In The Press

At the End of His Year as AAEC President, Milt Priggee Discusses the State of the Art

By: David Astor, Editor & Publisher
Date: 1997

Milt Priggee went to bed at 2:30 a.m. the night before he was interviewed.

That's because he's doing five editorial cartoons a week for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, illustrations for the Washington paper, and half of the "Us & Them" comic for Universal Press Syndicate. He's also serving as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists....

"I feel like I'm on the Ed Sullivan Show spinning plates - and they're spinning real fast," said the 43-year-old creator.

Exactly how many hours a week is this man working? "No time to count that," replied Priggee.

But the editorial cartoonist has found the time, as AAEC president, to think about the state of his profession - and he doesn't like some of what he sees.

One thing that especially bothers him is the way staff jobs are disappearing as more dailies opt not to fill their editorial cartoon slots after a creator dies, quits or is fired....

"It's scary to see newspapers abdicating their monopoly," he declared, noting that local editorial cartooning is an art virtually unique to newspapers.

Why are papers doing this? Priggee cited several possible reasons, including a desire to save money and not "rock the boat" with hard-hitting cartoons. But the AAEC head said advertisers want to reach the largest audience possible, and a paper with lively local cartoons will attract more readers.

The latest job loss scenario involves Jules Feiffer.... Priggee reported that a letter commenting on the Feiffer situation and the importance of staff cartoonists will be circulated at the June 25-28 AAEC convention for attendees to sign. It will then be sent to the Voice and other media.

Will the letter have any more impact than the AAEC's 1995 job-loss-decrying resolution that most papers seem to have ignored? Priggee isn't sure, but he stressed that the AAEC has to keep trying.

Priggee did note that some papers seem to realize how important staff editorial cartoonists can be....

Newspapers who don't think a local cartoonist is worth having will just help hasten the rise of the Internet as a competitive force in graphic commentary, said Priggee. He noted that more and more artists who can't find a print position are doing work for the Web....

Priggee's cartoons have run in the Spokesman-Review since 1987. He first sent a mailing to the paper while working for the Dayton Journal Herald in 1986, just before the Ohio paper ceased publication. When Spokesman-Review editor Chris Peck wrote back to say "stay in touch," Priggee immediately flew to Spokane, got a room in a downtown hotel, and quickly pounded out 10 local cartoons that he presented to the surprised Peck.

Priggee noted that Spokane, an eastern Washington city of under 200,000 surrounded by rural areas, is a great place to do editorial cartoons.

Local and regional topics of strong interest include the environment, white supremacist and militia groups in nearby Idaho and Montana, trade relations with Canada, and more.

Priggee said his cartoons - which he described as "iconoclastic with a left lean" - draw strong reactions from conservative and liberal Spokesman-Review readers. He noted that because Spokane doesn't have as many media outlets and things going on as do much larger cities, the paper's content gets plenty of attention.

About 40% of Priggee's cartoons are local/regional, 40% national and 20% international. He particularly enjoys doing the local/regional ones for two reasons: they have the most impact and they cover topics that few other artists address - because Priggee is one of the few graphic commentators in his part of the country.

"There aren't too many editorial cartoonists between Casper and Calgary, and between Seattle and Minneapolis," he observed....

Priggee isn't syndicated as an editorial cartoonist, but he's now nationally distributed as a comic creator.

This came about when "Non-Sequitur" creator Wiley Miller, because of his heavy workload, decided to stop also doing "Us & Them." That's the Universal feature in which Wiley and Susan Dewar alternated doing comics each day from a male and female perspective.

"Wiley asked me if I wanted to take over the strip, and I said, 'If you want to lateral me the ball, I'll run with it!"' recalled Priggee, who started at the end of March. "It's been a lot of fun. It's exciting to do something I've always dreamed of doing."

Priggee, who had previously been developing a sports comic of his own called "Rocky," changed the main character in his half of "Us & Them" from talk-show host Joe Pyle to sports-show host Zeke Loman of the same Buffalo radio station, WHYN (as in "whine")....

Priggee said he loves working with Dewar, an Ottawa Sun editorial cartoonist who does the half of "Us & Them" starring Toronto advice columnist Janet George.

The AAEC president added that he's looking forward to seeing Dewar at this week's Orlando convention, where they can brainstorm about the comic in person rather than by phone.

Priggee is also looking forward to his schedule easing up a bit after the meeting. At that point, his life will move from insanely busy to just extremely busy.