Al Simpson once accused him of defiling a pig. Many newspaper editors have cursed and praised him, and city council members have feared his sharp moral criticism of civic matters large and small.
After a 7-year hiatus from Wyoming news media, longtime Wyoming editorial cartoonist Greg Kearney returns this week, sketching a regular weekly editorial cartoon titled “Draw!” for WyoFile. Kearney, who worked for the Casper Star-Tribune from 1980 to 2005, says today’s social and political landscape seems ripe for local editorial cartooning.
“Like the guy (Wyoming millionaire Foster Friess) who talked about the aspirin between the knees — a gift from Heaven for an editorial cartoon guy,” says Kearney.
He says a surprising number of Wyoming legislators didn’t seem to get the joke when a navy and aircraft carrier amendment was added to the so-called “doomsday” bill during the recent legislative session. Kearney says current political debate on social issues — at the local and national levels — has him longing for the serious politicians who could place civic duty ahead of party, like Sen. Craig Thomas, who passed away in 2007.
“He was straight up, and there was no pussyfooting around about politics. … I voted for Craig Thomas on many occasions,” Kearney says. “I never thought I’d live to see the day when Al Simpson would seem the paragon of reason.”
Kearney, 55, lives overseas and travels extensively. He refers to himself as a labor Democrat in the traditional sense, and is a lifelong member of the Mormon Church. His drawing style is minimalist, and he primarily takes editorial aim at local issues — a community service that’s been in decline with the free-fall of newspapers, he says.
Newspapers typically consider a staff cartoonist as a luxury, and therefore they are the first to go when cuts are made in newsrooms, according to Kearney. Increasingly, newspapers are relying on nationally-syndicated editorial cartoons. “There’s nobody left to poke these guys in the eye,” Kearney says of local politicians. “It has produced what I call the ‘gag political cartoon’ — a cartoon that doesn’t take a stand, it just makes a joke, so the work has become more insipid, more intentionally safe.”
A national political figure like Rick Santorum likely is not going to call an editor about a cartoon, but elected officials at the state and community level certainly will — and that points to the influence editorial cartoons can have on community-level discourse.
“If you truly want to get the attention of local politicians, have a local cartoonist on your staff,” says John Cole, editorial cartoonist for The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Good local reporting and written editorials provide the facts, context and moral analysis. Then “a lot of time the political cartoon will be the pointy end of the stick,” says Cole. “Having a local cartoonist, it gives a publication a unique voice.”
Jim King, head of the University of Wyoming’s political science department, says editorial cartoons are a relevant part of local politics. “There’s always a grain of truth in editorial cartoons. … There’s always a little bit of removing the emperor’s new clothes, and I think it shows that WyoFile is growing as a voice in Wyoming news,” says King.
Editorial cartoons are the signed opinion of the artist, and don’t necessarily represent the opinions of the publications that print them, says Kearney. And they almost never explain both sides of an issue. Cartoonists often are accused of being insensitive and of pushing stereotypes.
For example, the first sketch Kearney produced for WyoFile, “The Lifeline,” portrays a Native American wearing a feather in a headband. Kearney said that could be construed as perpetuating old stereotypes, but the feather was a device, not a statement, just like drawing an obese banker smoking a wad of cash. “We employ these devices because we have but a few seconds to communicate our ideas. We need to employ quick visual elements because, unlike the readers of columns, our viewers spend only a few seconds taking in our work,” says Kearney.
Therefore, the editorial cartoon is not a venue for reasoned debate. It’s a quick point meant to evoke emotion, says Kearney. That doesn’t mean Kearney isn’t interested in the complexities of tough political issues. He is particularly passionate about church-and-state issues. He’s taken jabs at the Wyoming legislature for debating gay marriage, while speaking in defense of the freedom of religious institutions.
“On gay marriage, I favor taking the toy away. I don’t think government should have any role in marriage at all,” said Kearney. “It’s the only religious sacrament we ask people to get a license from the state to perform.”
Kearney currently pens editorial cartoons for a handful of publications in the U.S., Canada and Australia — familiar places where he can comment on local politics. Kearney said he approached WyoFile to publish Draw! based on the organization’s statewide focus and in-depth reporting style.
“My cartoons, almost without exception, are based on state and local politics,” said Kearney.
WyoFile’s editorial cartoon policy: Editorial cartoons are the signed opinion of the artist, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. Although WyoFile encourages Wyoming media outlets to run original WyoFile content for free, we ask that editors who wish to republish “Draw!” seek permission from author Greg Kearney via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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