I’m saddened to write that one of the great editorial cartoonists has decided to retire. Mike Lane, who drew for the Baltimore Sun for decades and was one of the very first cartoonists to form our little syndicate, is calling it quits.
Mike stopped drawing early last month when he was slated for open heart surgery, but he assures me that health is not the reason for his retirement; he just feels it is time to move on. Â Mike writes,
My quitting editorial cartooning comes becauseÂ it’s time, not because of my health. Which is quite good, notwithstanding. The operation was a terrific success,Â my recovery is rapid (as can be) and my repaired heart promisesÂ a long and robust future.
Mike writes about retirement:
When I was with The (Baltimore) Sun, I used to refer to my old cartooning palÂ Tommy Flannery (The Sun) and me (The Evening Sun) as the Rosencrantz andÂ Guildenstern of The Sunpapers.
R. and G. were minor characters in Hamlet, plotting and conniving and generallyÂ being a nuisance, not part of the aristocracy but always there. That is a fair descriptionÂ of the role of the editorial cartoonist , don’t you think?Â In the end Shakespeare kills them off: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead!”
Well, Rosencrantz (Tommy) is dead but Guildenstern (me) lives on!Â And it’s time for different plays, acts and so, I’ve drawn my last political/editorial cartoon. Time for watercolors, greeting cards, perhaps, whatever.
Mike’s last cartoon, from August 6th before his surgery, is below. Â See an archive of Mike’s cartoons here. Your work is wonderful, Mike. Â Editorial cartoon fans already miss you!
The Huffington Post, which famously pays nothing to its writers, has a ridiculous piece by Jason Notte about “Ten Features That Are Dying with your Newspaper;” included on the list are editorial cartoons and one comic, The Family Circus. Notte writes:
9. Editorial Cartoons: You know those witty, insightful, stinging illustrated summaries of current events that make their way onto the op-ed page? In 10 years, you may be in the minority. If newspaper’s death knell is ringing, editorial cartoonistsÂ are pulling the rope. The head of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists said four years ago thatÂ the number of full-time editorial cartoonists in the U.S. had dropped from 200 to 80. For his part, cartoonist and AAEC president Ted Rall has been putting together nearly as manyÂ layoff updates asÂ illustrations these days. Remember whenÂ censorship was an editorial cartoonist’sbiggest worry? Apparently, those were the good times.
This is typical of the Huffington Post’s attitude about the “death of newspapers” as they crow about how they are the next new big thing in journalism ““ although they operate on round after round of venture financing, without a sustainable business model, stocked with content from volunteers.
Editorial cartoons have never been more popular. With the Web in addition to newspapers, political cartoonists now have the largest audience they have ever had. Political cartoons are featured on state mandated testing in high schools in every state and teachers teach to the tests, creating new fans of our art form every year. The work being done by editorial cartoonists now is better than ever before.
We syndicate a package of editorial cartoons. We’re seeing a small decline in newspaper sales that is being offset by an increase in other kinds of sales that we get though being easy to find on the Web. Our syndication business is flat, which is disappointing, but it is fine. The audience for cartoons continues to grow.
There are about 1,500 daily newspapers in the USA, of that number, probably about 80 employ full time cartoonists. Ten years ago there were more than 100, ten years before that maybe 140, back in 1960 there were probably about 200 newspapers that employed full time editorial cartoonists. That is a big percentage decline in the number of cartooning jobs in the past fifty years, but it is not a big drop in the number as a percentage of the total number of newspapers ““ the vast majority of newspapers have never employed a full time cartoonist.
I scream and wail about the loss of full time cartoonist jobs and the decline in newspapers, but the truth is it has always been unusual for a newspaper to hire a cartoonist. Newspapers have been running inexpensive syndicated cartoons for many decades and those syndicated cartoonists are the stars whose work gets seen, while local cartoonists are obscure. Syndication pays poorly because of decades of competition between the syndicates with an oversupply of good cartoons and has little or nothing to do with the decline of newspapers.
We are not seeing a decline in the number of active editorial cartoonists with the losses of full time jobs; just the opposite is happening, there are more now, plugging away as freelancers, scraping a living together from paying and non-paying clients.
The current situation for cartoonists is no different than the situation Notte finds himself in – with a big audience for his work as he writes for free for the Huffington Post, while also writing for a variety of odd clients. There will always be plenty of editorial cartoonists and plenty of writers, like Notte, plying their freelance trade no matter what happens to newspapers.