracles of technology.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yes. So for like I think ten or twelve hours it was on the ajc.com web and so then it was pulled and then it didn't run in the paper so people began to say that there was a conspiracy. That the paper was somehow bowing to Sonny Perdue and that it had been pulled for various reasons. And so it was really great because all the local television stations came out and interviewed me and they also interviewed Sonny Perdue. And so actually more people saw it and knew about it because it didn't run then if it had actually ran.
CONAN: We'll get an answer from that same question from Ann Telnaes after the break. Stephen Hess, thank you so much for joining us today.
Mr. HESS: You're welcome. Stephen Hess is co-author of the book Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons. And that was published back in 1996. He's a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution. More after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today about editorial cartoons. With us are two Pulitzer Prize winners. Ann Telnaes, syndicated cartoonist with Cartoonists and Writers and the New York Times syndicate. And also Mike Luckovich, who's a syndicated cartoonist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And if you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, email us email@example.com. And let's get a question in from Travis. Travis calling from Holland, Michigan.
TRAVIS (Caller): Hi. I'm just calling, I was wondering if you guys ever think about the idea of letting people comment on your editorials, getting any feedback from the readers whether it be negative or positive?
CONAN: Do you get negative, positive feedback from your readers Ann Telnaes?
Ms. TELNAES: Oh, yes. I actually put my email address on my cartoons, which I'm seriously thinking of not doing anymore. But yes, I receive emails, I think you tend to get more negative just because people want to, they don't necessarily just write you to tell you what a great job you're doing. But you do get a lot of negative feedback.
Although I have to say after 9/11 I did start getting a lot of encouraging email, you know. With people saying, I think people were looking for an outlet for their frustrations and wanted to speak up about certain things and that was something that definitely was different afterwards.
CONAN: Mm hmm. But because you don't have an editor the idea, if you've ever had one pulled it doesn't really apply to you.
Ms. TELNAES: No, it doesn't. The only way, I mean, my clients get my cartoons no matter what. I mean they can choose to run them or not. So, you know, you can say that's censorship or you could just say, you know, that was an editorial decision. That's, you know, just the whole issue about being a freelancer. You know, about getting emails though, I've been the, you know, the target of mass emails for cartoons that I've done. You know, they make their voices known.
CONAN: Mike Luckovich, there was a cartoon I think you did not too long ago about Pat Robertson, Who Would Jesus Assassinate.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Right.
CONAN: I think that might have gotten some reaction.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, it did. And again, as your caller asked, if they go to ajc.com, my blog, you can see people who are just laying into me about the latest cartoon and others supporting me and people get in arguments and it's really an enjoyable time. So go to ajc.com. But yeah, the Pat Robertson cartoon, again, that was something, you know, it's on religion but, you know, he's just a nut case and so at this point I think right and left sort of recognize that Pat Robertson is nutty and so I don't get as much negative comments.
CONAN: You're really trying to discourage that email, aren't you?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh, yeah. This is live, isn't it? You can't edit that out. I'm sorry Neal.
CONAN: I'm afraid not.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh. My bad.
CONAN: Travis thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.
TRAVIS: Thank you and you have a great day.
CONAN: Ok. I also wanted to ask you, what is it that got you, I mean, this is such a specialized part of the business, how did you get into political cartooning in the first place? Mike Luckovich?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: You know, it's something that I've done my entire life. I grew up in the northwest and my dad was transferred around a lot so I immediately going to my new elementary school class I would sit down and I would draw a caricature of the teacher. And even at an early age, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, I could capture a likeness. So what I would do is I would draw a funny picture of the teacher, then I would pass it around and I would instantly have thirty friends in the class. And so it's just something I've always done. It's just this genetic quirk that I've got. You know, a cartoonist...
CONAN: Did the teacher found out your drawing?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: You know, occasionally they did, but I never remember being harshly punished for it. You know, the caricatures were actually pretty darn good and so I think they kind of thought it was neat that this little idiot could draw.
CONAN: Ann Telnaes?
Ms. TELNAES: I actually got into business a little bit differently, fairly late. I was about thirty years old when I got into editorial cartooning. I'm a trained character animator and I worked in the business for awhile.
CONAN: Like Disney?
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah, I worked for them for a short time.
CONAN: Most people do.
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah, that's true. Most artists. So I actually come from the fine arts end of it. I studied that in school. I had no intention upon becoming an editorial cartoonist. I have to admit I didn't read a newspaper in my twenties, which is quite embarrassing. I wasn't interested in politics. But a couple of things happened. I was working late one night on a freelance job and I watched the Tiananmen Square massacres unfold on television. And it had such an effect on me that I decided I just needed to do a political cartoon at that point. So I did one. I did nothing with it. But I think it's sort of awakened, you know, the fact that I was getting more interested in politics. I started watching C- SPAN. I read the newspaper. And what finally pushed me over the edge to start sending my work out was, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. Because I had been a women who had worked in the private sector and I knew that sexual harassment was still out there.
And frankly, to watch a bunch of Senators to sit up there and say, Uh, I'm sorry, we took care of sexual harassment already, just infuriated me. So I put together, you know, a portfolio of work. And to be quite honest, I was very naïve about the business. I had no idea, if I knew how hard it was, in terms of job opportunities...
NEAL CONAN, host:
Suddenly Disney's looking better.
Ms. TELNAES: Yeah, I don't know if I would've done it. But I'm glad I did, because it's perfect for me. I love to draw, and I want to express an opinion.
CONAN: Does it change the way you think? I mean, do you go around now looking at news stories or reading the newspaper or trying to, you know, however it is those ideas come to you and you see them in that frame?
Ms. TELNAES: Oh yes, I mean it really is a 24-hour a day thing. I mean, I'm always complaining I want to go on vacation, but you know, that lasts for about three days and then I'm looking for a newspaper. You know? It's almost like being in training for a sport, you have to just keep doing it. I tend to get very rusty if I don't sit down and sketch every day.
CONAN: Mike Luckovich, are you the same?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: No, I, you know, I actually, I love the news. I love politics and thinking about it, so I'm doing that all the time. But when it comes to actually thinking about things as far as a cartoon, because of my loud children I save that for the office.
And I really have a set thing that I do every day. I get in around noon, my editor has imposed that limit on me. I can't get in at 2:00 in the afternoon anymore, so I have to be in by noon. But I get in, and I sit there and I'm reading things, I'm reading the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution and various newspapers, various websites, various political blogs. Around 3:00, I liken this to a runner's high, I get sort of this silliness high, where I can take these serious topics and sort of get them across using humor, hopefully.
And so around then I'll come up with a couple of ideas and I bring them out to a guy in the office named Pete, and Pete almost 99% of the time, the first cartoons I come out with he shakes his head and says No, those are bad, Mike. So I go back to my office, it's like a shot of adrenaline having that rejection. And I'll come up with two or three more and I'll bring them out to Pete and I'll show them around, and eventually I settle on something.
But it's a the process that I go through every day, and I really love, you know, this sounds weird, but I love being rejected because once they reject me I think, okay, now I'm going to show them. I'm going to come up with something really great. And so that's just what I, you know, it just motivates me. I'm lazy unless I get rejected, I guess.
CONAN: I'm going to have to let you go, but as I was listening to you talk, did I hear the sound of a pencil on a piece of paper? Have you been doodling?
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh yes. Yeah, I, you know, I just kind of draw and play around here, and, I'm working on ideas. You know, I haven't come up with my idea yet, so I've got to be thinking about things.
CONAN: Something with radio, something with radio...
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Oh yeah, yeah!
CONAN: There you go.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: With a handsome Neal Conan.
CONAN: That'd be good. Mike Luckovich, thank you so much for being with us today.
Mr. LUCKOVICH: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Mike Luckovich, a syndicated cartoonist with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. He joined us from Georgia Public Radio studios in Atlanta. And Ann Telnaes, I really thank you for coming in today.
Ms. TELNAES: Thank you.
CONAN: Ann Telnaes works for the Cartoonist and Writers and the New York Times syndicate, where she freelances. She won her Pulitzer in 2001.
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