In the old days “” really, just several years ago “” the situation for an editorial cartoonist was generally fairly clear: he or she worked for this or that newspaper, usually on staff, and that’s how they were identified, save perhaps for a syndication credit. Joe Jones, say, was the cartoonist for the Someplace Tribune, and he would try to out-cartoon Sam Smith of the Someplace Herald each day.
Nowadays, the identifications are multiple, fragmented and ever-changing. And in Los Angeles, all the players seem to have changed places.
Thirty years ago, there were three L.A. dailies: the mighty Los Angeles Times. the struggling Herald Examiner and the suburban Daily News in the San Fernando Valley portion of L.A. There were also two major weeklies, LA Weekly and the LA Reader, which had no editorial cartoonists but ran features like Life in Hell by Matt (The Simpsons) Groening.
In 1980, I was one of five (count ‘em, five) staff editorial cartoonists on those papers, working for the Daily News (which had recently changed its name from the Valley News). The Times had Pulitzer-winner Paul Conrad as its main cartoonist, along with Frank Interlandi, who drew a Feiffer-ish social-commentary panel, and the Herald Examiner had the soon-to retire Karl Hubenthal alternating with his successor, Bill Schorr, hired away from the Kansas City Star.
I was well aware of Schorr. He had preceded me at Long Beach State, graduating a year or so before I arrived (luckily for me, or I would never have had the nerve to place my weak early cartoons against his highly professional ones), and the Daily News often reprinted his work before they hired me on staff in 1978.
Fast-forward to “” oh let’s say, 2004. The Herald Examiner and Hubenthal were dead, Interlandi was long departed, Patrick O’Connor was the staff cartoonist at the Daily News and Conrad had taken a buyout and was replaced by the very conservative Michael Ramirez at the Times. I was in Ventura, Schorr was in New York, and a female cartoonist, Donna Barstow, often placed her New Yorker-type food cartoons in the Los Angeles Times’ weekly magazine.
Six years later, the picture is wildly altered. The Times axed its staff cartoonist and its weekly magazine. The Daily News axed its staff cartoonist. The Ventura County Star axed my artist-cartoonist position. None of us have any kind of staff jobs anymore except for Michael Ramirez, who had a position created for his work at the financial paper, Investors Business Daily.
Instead, we are all drawing where we can, and criss-crossing each other’s paths at the same publications “” just not the ones we used to be at.
Take Schorr, for example. He left New York (for Orange County) and editorial cartooning altogether until he was talked into picking up the pen again under the distribution of Cagle Cartoons. But he decided to add in Los Angeles and California cartoons, and those are now running weekly in the Daily News. That’s the paper I worked at long ago, and in recent months they’ve used my state and local cartoons several times. Or take Donna Barstow, who got into editorial cartooning in addition to the gag cartooning, and sells some of those to… drumroll, please… the Daily News.
So at the Daily News, there’s an odd intersection of Barstow, Schorr and Greenberg local cartoons fighting for the editor’s limited freelance dollars. Meanwhile, Patrick O’Connor and I strive to get our rare placements in the L.A. Times, and while Patrick now also gets into the LA Weekly regularly, Donna and I sometimes work our way into the Pasadena Weekly… which runs the Life in Hell feature dropped by the LA Weekly. Got all that?
We’re all scrambling for the same crumbs in a freelance world of shrinking spending. We’re all doing some of our best work; my local and state material that doesn’t get into the print papers has a regular home on LAObserved.com, where my cartoons are pretty well received, at least by all the other media professionals I encounter.
The Los Angeles Times, which I wish would buy more of those local and state cartoons I’m drawing, instead runs L.A.-oriented cartoons each week by a well-known New York cartoonist, Ted Rall (he reads the paper online from thousands of miles away). And Rall “” even when he’s traveling to Afghanistan, as he is right now “” also draws local cartoons each week for … another drumroll, please… the Pasadena Weekly.
The local cartooning picture is looking more like a business flow-chart drawn by an over-caffeinated manager, or perhaps more like a Jackson Pollack painting. And I’m not even including other local artists such as David G. Brown of the African-American L.A. Sentinel, Doug Davis of the L.A. Downtown News or Lalo Alcarez, recently dropped by the LA Weekly (another line on that flow-chart).
Editorial cartoons are still being drawn, and read by readers. Local politicians are still being caricatured.
It’s just that the people who draw them are all scrambling for those same spaces on the pages that used to be the domain of people, often the very same individuals, with nice newspaper staff cartooning positions.
To which the newest generation of cartoonists no doubt would respond, “what IS a newspaper staff cartooning position?”
Be sure to see the huge archive of my work (organized by topic area) on my web site at http://www.greenberg-art.com