SDX 2001 Awards Gallery
The power of strong opinion
By Vic Cantone
“Afghanistanism” has long been considered a derogatory remark to any political cartoonist or editorial writer. It describes the commentaries of knee-jerk, middle-of-the-road colleagues. Whenever it came to local issues, those colleagues would be pitifully bland as not to offend readers and advertisers. But on issues that were safely on the other side of the world, they were willing to be much more vicious and outspoken.
Considering the recent war in Afghanistan, we may have to find another remote country to describe those commentators.
To some extent, political cartoonists are known to be cynics who take a fundamentally sardonic view of life. President Gerald Ford once described the political cartoon as being “basically an attack weapon.”
In our visual society, political cartoonists seek social and political changes through their creative work. In nonverbal communication, most rely on theatrical gestures and stereotypes. The political cartoonist who is most effective is the one who has fire in the belly.
The attacks of Sept. 11 brought new dilemmas for commentators. Terrorists thrive on press coverage, which presented editorial writers and cartoonists with a conflict: the public’s right to know versus the danger of being manipulated by terrorist organizations to gain more publicity.
As commentators, our journalistic sense of responsibility must equally guard against terrorist manipulation. This can be achieved by not contributing to an atmosphere of paranoia. Exercise caution not to label anything (bombings, plane crashes, etc.) as ‘terrorism’ before distinguishing the differences.
Bear in mind that terrorists are extremely image conscious. As political cartoonists, we should consider reversing the image terrorists seek, thereby avoiding masterful images that would depict them as powerful. As an example of reversing an image, one concept is showing them as puny cowards.
As opinion makers, political cartoonists and editorial writers have an arsenal of weapons. These are the symbols and metaphors that help shape the readers’ and viewers’ impressions of the news.
Editorial writers are ethically bound in their writing to first address the facts and figures before expressing their opinion. Political cartoonists, on the other hand, enjoy a greater sense of liberty, due to the nature of their work.
Vic Cantone is an award-winning, syndicated political cartoonist and caricaturist.
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Alex Raksin and Bob Sipchen, Los Angeles Times, Helping People Off the Street
On any given day, about 50,000 severely mentally ill homeless people roam California’s streets, rummaging through trash bins, doing battle with invisible demons and occasionally inflicting harm on very real citizens. They do so largely because laws crafted decades ago put their “civil right” to be free ahead of society’s right to compel them to be treated.
These well-intentioned laws made some sense when they were passed, in the 1960s. Then, the awful side effects of some psychiatric medications turned patients into virtual zombies, blurring their vision, stiffening their muscles and dulling their memories. Better medications are available today; as a result, lawmakers will have a chance to soon make California safer and saner.
These first two paragraphs of “Helping People Off the Street,” a series of editorials run in the Los Angeles Times, sum up the argument that is supported throughout the series.
Alex Raksin and Bob Sipchen wrote the series of editorials that supported California legislation requiring courts to consider psychiatric history when sentencing and approving follow-up care for mentally ill prison parolees.
Raksin and Sipchen’s pieces involved countless interviews and hours wandering the California streets. Their leads start off in a story-telling fashion, giving the reader a scene or a person and following the slice of life momentarily.
The first editorial, “Make Chris Take His ‘Meds,’ “ tells the story of Chris Hagar, a young man with a history of criminal activity and mental illness. Raksin and Sipchen describe Hagar’s life before his various mental disorders began:
Before the onset of his illness, Hagar was a smart kid with a keen sense of humor who excelled at life. When he was 12, he joined the San Francisco Boys Chorus and was quickly promoted to master singer because of his perfect pitch and musical memory. He toured Europe and won second place in an international competition against dozens of other nations; he ran a business airbrushing fine art on T-shirts.
At 15, his illness was diagnosed as schizophrenia with psychotic symptoms and agitated depression, but his dreams never died. Just last week, he told his father how much he wants to work again.
The series of editorials continues with “Lost, Then Found.” Raksin and Sipchen paint the streets of California with scenes of a homeless, dying junkie; around the corner paramedics are trying to revive another overdosed man while “at least 85 people, many with wild and unfocused eyes, mill about watching, yakking, even dancing. A man slumped with several others against a graffiti-splattered wall lets out a slurred shout, ‘Let him go to heaven.’”
The editorials include interviews with public servants with special training “to coax and cajole people under bridges and out of the shrubbery caves they inhabit from East L.A. to the Westside.”
The series of editorials prompted public and government responses. Shelters now remain open all winter, federal funding for assisted housing for the mentally ill was saved, and other legislation involving the issue of mentally ill criminals and homeless are currently in the works.
“The work of Sipchen and Raksin is evidence that powerfully written editorials can illuminate a seemingly intractable problem and prod a reluctant community to take steps to deal with it,” said Janet Clayton, editor of the Times’ editorial pages.
The judges agreed: “Alex and Bob’s work paid off – the streets will never be the same.”
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Clay Bennett, The Christian Science Monitor
With more than 15 awards and honors under his belt, including the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, the events of Sept. 11 pushed the skills of Clay Bennett to new standards.
“Often the news we cover and the issues we address seem like much ado about nothing,” Bennett said. “Often it seems like you’re just filling the space in between the ads. But this year was different. This year we had a story that was both compelling and important to every reader, and was both demanding and challenging to every journalist.”
Bennett’s five entries are a small segment of his annual work. As an editorial cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor, Bennett draws three full-color cartoons every week.
“Although all the cartoons I drew in 2001 were eligible for this entry, the monumental nature of the news on and after Sept. 11 made all the work I produced in the first eight months of the year seem relatively insignificant,” Bennett said.
“If there’s a theme to this entry, I would have to say it’s a call for reason and calm in an atmosphere of reaction and intolerance,” Bennett said. “From the bigoted backlash of both individuals and institutions against those of the Muslim faith, to the misguided attempts of our government to achieve greater security at the expense of our freedoms and liberty, the tragedy escalated into an event that threatened to take far more from our country than the lives that were lost on the morning of Sept. 11.”
With more than 20 years of experience in the editorial cartooning business, which began at his college newspaper at the University of North Alabama, Bennett has developed a sensitive – and sometimes tricky – formula for his opinionated and colorful cells.
“It’s a combination of both the right and left brain,” Bennett said. “You begin with the more analytical left brain – researching a story, establishing facts and then formulating an opinion based on those facts. Once you form an opinion, you narrow your focus to the single point you wish to make in that day’s cartoon.”
While research, artistic talent and skill serve a cartoonist well, Bennett said there is one ultimate component that can make or break a cartoonist:
“As a cartoonist you must have passion – passion for what you do and passion for why you do it. One cannot survive without the other.”