In The Press

Priggee goes electric

By: Gregory Delzer
Publication: The Local Planet
Date: Jun 14, 2000

Milt Priggee has worked for the Spokesman-Review since February 1987, as their Political Cartoonist. Recently he learned that he would no longer hold that position. Prior to that, Priggee drew editorial cartoons for The Journal Herald in Dayton, Ohio, where has been reprinted in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, and Washington Post, amongst others. He leaves in September for the University of Michigan on a year fellowship to learn animation for electronic editorial cartoons.

The Local Planet: Can you explain what happened between you and the Spokesman-Review?

Milt Priggee: The Spokesman-Review just thought that it was time to downsize. And they have a mission statement of being the best newspaper of its size in the country. And sometimes that gets to be a little tough, so they just decided to make the size a little smaller.

TLP: They didn't indicate any editorial reasoning behind that?

MP: No, they said it was a budget-cutting move. They have set priorities, and it's quite obvious that an exciting local editorial page is not a priority. So they just decided to downsize. I was not included in the budget for next year or whoever knows for how long after that—"We're not going to pay you after this x-amount/date" So, that's what it was.

TLP: So as far as you know, they don't have a local editorial cartoonist?

MP: From what I can ascertain over my experience, they would prefer not to have a local editorial cartoonist, just by the very fact that they let me go. They have decided to not be as local as they once were. The Cowles family has every right in the world. The freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. This is their right to produce any kind of paper they see fit. It is their decision that they do not want as local an editorial page as they once had. It is their decision. I support their decision. Of course I don't agree with it. But it is their newspaper. They can make it as not localized as they want. Let the free market system determine.

TLP: Are you willing to speculate as to why they made that decision about moving away from something more local? Do you have a theory? 

MP: It's what they believe is best for their newspaper is not to be so local. I'm not sure...It's a business decision. I cannot fathom....They have their set of criteria. I have my set of criteria, and if I was publisher, I would definitely want a local editorial cartoonist, especially if my supposed competition—some people consider the Coeur d'Alene Press-does not have one. A reading public-type person would consider then that you would want to keep your local editorial cartoonist. So it's a little difficult to decipher. You know what I mean? I don't. I'm dealing with my set of criteria. Everyone has their own. Just because they can't afford to get rid of their cartoonist doesn't mean they can't do it, so they did. It's their ship, and we row to their cadence.

TLP: I picked up off your site [] a couple of older articles about you and I know that one of them, back in 1980, from The Headline Club, quoted you as saying that your goal at that time was to become a full time editorial cartoonist for a daily newspaper. I was wondering since you have achieved that goal as to what's next for you.

MP: I'm looking to the future, and I want to draw editorial cartoons. Express myself graphically in editorial cartoons, just as I have since the mid 60s in junior high. I've been doing this you know, for a long time. And it's what I believe I do best. And we're going through an evolutionary electronic keyhole. The world of communications here in modern day society and the planets have lined themselves up for me now to go through that evolutionary keyhole. And I want to get my site up there in the world of competition for surfers' time and I want to do editorial cartoons via my site,

TLP: You're not interested in affiliating with another newspaper?

MP: Yes, that is my interest, but I don't sign the check. Cartoonists don't sign checks; cartoonists don't do the hiring. We submit and if the newspaper likes the submission, then they hire. If they don't, they don't. But I have found out that it's definitely one-sided. Yeah, of course, I'd love to be in another newspaper, but I wanted to draw editorial cartoons in the Pacific Northwest because I've been here over 13 years. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, which a lot of people still consider the Pacific Northwest. So even though I grew up in Chicago, I can claim being a native of the area. I love the area. It's a beautiful place. I'd like to draw cartoons for a newspaper, a newspaper's Internet site, an Internet news operation site, such as,, CBS...Fox goes on and on and on. We have kind of come full circle in the communication world from 400 years ago when mass printing of newspapers were being disseminated throughout society. Now it's the same thing except now it's on an electronic level. We've come all the way around, and now there's a lot of excitement and there's a lot of Internet news sites out there. Broadcast and print. Now there's twice as many sites/opportunities there. And the Internet news sites are all trying to differentiate themselves from the competition and competition means improve the quality of your product, and that's where editorial cartoons come in. And now with the Internet, the Internet is visual, so you're looking for some graphic image to draw that reader/surfer and hold that surfer to your site. So I think that this is a blossoming opportunity for editorial cartoonists with Internet news sites. Also because we now have the facility of the internet itself, meaning I am in the process now of learning how to produce the web-specific graphic image, one that has color, which I didn't have before, something that has animation, which there is no way that you can really appreciate that in the print world, Sound/Sound effects, and then also, this is the most important: interactivity. So those are the opportunities that the new electronic world does now present for graphic commentators.

TLP: And regardless of who you do graphic commentary for, you'd still like to locate yourself in the Inland Northwest?

MP: Really, it's not up to me all that much. It depends on where I can make my living. I've tried here in Spokane, and the biggest employer here in Spokane says, "No you don't!" Maybe I've worn out my welcome in Spokane. It doesn't matter how much I love the place. It doesn't matter how much my kids love the place and have their friends here. It doesn't matter how much money I've sunk into building a home, buying land. It doesn't matter how much I'm going to lose. What matters is: can I make a living here? That's all part of the ballgame in the world of communications, especially now it's very volatile. Newspapers are running scared; they're getting stupid. Newspaper publishers have a monopoly on editorial cartoonists. Most businessmen usually exploit a monopoly. But not all but some publishers ironically, weirdly, are abdicating their monopoly at a time when they can use...they're playing chess and they're taking their queen and throwing it off the chess board and how do you justify, speculate, even understand something like that. It's mind-boggling. It's happening throughout the profession. There used to be six editorial cartoonists in the state of Washington. There's now one. It's's a strange profession and because of the volatility and the uncertainness of it, some publishers have said, "I don't like a monopoly; I'm going to abdicate it. I know the boat is sinking, but I'm going to shoot a hole in it over here so I can let the water out." That's my speculation.

TLP: What are your goals for your website,

MP: My goals for the website is to make it a self-supporting, financially viable space where I can continue expressing myself graphically on Spokane/ national/ regional/ international issues. That is my goal for

TLP: How do you intend to make it self-supporting?

MP: There are several methods: selling original work, syndicating...there's lots of different ways. After awhile you get a certain amount of hits, then selling advertising. "I bring in this many surfers to the site. These surfers are going to see your ad." Then we place an ad based on this amount of hits. That is all the kind of work that the Spokesman-Review used to do for me. Well now I'm less of an editorial cartoonist and I'm more of a businessman. I'm a freelancer. I have to go out there and support myself, pay the bills, run the company, create the market, create the environment, find the client, make the sale; I have to do all of that. There's more of that work. But now I have a little bit more freedom. There are pros and cons to every decision. Whatever you're wanting, that changes the pros/cons around. There's never a perfect situation. Except when you are actually in Heaven, then that's as good as it gets. You better be happy with that.

TLP: You talked about having more control about what appears on your site...

MP: Sure, it's a first amendment-protected site, and everybody should remember that.

TLP: How many cartoons were killed?

MP: Here in Spokane? They've killed over 100. You have to remember, they've printed almost 3,000. You have to look at the big picture. Yes, if you're looking at it from, "I'm an American citizen and I have all the freedom in the world to see whatever Priggee comments on," well then 100 sounds like a lot. It sounds like a hell of a lot. "This is America. What do you mean they've killed over 100? Is this America or what?" But you also have to look at, like I said, they've printed almost 3000. And you look at it from their point of view: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. And we will only run what we want." And I support that as: that's the situation. That's the position. That's what I agreed upon. That A.J. Liebling quote. So it all depends on where you're looking at that answer from. Are you looking at it from the publisher point of view or are you looking at it from the reader point of view. Or, are you looking at it from a cartoonist point of view...

TLP: Then it's a hundred too many? 

MP: Oh yeah, because there's no reason. But if you have the right, you don't have to have a reason. Because if you have to have a reason, then you don't have the right. Because if you have to have a right, then that means you have to justify it. You have to justify it, then you don't have the right.

TLP: Is there a trend in the ones they killed that you could see as far as how far you could go, or was there a topic that you couldn't address in the way you wanted to because you knew it would be killed? 

MP: Sometimes there were issues, and sometimes there was style. And I have a push the envelope type of style. I understand that. Because I believe that's what's going to best get the reader's attention, which is what we want in a newspaper. We want to get the reader's attention and hold it. We want to further the debate. I don't draw controversial cartoons. People love to introduce me as "The Creator of Controversial Cartoons!" And the truth is I have never ever drawn a controversial cartoon. I have drawn one-sided cartoons on controversial issues. Now if you want to call that a controversial cartoon, fine. But I look at it as it's a one-sided cartoon. That's what a cartoon is, it's one-sided. If you present both sides—you're straddling the razor blade—you've produced an illustration! Without taking any kind of a point of view! You have an illustration! And a lot of people don't understand what an editorial cartoon is, and that includes readers, people who work at newspapers. So sometimes the newspaper would...I should say, they never ever told me what to draw in 13 years. They suggested I do a United Way cartoon one time—I was more than happy to do that. But they never came down and said, "You will not do this." But after awhile, you get ten, twenty killed on a certain subject and you read the writing on the wall. You say, "Hey! That's my blood! That's parts of my brain there! I'm not going to bother to draw a cartoon on that." They had a little uneasy feeling sometimes on a few local issues and then also with my style of cartooning, which was push the envelope.

TLP: What were the issues?

MP: L-O-C-A-L, local. Well of course anything that has to do with the Cowles family. That's no big secret. That's not a breaking news kind of thing: "Oh really?" Have you ever drawn a cartoon about the Cowles? Sure, I've drawn cartoons about the Cowles. You can see them on the site at But let's be honest. Do you really think you're going to see them in the Spokesman-Review? If you were the publisher of a newspaper, are you going to produce a cartoon that presents you in a questionable light, or even your friends in a questionable light? I understand that.

TLP: Did you get a sense while you've been in the Spokane region from the types of reactions you received to your cartoons, what the political sense of the region is?

MP: Spokane is a wonderful place to draw cartoons. You've got lots of people writing lots of material for you. You've got the Aryan Nations; you've got people in Eastern Washington vs. Idaho, meaning we've got two states, two tax systems, two cities, two mayors, all in the same circulation area. You've got farmers on one side; you've got mountain men on the other. Also, there's a real fight between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives, the backwoods rural vs. the intellectual citified. And the Gonzaga liberal intelligentsia, if you want to call it, but then you also have the Ruby Ridge types: "You can have my guns when you pry my cold, dead fingers off of them," or I should say: "You can have my guns when you pry my kid's dead, cold fingers off from around them." And what I mean by all that is that it's just not all one left or right, liberal or conservative, rural or urban. It's both. And I'm in there in between, having fun, forgetting my opinion, and I'd like to take this opportunity to tell people what an editorial cartoon is: it is a visually biased exaggeration of the facts as I or any political cartoonist sees them. A lot of people will say: "Well, that's bias." That's what an opinion is. They even condemn the fine writers and reporters at the Spokesman-Review. They've got wonderful reporters over there. They've got Karen Dorn Steele, Jim Camden, Mike Prager, Doug Clark, Kevin Blocker-these are wonderful writers. And to see them chastised for being biased...they're human beings. All human beings are biased. Yes, that is their mission: to be the best they can, to keep that bias out of the paper. And the newspapers all across America have built in checks to do as good a job as they possibly can to do that. But you have to remember these are biased people reporting on biased people. Bias is organic and there's going to be bias in there.

There's less education about what a newspaper is, what a cartoon is. The publishing world opens itself up for more attacks on it. Just because the industry has not even bothered to educate the public as to what this animal is, what this newspaper is. A newspaper is democracy. It's a forum for debate. Debate is democracy. If you're not debating the issues, apathy reigns. And then your society is nothing but a cork in the water of world events. Good luck.

TLP: Would you think this community is typical as far as how active they are in political issues, or how aware they are, how educated they are about the issues that are going on around them. Are they more or less so?

MP: You're asking a generalization type of thing, So I'm looking at the big picture because no matter what you say, there's going to be somebody that says, "Oh yeah, well I'm not like that." It happens on Donahue, or whatever. People are talking the big picture and then a caller calls up and says, "I'm not like that." "Now, we didn't say you." The big picture, meaning most people, are not really aware of issues. Because this [Spokane area] is kind of like a retirement community. It's a service-based-economy, retirement community. People from Fairchild, they retire off Fairchild or they were in Fairchild at one time, and they come back here, and they retire. They buy a little piece of land, and "Excuse me, but I'm going hunting and fishing, thank-you very much." Not hunting and fishing? "OK, well then I'm going to go skiing" Well, this is a great place to raise my kids: "Excuse me, but I'm raising my kids and my family right now." And the kids are trying to figure out, "Is this where I'm going to live the rest of my life?" There's a lot of kids who just end up taking off. But there are a lot of committed people in this community. I didn't want to forget those people. But generally, overall, I see this [Spokane] as unfortunately a cork in the Northwest waters, and me and my cartoons are just trying to steady the cork.

TLP: Was there anything else you wanted to add?

MP: I'm going to be auctioning off [on] cartoons that were in the Spokesman-Review. I did have a sale at the Met a month or so ago. April 11th. Two months ago. And the rest of the cartoons I'm going to be auctioning them off on the site, and that also includes the rejected cartoons. The original art and copies are also for sale at a greatly reduced cost. When I'm supporting the site, I'm also supporting myself. The site is me. I'm still available for freelance artwork. I do have a no-compete world in the press world for my editorial cartoons until about this time next year. It's what I agreed to. I could do something for someone else, but not in this area.

I love Spokane. I really love Spokane. This is my home for thirteen years, as I said earlier. I bought my little piece of land here. I thought I was going to retire here. Sunk big bucks into homesteading the area, meaning I'd bring dirt in, all that kind of stuff. It's a real heartbreaker, but it's also part of the business. The people have been wonderful here. Even though generally the people are a lot like a cork here, the committed people...see here's what I'm talking is another little confrontation is that a lot of people are not aware of the issues, but the people who are aware of the issues are committed to expressing themselves and being part of the democratic debate process. And so this is why I like it is because they'll react to my cartoons, which is what I was hired to do— produce cartoons that will produce letters to the editor, which will make the page a little more exciting and make the whole debate process of democracy that much richer. And so the people that do follow the issues, they are very committed; they write the letters in there, and we've had a lot of fun here. And I guess all good things come to an end but mediocrity needs to go on and on and on. This is also very important: I'll always be drawing cartoons about Spokane, you just won't see them in the Spokesman-Review; they'll be at I don't see it as losing a Hagadone, I see it as gaining a Cowles.