The Cartoons That Don't Make It to Print A new collection of censored cartoons reveals what doesn't make it onto the editorial page. David Wallis assembled the collection Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression. He discusses what happens to cartoons that are deemed too controversial for print.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/10513696/10513701" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Cartoons That Don't Make It to Print

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/10513696/10513701" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We only see the cartoons that make it onto the editorial page. There are, of course, a lot that don't. Some may be tasteless, some too obvious or too obscure, but some are rejected because they're too controversial. David Wallis has assembled almost a hundred for some of the best-known names in the business in a new collection called "Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression".

And we'd like to hear from you. Where do you draw the line on editorial cartoons? Should there be one? Are cartoons subject to the same editorial guidelines as text? Give us a call: 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Also, what's the most persuasive editorial cartoon you can remember? You can e-mail us: talk@npr.org. Also, comment on our blog: npr.org/blogofthenation. If you want to see some examples of killed cartoons, we published three of them on our Web site - that's at npr.org/talk.

David Wallis joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. DAVID WALLIS (Author, "Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression"): And it's nice to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Just to give people an idea of what we're talking about, one of the killed cartoons is called "Unwise Halloween Costumes". Can you describe it for us?

Mr. WALLIS: It's one of my favorite cartoons, yes. There's a scene - it was killed, I think, by the Chapel Hill paper. And it shows different types of costumes, such as a little anthrax box and Twin Towers with two - a couple wearing a Twin Towers costume. And one - the guy is wearing a beanie, and on the beanie is a little airplane that goes around. And the woman has a plane that crashed into her chest. And another was a jihadist. And these were unwise Halloween costumes.

Now, it has to be put into context, because this was an October 2001 cartoon. I could understand on September 12th, maybe not running it in New York. However…

CONAN: Six weeks later. Yeah.

Mr. WALLIS: Let's - but, no. It's even more interesting than that. What happened was in Chapel Hill, the local authorities had decided that the annual Halloween street party was going to have the - there was going to be a security crackdown. As if it was an al-Qaida target that - you know, so I think that that cartoon really did a wonderful job of sending up a stupid policy. And that's what cartoonists are meant to do. And if it offends, so be it.

CONAN: If it offends, so be it. You do write in your introduction, the point is, reasonable motives sometimes inspire editors to kill.: the world changes so fast, a political cartoon drawn today may seem dated tomorrow, an assigning art director suddenly leaves the magazine, a successor wants to work with illustrators from whom he or she is familiar.

And sometimes, a promising idea just doesn't work on paper. The drawing or the writing falls flat. The whole thrust of the cartoon is lost. Editors do, after all, play an important role in journalism. You then proceed to skewer the editor for the next - what, 200 odd pages?

Mr. WALLIS: They got a page.

CONAN: They've got a paragraph.

Mr. WALLIS: That's enough. Editors get their due everyday, and they made their ultimate statement when they killed these cartoons - many of them, incredibly compelling, many of them, remarkably innocuous. I mean, I think it's important to distinguish, though, between self-censorship and prudishness, both of which are chronicled in "Killed Cartoons".

I mean, I consider the killing of cartoons for taste reasons by nanny-like editors more like misdemeanors. Now, self-censorship - which is really suppression of editorial art because it proved controversial, or it upset advertisers or it irked powerful interests or disagreed with the editorial policy - those are the felonies, in my opinion.

CONAN: Well, you may have convicted us of a misdemeanor. We asked you which of these cartoons you would suggest that we put on the Web site and we could talk about. One of them, you suggested, was one called "Congressional Bipartisanship" by Paul Conrad that was killed by the Los Angeles Times in 1999. Remember then, this was the era of the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and it shows a Republican elephant sexually assaulting a rather startled Democratic donkey. And our editors here decided, no, we're not going to put that on our Web site.

Mr. WALLIS: And that was a mistake, Neal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's a funny cartoon. I'm not sure it's a mistake. There is an issue - and you cite this repeatedly in your book - kids look at these cartoons. It's often cited - and you say, wait a minute…

Mr. WALLIS: Protect the children, right, Neal?

CONAN: Protect the - well, kids do look at cartoons. Kids - not going to read an editorial before the age of probably 35 or so, but they do look at the cartoons.

Mr. WALLIS: We live in a "Sopranos" culture and newspapers and magazines and arguably NPR are stuck to some extent in an Ozzy and Harriet culture.

CONAN: And it's our job to move the culture forward?

Mr. WALLIS: That's right. Yes, we're the educators. We're the tastemakers. We should stop taking polls to find out what readers are going to be offended by and we should push the envelope a little more and compete with the Internet better.

CONAN: The Internet - now, a lot of cartoons are also published on the Internet where, of course you can find that cartoon which we wouldn't publish on our Web site - would pass…

Mr. WALLIS: You'll find it on mine.

CONAN: …easily. You'll find it on yours. Okay, you can go find it on your Web site. So - and there's this a lot worse that's easily available to…

Mr. WALLIS: Now, can I just say something about that Conrad cartoon before…

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. WALLIS: …we just dismiss it? That Conrad cartoon - which shows a wild kingdom romp, admittedly - also came at a time when the Republicans were preaching bipartisanship. At the same time, they were impeaching Bill Clinton. And that hypocrisy, that is what a cartoonist must go after. That's their job brief, to rock the boat, to point out hypocrisy.

And yes, you're right. There are some images we don't want in our daily newspaper. They call it the breakfast test. And when you open up your paper during breakfast time, do eggs over easy suddenly go down hard? I mean, that's really the question that editors ask.

What I would just argue is that there being two nanny-ish, and they need to push the envelope a little more. Now what's interesting is sometimes, a cartoon that's done for - that's killed for taste reasons also ends up being more of a felony - a more of a self-censorship felony. I have a cartoon from 1998 by Rex Babin, who was - at the time he was with the Albany Times Union.

And now that image shows a man labeled Big Tobacco. He's labeled. And he's carrying up a paper marked settlement. And the caption reads, we're through talking. But the caption emanates from a pretty well drawn tracheotomy hole in the man's throat.

And that image proved too graphic for Babin's editor, but it's a - certainly a fine example where that decision for taste reasons deprived editors of a frank depiction of big tobacco's malfeasance.

CONAN: And I forget which particular cartoonist you quote saying this, but it is my job, he said - I believe it was a he - to slap the reader across the face in the morning.

Mr. WALLIS: I don't remember who said that, but I argue that it's the cartoonist's job to poke readers in the eyes. They need a wake-up call, and the cartoonist - more than perhaps any member of a newspaper staff - is the flamethrower. He is the bomb thrower. And yes, we must protect the bomb thrower more - arguably more than our print journalist who opine for a thousand words.

CONAN: You also say that this has traditionally been a progressive craft.

Mr. WALLIS: Oh, indeed. Cartoonists - for whatever reason, maybe because they're against powerful interest - they tend to be more progressive. And I think after 9/11, you mentioned the cartoon very - you know, a funny cartoon about 9/11. There were certainly a lot of cartoons that aren't so funny about our role in - for instance - Iraq and the world that were spiked and when the media - in my opinion - took a right turn. And - well, we don't have a government-controlled press, except, of course, for Fox. But clearly, the administration's disdain for the press has sent a message that's been felt in our nation's newsrooms. And I could catalogue, you know, the numerous ways…

CONAN: And you do.

Mr. WALLIS: Yeah.

CONAN: And you do.

Mr. WALLIS: There's a host of ways that - I mean, even FEMA blocked reporters from the boat's rescuing people after Katrina. The defense department prohibited the press from taking photos of coffins of soldiers. They revoked the press passes of two embedded journalists who dared to photograph Humvees that were damaged by Iraqi insurgents.

I mean, there's been an overt hostility by the administration to a free press and I think that filters down to some extent. And clearly, cartoonists have traditionally been a progressive voice in the media, and I think they received increased scrutiny in recent years from newspaper editors and magazine editors.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on this conversation. 800-989-8255 - email is talk@npr.org. Our guest, David Wallis, his new book is "Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression". And let's begin with Scott. Scott's calling us from Riverside, California.

SCOTT (Caller): Yes. Hello?

CONAN: Hi.

SCOTT: Hi. This is not exactly political cartoons, but it's probably one of the grand the spiritual father of all political cartoonists, Walt Kelly. And I would like your comment on his development of a character during the McCarthy hearings of a Joseph McCarthy-type cartoon character…

Mr. WALLIS: Simple Jane Malarkey

SCOTT: … which aroused the ire of many a publisher, and one of them in the South threatened to cancel his syndicated column if in fact McCarthy's caricature ever appeared in a column again.

CONAN: We'll get you your answer off the air, because I think there's a truck backing up next to you.

SCOTT: Not true. The next day, the caricature showed up with a brown paper bag over its head. The publisher said touche and let the column run. I'd like a comment.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much, Scott.

Mr. WALLIS: It was a very important cartoon. There were two cartoonists during the '50s and '60s who really added to the anti-McCarthy movement spearheaded more famously by Edward R. Murrow. And that was Herb Block of the Washington Post, who coined the term McCarthyism and Walt Kelly, who introduced the character Simple J. Malarkey, who was a snarling bobcat who looked just like Joe McCarthy.

And these two cartoonists did, I think, a great deal to change public opinion, really, about McCarthy's ways. And, you know, her block in the '50s, early '50s, a very - it was really important. In 52, he did a lot of cartoons during the Eisenhower election that basically took Eisenhower to task for not policing Republicans, including Richard Nixon and McCarthy.

And the publisher of the Washington Post spiked those cartoons. And, eventually, because Herb Block had a syndication deal, they started appearing in other places all around the country. And this proved to be a huge embarrassment for the Washington Post.

And after that, they gave Herb Block far more freedom - maybe the most freedom of any modern cartoonist working today. And he ultimately - besides all this Pulitzer prizes for his cartoons, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the team effort by the Washington Post in the Watergate Years. And so we can make a case - we really can see with Walt Kelly, with Herb Block - the power of imagery.

CONAN: We're talking with David Wallis. His new book is "Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression". You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Don - Don calling us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

DON (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

DON: Yes. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

DON: I love this subject, because we're very fortunate in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have Doug Marlette now on the staff of the Tulsa World here, and he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist. And recently, there have been two cartoons -he says, of course, that what his cartoons do is express opinions for which he does not need to apologize but (unintelligible) are designed to make people think.

And two of his recent cartoons which I think made this point very clearly, one that had a grim reaper who had his sickle into the earth in Virginia where the Virginia Tech deals were, and commented on round and round the world goes.

And so where it stops, pointing out the randomness of disasters like that while we were busy trying very hard to blame it on somebody. And second one was a cartoon showing an NBC announcer bragging about the fact that they fired Don Imus for the comments that he'd made.

Whereas at the same time on the screens all around the announcer are shots of the videotape of the person who killed the people of Virginia Tech with his guns in the air, pointing out the hypocrisy on the one hand bragging about firing Imus but on the other hand broadcasting these videotape, which of course would have been precisely what the person who shot all of those people wanted and ignoring how it might affect the people that were survivors from that.

CONAN: Thanks for that, Don. Doug Marlette, prominently featured in your book, Bill.

Mr. WALLIS: Well, yes and no. I think it would be only fair that I tell you that my publisher objected to one of the cartoons in my very own book - and it was a Marlette image - and this was during the Muhammad controversy. And despite the…

CONAN: The Danish cartoons, yeah?

Mr. WALLIS: Yes. There were 12 cartoons featuring the likeness of the prophet Muhammad that created a firestorm of riots throughout the world, and very few newspapers in this country would reprint the cartoons. But earlier, Doug Marlette had done a cartoon that query - that asked a question, what would Muhammad drive?

And the answer was, basically, a rider truck strapped with a nuke. And this was, you know, it was a hot cartoon. It was killed by the Tallahassee Democrat after a huge protest by Muslims. I think it was pretty much organized by a group called CARE, which is - I don't remember what the acronym stands for.

But they don't care much about free speech, that's for sure. And so what happened was I tried to reprint that cartoon in the book, and my own publisher would not allow me to run that cartoon.

And I fought for it and I lost, and that's what sometimes happens. And it's a perfect example of what happens when, you know, people got nervous. I think there was a great fear of Fatwa in this country in the newsrooms of this country, and unfortunately, in the publishing houses as well.

CONAN: Well, we'll end with this email from Darlene. The two cartoon favorites she cites, a cartoon of Ronald Reagan in a crack house, sleeves rolled up, arm tied up, vein bulging ready to inject himself with a miniature nuclear warhead captioned just say no.

And second was an Oliphant. I believe she says cartoon of the Concorde as a bird captioned Droop-Snooted Money Socker. And they were published. They will not make it to "Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression".

David Wallis, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. WALLIS: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: David Wallis joined us from our bureau in New York. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.