Pulitzer-Prize Winner Darrin Bell On How Trayvon Martin's Death Inspired His Work
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
For the first time, an African-American has won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Darrin Bell started his career doing editorial cartoons and comic strips in college. But he took a break from editorial cartooning in 2001. He didn't start doing them again until a dozen years later during the trial of George Zimmerman, who had shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in Florida. Trayvon Martin's death moved Bell to devote a week's worth of cartoon strips to the story. And after the trial, Bell started tackling other things in his cartoons, like immigration policy, climate change and President Trump.
Darrin Bell joins us now. Congratulations to you.
DARRIN BELL: Thank you.
CHANG: So what was it about the trial involving Trayvon Martin's death that inspired you to start doing editorial cartoons again?
BELL: Well, the trial of George Zimmerman pretty quickly turned into the trial of Trayvon Martin as far as I was concerned. It seemed like it was a criminal trial of the person who had been killed. And half the country basically decided that Trayvon Martin was responsible for his own death before the trial even started. And they didn't change their minds no matter what they saw. And around the same time, my wife and I found that we were pregnant with my first son. And it occurred to me that if he were to grow up and something like this were to happen to him, half the country would say he had it coming. And I wanted to protect him. The only way I knew how to do that was through cartoons. That's what I do.
CHANG: I mean, when we think of cartoons, we often think of art that makes us laugh. And you tackle stories that obviously are not funny at all. Can you talk about the way cartoons help us think about serious or painful stories differently?
BELL: Well, artwork and cartoons have always been used to help us think things through. We're hardwired to respond to images. It began with the first cave paintings. Written language began with hieroglyphics. There is something called art therapy that I think a lot of people know about. And sometimes I think that's what cartooning is for me. When an issue is too hard to think about, I just start drawing and see what happens. And I just hope that if it's not funny, at least it's therapeutic. And if it's therapeutic for me, I figure it's going to be that way for readers as well.
CHANG: Part of the reason there have been no other African-American winners in this category is simply because there are so few African-Americans doing editorial cartoons. Were there people you could turn to for inspiration in this field as you were working your way up in it?
BELL: Well, I wish there were. There were plenty of African-American cartoonists dating back a hundred years or so. One of the best cartoonists we've ever had was Oliver Harrington, someone I didn't know about until I was in my 20s. When I was growing up, the only people I was exposed to were the cartoonists who were hired by mainstream newsrooms. And none of them were African-American. So my influences were Conrad, Jeff McNally and Herblock mainly.
CHANG: So given that you didn't have anyone who looked like you doing this kind of work when you were growing up, who do you now want your work to reach?
BELL: Well, I want my work to reach everyone. I was inspired to do what I did not because there was somebody who looked like me doing it. I didn't know there was. I thought everybody was white, and I thought it doesn't have to be that way. So it doesn't matter to me who's inspired by my work. I hope African-American kids are. I hope Latino kids are. I hope everyone who's underrepresented in newsrooms are inspired to pick up a pen and just start drawing their stories.
CHANG: Darrin Bell is the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Congratulations again, and thank you so much for joining us today.
BELL: Thank you.
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