Editors Want LOVE – My Interview with Cam Cardow, the Holiday Cartoon King

DARYL: Editors are always asking us for editorial cartoons that celebrate holidays. More than any other request we get from editors. It may be an outgrowth of editors not wanting controversy, and wanting soft, happy cartoons, and it is interesting for us to gauge just how unhappy they are with cartoonists not giving them what they want.

You are the exception. Of-course, as a syndicate we like giving editors what they want. You give them what they want, and your cartoons celebrating holidays are very widely reprinted. We liken them to greeting cards. I wondered if you had any comment on that.

CAM: Well, for me it has been a tradition at the Ottawa Citizen to draw holiday cartoons. This was a natural thing for me to do, since I evolved from being a staff illustrator many years ago to editorial cartoonist. I don’t think it is me trying to appeal to as many editors as possible, so that I can get more print, as it is just me drawing something different. As editorial cartoonists, we spend most of the year making political statements, so it really doesn’t bother me too much if we take a day out here and there just to illustrate life.

DARYL: I hear lots of complaints from cartoonists that they draw hard-hitting cartoons that don’t get printed, and their soft cartoons get all the ink – or more often, the other guy’s soft cartoons get all the ink.

  Your cartoons dominated editorial pages on Fathers Day. We got almost no cartoons from other cartoonists on the topic – and we got lots of complaints from editors about that.

CAM: I think there is room for soft cartoons on certain days. You know, as a reader, I really prefer to see a holiday cartoon that reflects the mood of the day, rather than some hard-hitting smack at another politician. I think editors understand that, but the purists in the business might take issue with that.

I’m not suggesting everyone should be drawing Father’s Day cartoons, as I really believe the best cartoons are the ones that come from inside. For me, I really like drawing heavy cartoons, as well as funny, or light-hearted. Is there a rule written somewhere where we have to be heavy every day?

DARYL: I think most editors would prefer soft every day. There is a kind of macho attitude among cartoonists that there is some virtue to drawing tough cartoons on the issues, and that the soft, “Newsweek” cartoonists are somehow sellouts. But, even those “Newsweek cartoonists” draw harsh cartoons, that Newsweek doesn’t print.

I think there is a bell shaped curve for spineless editors. Most in the middle want spineless cartoons. But there are a few at the endpoints that will print anything.

  Your holiday cartoons are a bit different, though. You’re conveying warmth. The typical argument is about soft joke cartoons. Hardly any editorial cartoonist conveys warmth in his cartoons. And clearly, as the syndicate guy here, I can see that editors respond to warmth in cartoons.

Editors want love.

CAM: Has our profession devolved to counting how many times we get reprinted? In my 20 years in this business, I have discovered that editors choose cartoons based on their own preferences. In the case of Newsweek, it’s obvious they prefer soft. Perhaps they don’t want the extra grief of having to deal with grumpy readers. Some editors prefer cartoons which reflect their opinion and others wouldn’t know a good editorial cartoon if they saw it.

DARYL: Cartoonists often argue that editors simply want to avoid controversy, or any cartoon that might offend any reader who might cancel a subscription. But I think it goes beyond that. They really want the greeting card/love cartoons – clearly on holidays, but I’d say, anytime they can get them. So long as there is an excuse to have the cartoon on the editorial page – like when there is a holiday.

CAM: I remember this argument 20 years ago when the younger cartoonists appeared and began a trend towards cracking jokes off the headlines. The old-timers were understandably upset because the whole point of an editorial cartoon is the editorial comment. Perhaps this is just a natural progression from gag-orientated to a preference for soft, fluffy cartoons. I can only speculate on what editors are thinking these days. My guess is that they appeal to readers and that appeals to editors.

  DARYL: It’s not just cartoons. We also see much more soft and fluffy from columnists on the Op-Ed page. Our most popular columnist is Tom Purcell, who often writes light pieces about life – but his columns about warm remembrances are the most popular by far.

This is all for the Op-Ed page where I would expect people to argue about issues in the news.

Another part of it may be that the readership of newspaper Op-Ed pages now is elderly and we’re delivering a product for Grandma. The editorial page has turned into the Hallmark Store.

CAM: Maybe it’s a byproduct of political correctness. There is a subtle censorship going on in the media. I saw it during the Muslim cartoon controversy. Editors were very nervous and, as a result, many cartoonists felt less freedom to say what they really wanted to say. It might also be part of trying to retain the readers they have, since as we are all very aware by now, readership is dramatically down. Perhaps that’s the key: editors are nervous these days.

DARYL: Do you totally discount the idea that editors really want the warm fluffy stuff? Do you feel editors are going for something they don’t like in order to appeal to readers?

CAM: No, editors print what they want. Remember they are people too, have kids, parents etc. A Father’s Day cartoon appeals to just about everyone. You are probably more in tune with what gets printed than I am. I frankly don’t care. I draw cartoons. If editors want them, great! If not, oh, well…

  When I was younger, I cared a great deal about appealing to editors and my work reflected that. Syndication for me was a big second income. Now it is pocket change, thanks to cartoonists and cartoon marts undercutting the market with cheap, mediocre cartoons. So, I draw cartoons for my paper with the understanding that my readership extends outside the pages of the Ottawa Citizen. I prefer to stick with what my paper desires and I’m fortunate they give me a lot of freedom to do what I do. I draw holiday cartoons; I even draw (gasp!), faith-based Easter cartoons. Fortunately, they haven’t complained yet, but editors change.

DARYL: Your faith-based Easter cartoons dominate the Easter editorial pages, you know.

CAM: Which is odd because I thought we were a secular society with a liberal-dominated media, or so I keep hearing.

DARYL: Thanks, Cam.

CAM: Thanks, Daryl.

Want to comment? E-mail Cam. If we get some interesting comments we’ll post them in the blog.

By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post. For the past 35 years, Daryl has been one of America’s most prolific cartoonists.