The Creative Destruction of Editorial Cartooning, Memeverse Style.

Posted: September 12, 2013 in Randomness

Once upon a time, in a land without the Internet, there was a publisher and editor who worked with an artist to convey an idea not with words but with pictures. The impact of this social commentary was so powerful and important that it became interwoven into the very fabric of our national discussion on a daily basis in the form of the editorial cartoon. These cartoonists, while not necessarily achieving rock-star like fame with the public, played an equally important role to the journalists who put word to paper and informed us about the world around us. These artists gave us context, perspective and impact along with a kind of social rallying cry, that words no matter how eloquently or impactful, simply couldn’t accomplish.

Then along came the spider. As the web grew, like most everyone else, editorial cartoonists were slow to jump on the digital publishing bandwagon. They likely didn’t join MySpace, were reluctant to start using Facebook and still most don’t use Twitter or other social media networks. The fact is, this is partially due to their undying love of print media. After all, it has served them so well for so long and they owe their careers to the medium. Why abandon it now?

That little web spider got bigger and eventually gobbled up most of the Internet and as a result, we have Google and Facebook, which by all accounts, make up the vast majority of the way people find their news now. The print industry is shrinking and the digital media world is a maelstrom of chaotic information with no real editorial guidance. Yes, newspapers have gone digital and some with great popularity. Yet by and large, the cartoonists who once played an equally important role alongside their journalists counterparts have been absent in their own role to engage themselves in the digital conversation. Meanwhile another new highly enigmatic medium of expression has popped up in that void and taken hold of the new generations attention. Possibly with the result of drowning out the once prolific social status of the editorial cartoonist.

Let’s take the current events in Syria for example. As events have unfolded over the past month cartoonist began to weigh in on the issue. However, it might be that their opinions were already shaped by the greater social commentary and discussion already being had in the memeverse. Thankfully Google Trends gives some great insight into this issue. Comparing “syria cartoon” to “syria meme” over the past month, it’s becomes explicitly clear that the general audience is no longer looking for the views of editorial cartoonists as a key visual commentary on the issue but rather to the memetically inclined. Knowing this can be frustrating for those of us who not only enjoy editorial cartoons but depend on them for a living because it’s our industry. Even more frustrating is the fact that, I would guess, most cartoonists don’t even realize the window of opportunity to recapture the audience is closing rapidly.

Internally, cartoonists squabble about the journalistic ethics of re-purposing even their own work, creative laziness in repeating their own ideas or taking each other’s’ ideas, the ethical implications of copyright infringements, the declining staff cartoonist positions at newspapers and a variety of other issues that matter only to those stuck in an era bordered by black ink and grey paper. Meanwhile, in the void of their participation in the digital discussion that has drowned out national interests, propelled revolutions both in the real world and the virtual worlds, the meme generators of today have usurped the once powerful voice the cartoonists had themselves and are quickly, chaotically running roughshod over their future.

Even still, memes aren’t the only competition editorial cartoonists face. If a meme and a chart had a child it would be an infographic. The proliferation of interest into infographics rivals that of even it’s predecessors and they are getting easier to make all the while diluting both the visibility and impact that editorial cartoons have on our national political dialogue.

So here’s my own personal challenge to you great stalwarts of editorial cartooning; make a meme, put out an infographic, stretch your medium, your art, your creativity and engage in the digital conversation as if there were no such thing as a daily newspaper. If you want the art form to survive the digital tidalwave, you need to figure out how to attract the attention of my 12 year old son, who is taking a Jr. High level publishing class and being taught by a 30 something digital media junkie who has a meme poster from Philosoraptor plastered on the wall behind his desk. The new generation barely even knows how to get or buy a newspaper but they learn to use Google pretty fast.

  1. akismet-eaf31fd8ee0503d74b749c1b0e54f721 says:

    Interesting – just as I’m about to post my next Syria cartoon

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