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Drawing the line: Cartoonists make their point with pen and ink

By: Melinda Pradarelli
Publication: FYI: Faculty & Staff News (University of Iowa)
Date: Sep 17, 1999

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication expects its 75th anniversary celebration to draw large crowds this fall with a national political cartooning symposium and the schoolís first all-class reunion.

Thousands of UI graduates, media editors and owners, presidential candidates, and nationally renowned cartoonists have been invited to the Oct. 14-16 event, which may be covered by CNN.

"Political cartooning is a very hot topic right now," says John Soloski, director of the school. "We want to look at how the genre developed and has changed over the years. Itís also fun.

"What person doesnít look at cartoons? We want to look at why they anger us, why they make us laugh, and why they routinely get a greater reaction than reading editorials." Soloski, who has led the school for three years and been on the faculty since 1978, said cartooning represents a dying form of American journalism. Fifteen years ago there were nearly 160 cartoonists for more than 1,500 daily newspapers in America. Today there are fewer than 100.

"Thank God," is the reply from three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad (BA í50), who delivers the comment with equal amounts of conviction and humor. Conrad, who is not known for mincing words, will be the eventís keynote speaker on Oct. 14. During his address, Conrad will show samples of his award-winning cartoons as well as some of their high-spirited responses from readers.

The Cedar Rapids native started cartooning for The Daily Iowan and graduated with an art degree from the University. He says many cartoons today have degenerated into convoluted messages featuring extensive dialogue punctuated by quick gags.

"I hope I can give people an idea of what a cartoonist is supposed to do," Conrad says of his address. "If you agree with a cartoon, fine. But if you disagree, look into the subject and find out if youíre wrong or the cartoonist is wrong. The cartoons should at least have enough meat so you donít have to search for the meaning. Thatís what troubles me today. Many of them just arenít good."

And Conrad should know. He worked for The Denver Post for 14 years and then became the chief editorial cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times from 1964 to 1993. His observations have been published nationwide and abroad and are syndicated five days a week by the L.A. Times Syndicate. A collection of his work, Paul Conrad: Drawing the Line, was published by the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.

His quick wit and keen insights have earned him kudos as well as criticism over the years. Conradís favorite distinction is his 1973 inclusion on Richard Nixonís Enemies List. And his favorite irony was later holding the Richard M. Nixon Chair at Whittier College (Calif.) in 1977-78.

Stephen Bloom, associate professor of journalism, says the weekend symposium will feature workshops on killed cartoons, the changing face of cartoon consumers, the shrinking number of cartoonists, the pressures of being politically correct, the demise of local cartoons, and more.

Among the presenters will be Jules Feiffer (formerly with The Village Voice, now syndicated), Joel Pett (Kentuckyís Lexington Herald-Leader), Dan Perkins a.k.a. Tom Tomorrow (Salon, syndicated in alternative press), Steve Benson (The Arizona Republic), Brian Duffy (The Des Moines Register), Joe Sharpnack (self-syndicated), Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur), Milt Priggee (Spokane Spokesman-Review), John Sherffius (St. Louis Post Dispatch), and Signe Wilkinson (The Philadelphia Daily News). Most of the major presidential candidates have been invited to face off with the cartoonists in person, and the campaigns of a handful have expressed an interest in attending.

The school will hold its all-class reunion gala Oct. 15, in the IMU Main Lounge, featuring a sit-down dinner and a dance with the music of the Universityís Johnson County Landmark jazz band.

An Oct. 16, comic strip session will examine how comic strips impart a political or social message. Aspiring cartoonists will have an opportunity that day to roll up their sleeves and work with guest cartoonists. For information on the gala and/or symposium, call (33)5-4141.

Cartoon exhibits on display during the symposium include a showing of Conradís work at the UI Museum of Art, a showcase of former Des Moines Register cartoonist Ding Darlingís work at the Main Library, and an exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons in the display cases at the IMU.