As a boy I loved reading the editorial pages of newspapers and then turning to the comic pages. Mad Magazine was one of my favorites with all it’s satire and incredible art. I couldn’t wait to meet the cartoonists who drew them.
There are two cartooning organizations in America. The first is the National Cartoonist Society (NCS), comprising fifteen categories of cartoonists, illustrators and animators. The other is the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) which is mostly editorial cartoonists. The NCS has an annual ‘Reuben Awards‘ convention where they choose the ‘Cartoonist of the Year’ and the winners of fifteen categories, including ‘Editorial Cartoons’. For many years, Bil Keane, who started Family Circus, would introduce each category and always have people laughing at his jokes. People would laugh the loudest when he introduced the winner of the Editorial Cartooning award by saying, “We will now introduce the winner of the ‘Editorial Cartooning’ division. You know - the cartoonists who hate politicians but hate each other more.” Everyone knew it was coming which made it even funnier and because it was so true.
Which brings us to the AAEC. If you can recall the pain and humiliation of high school where the cliques of popular kids would make fun and put down others, capitalize on mistakes and faux pas of the social outsiders and then take turns backstabbing each other, you now have a good idea of the AAEC. Daryl Cagle finds them like chickens that peck away on each other and then seek out the weakest to destroy. He’s got it just about right. Some of those who belong to the AAEC do so only out of fear of not being there to protect themselves. I was there for three or four years and became so disillusioned that I could no longer go. However, should those who choose not to be part of this denigrating club, they will pay the price for being absent. One cannot expect the quality of his or her work to protect them.
The year I lost my job was a terrible year. We also lost my wonderful mother-in-law, our family dog, and our family cat. We were on our way to losing our house when my friend Daryl Cagle brought me into his Cagle cartooning world. I was working sixty hours a week at two part-time jobs and doing my cartoons after the kids went to bed at night. Already dead-tired, I forced myself onward. Finishing at two or three in the morning, I would get some sleep and then go to work again. I was averaging no more than four hours of sleep a day. Daryl learned of my plight and decided to find a way to help. He came up with the Indiegogo fundraising plan. In doing so, he turned to you, his readers. It was a dream come true, and I am so grateful. Little did I know that more pain would soon strike and the ‘chickens’ of whom I just spoke would start pecking on me. One Friday night I was behind schedule and needed to do another cartoon.
Newtown was on my mind. I had this idea of using the Capitol Dome as the gun sight for an assault rifle. It had members of Congress caving again to the money of the NRA. I sketched it out and began drawing and then inking. The problem was that the assault rifle just didn’t look serious enough. It seemed too ‘cartoony’, which was defeating my idea. Twenty children and six adults were murdered and Congress, always the pawn of the NRA, was going to do nothing? I decided to search for an assault rifle on Google that was pointed downward because I needed room above for word balloons. It had to be a serious, high-tech looking assault rifle being used in modern warfare. It was important to contrast it with the cartoonish look of Capitol Dome and the cartoon lettering. That, I thought, would offer the dramatic effect I needed. Tired and bleary-eyed after looking through more assault weapons than I could imagine, I finally found what I thought was an ad showing a serious rifle. I tailored it to the drawing and I thought it worked well. The message was clear: children might be saved if Congress would find the guts to stand up to the NRA. Exhausted, it was already three a.m. and I had to be at work by nine a.m.
When I returned home that Saturday evening, I looked it over for spelling, gave it a final check, and then sent it to Daryl. Early Sunday I found an email from Daryl. There was a problem with the cartoon. He wanted to know why I hadn’t given the author of the assault rifle credit. What did he mean by that? My first thought was that another cartoonist had done the same cartoon, one of the great horrors we have to deal with as cartoonists. No, he meant the assault rifle I had chosen was not a real one but a beautifully rendered work of art by a gun illustrator. I was stunned. I had no idea that such an art form existed. We quickly killed the cartoon and I went back and finished the other cartoon I had started and sent it to Daryl. It would be available on schedule for Monday morning. It had not been published in newspapers because I had replaced it.
Later that week, a blogger well read by the daily AAEC cartoonists had contacted Daryl and told him he was going to expose my ‘plagiarism’. Daryl explained what happened and that it was an honest mistake. It didn’t matter. He was going with it. He also had examples of cartoons that I had done and that had been re-published with small changes. This is because when I signed on with Cagle, none of the newspapers that Daryl has as clients had ever seen any of my cartoons, and Daryl wanted all of my ‘evergreens’ (cartoons that are timeless and can be reused) and cartoons that could be easily fixed and used. Since none of his clients had ever seen or published my cartoons, they would be available for these new clients. This is not uncommon among daily cartoonists. There was absolutely nothing to any of this. I had not plagiarized anyone because I had pulled the cartoon when the mistake I made was realized, replaced it, and it had never been published. The truth of all this is that if I had been one of the ‘popular’ guys in the AAEC, it would never have happened. I was now going to pay the price. The buzz from this blog went everywhere in the cartooning world.
I wanted to speak up and clear my name, but Daryl said he would handle it. He said I had been judged, been found guilty, and they wanted him to fire me. It didn’t matter now what the truth was. I would be one fewer competitor for them. He was right, of course. They didn’t want to hear my side of what happened. None of them called me. Daryl is one of the few who are courageous enough to stand up to them.
This is first time I have spoken publicly and given my side. Most of you probably don’t even know it happened. I thank Daryl for this column he has given me, for standing up for me, and I apologize for all the grief it has caused him and his staff. I especially apologize to the fine illustrator whose work I mistakenly thought was real. I would never have used it had I known. I give special thanks to Mike Peters, the only cartoonist, aside from Daryl, who called me. Mike called while he was on vacation and was furious. He regaled me with his stories of all the false ‘plagiarism’ charges that had been leveled against him through the years. He brought up my spirits and he said it will all blow over and not to worry about. He said what Daryl was doing for me with his Indiegogo campaign was wonderful and these AAEC guys were just trying to undo all the good he had done. He is such a wonderful friend to care about me.
In the end, it did all blow over. The Poynter Institute, which investigates journalism ethics looked into it, examined the facts, and dismissed it. The entire experience was painful and I feel smeared and bruised, but sometimes no matter how hard you try, life can be unfair. Worst of all is that Congress will do nothing. As I write, the NRA is threatening any Congressperson who votes for banning assault weapons or background checks. This can only mean that more children, mothers, fathers and loved ones will die. It is so tragic.
I have a challenge for the AAEC at their next convention this summer. My challenge is for them to go the entire time without ragging on anyone, show some professionalism in the way they behave, and treat each other with respect.
Can they do it? Not a chance.
Above all, I want to thank all of you who offered me your generous support during the Indiegogo campaign. We raised $42,000 and it helps me continue my career. I offer you my deepest heartfelt gratitude.