In July of this year, Mitch Daniels, current president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana, wrote about political cartooning in the United States, more specifically on the decline of a once great form of graphic art:
The digital age, for all its beneficial wonders, has left some regrettable casualties in its wake. No loss has been more troublesome for many of us than the decline of print journalism as our principal medium of information. . . .
With that development, we’re losing something I have always appreciated almost as much. The political cartoonist, an influential voice in public debates for centuries, is among our most endangered species. According to "Drawn & Quartered," a history of American political cartoons by Stephen Hess and Sandy Northrop, 2,000 editorial cartoonists were employed a century ago; estimates of the number of staff cartoonists working today range from about two dozen to maybe 40.The Indianapolis Star lost its own political cartoonist earlier this year when Gary Varvel retired after nearly a quarter of a century at his post. President Daniels called Mr. Varvel the cartoonist he will miss the most.
You can read Mitch Daniels' piece, "Political Cartooning Is Becoming a Lost Art," originally published on July 31, 2019, on the website of the Washington Post, but if you don't have access to that site, you can probably find it just about anywhere, for it was widely reprinted in the nation's surviving newspapers.
(Maybe we should note that the onetime dean of American political cartoonists, John T. McCutcheon [1870-1949] of the Chicago Tribune, graduated from Purdue University in 1889. This year, then, is a nice, even anniversary year of the founding of Purdue University , McCutcheon's graduation from that institution, and his death.)
Cartoon Controversy at Indiana University
A cartoon controversy erupted at Indiana University in November when the Center for the Study of the Middle East (CSME) sent out a newsletter and flier in which it reprinted a cartoon by the notoriously antisemitic Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff (b. 1968). There were of course objections to the use of the cartoon, which was distributed on Monday, November 4, 2019. The next day, the director of CSME, Feisal al-Istrabadi, sent out an email message apologizing for the use of the cartoon.
On November 8, the Indiana Daily Student published a letter to the editor entitled "How the Israel lobby at IU suppresses speech for Palestinian rights," accessible by clicking here. A letter in response, entitled "Response to Palestine Solidarity Committee," appeared on November 13. Click here to read that one. In between those two dates, on November 10, the Indiana Daily Student published an article called "Center for the Study of the Middle East apologizes after circulating flier with alleged anti-Semitic image," explaining the affair. That article is by Grace Ybarra, and you can read it by clicking here.
One of the problems with this and similar cartoon controversies might actually be described as a meta-problem: we can't see the offending cartoon for ourselves, even in this Internet Age in which just about anything can fly around the world at light speed. I despise the leftism and antisemitism that animate people like Carlos Latuff, but that doesn't mean we should not be able to see his cartoons. In fact, the whole purpose of freedom of speech and of the press is so that people with whom we might disagree may still express themselves freely. I guess my question is this: are our feelings and sensibilities really so tender and sensitive that we may not look upon the things that might offend us? And when a cartoon becomes news itself, are we not permitted to see it or consider it?
Incidentally, Mr. Latuff has contributed to Mad magazine--the Brazilian version--about which I wrote a few days ago.
Paul Gray Still Cartooning at 89
Turning to a happier topic, I would like to write about Paul Gray of Carlisle, Indiana, who is still cartooning at age eighty-nine. His art career began at age three when his older brother taught him to draw. Mr. Gray continued drawing while serving in the U.S. military in Germany during the 1950s. A high point of his career was his fourteen years of contributing gag cartoons to The Saturday Evening Post, from the 1960s to the 1970s. He also contributed to Pentecostal Evangel, the weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God.
Paul Gray became a pastor in 1961 and spent more than half a century in that position, finally to retire in 2015. Since 2002, he has drawn a weekly religious cartoon, Shades of Gray, for the Sullivan Daily Times in Sullivan, Indiana. You can read more about Paul Gray in the following articles:
- "89-year-old Carlisle cartoonist, minister still hard at work," dated October 31, 2019, on the website of WIBQ radio, here.
- "Drawing Inspiration" by Eric Tiansay, dated December 6, 2019, on the website of Assemblies of God, here.
- "'Shades of Gray' brings a hint of sunshine to local papers," date unknown, on the website of the Sullivan, Indiana, Daily Times, here. You will need special access to read it.
I will have two more pieces of news, sad news and yet in some ways a celebration, to end the year.
Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley