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Was I Sunk by Submarines?

In 2000, I got a great contract to draw five cartoons a week for Gannett’s Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii, the big daily paper in town. The biggest local story at that time was the sinking of a Japanese high school fishing boat. The boat, the Ehime Maru, was struck by a US submarine, the Greeneville who’s captain was Commander Scott Waddle. The submarine was on a mission to entertain celebrities, a common practice for the Navy, where celebrities get to play at steering the sub for PR purposes. On these joyrides, the subs would often do exciting “emergency ballast blows” which made the sub shoot to the surface and leap out of the water – it was on one of these dramatic, celebrity steered, leaping maneuvers that the Greeneville crashed into the Ehime Maru, sinking it immediately.

Even worse, as many of the Japanese high school kids were drowning, screaming for help in the water, the Greeneville and its crew did nothing to help them. It was later explained that this was because the sub had no procedure for saving drowning kids. This was a horror story that seemed to have no end as the Navy was very slow in releasing the embarrassing and damning details, stretching snippets of information out painfully over the course of weeks.

I was new as a daily cartoonist for the Advertiser and the sub disaster made me angry. I drew this cartoon.

The Advertiser killed the cartoon, refusing to run it because, as my editor told me, “Honolulu is a Navy town, Daryl. We’re very careful about criticizing the Navy.” That made me mad – this was the kind of local story that a local cartoonist exists for. I had just started my little syndicate, and I recall that this cartoon was widely reprinted on the mainland, something the Advertiser wasn’t used to seeing with a cartoon they killed, and I think that annoyed them.

So I drew this next cartoon, about no one on the sub attempting to save the drowning students.

The Advertiser killed this cartoon too. Again, it was too critical of the Navy.

So I drew this cartoon about “emergency ballast blows.”

This one was killed too. Anything that mentioned a submarine was going to be killed. This “Navy town” was feeling like a Soviet town. I tried a soft approach with this next cartoon …

Killed, still too critical of the Navy. It was clear that all of my submarine cartoons would be killed. I drew this one about reprimanding Commander Waddle …

No good. I felt like a cartoonist in China. The story was in the headlines for weeks and months, with little more than flowers and teardrops from another cartoonist in the paper, and my cartoons were running only on the mainland.

I was annoyed, so I started drawing submarines in local cartoons, on subjects that had nothing to do with the submarine incident. These cartoons got killed too, just because they included submarines. This cartoon was about a spending disagreement in the legislature about a court decision on Special Education funding, known locally as the Felix Consent Decree.

No, they wouldn’t even print a local submarine cartoon about Special Education funding. At this point, I think my editors were just as annoyed with me as I was with them. I was their new cartoonist who only drew a small percentage of “cartoons we can use.”

Then The Advertiser surprised me by printing one of the cartoons that I kept drawing about the submarine incident – maybe they printed it by accident, who knows, but this calendar cartoon suddenly showed up on the editorial page one day …

My first submarine cartoon was printed, a month after the tragedy!

Then I got a call from my sheepish editor, who clearly was making a call he didn’t want to make. He said, “Daryl, I just got a call from the Admiral in charge of the Navy at Pearl Harbor. He would like to have the original of your cartoon to hang in his office.”

I said, “Which cartoon? You killed all of the submarine cartoons except for that calendar cartoon you printed yesterday.”

“Yes, that’s the one he saw. That’s the one he wants. Can you send us the original of that one?”

I said, “There isn’t really any original of the calendar cartoon. I went to the store and bought a calendar, then I wrote on it in a ball point pen and scanned it, and I added the type, signature and cross-hatching on the computer. It doesn’t exist as a single drawing, like my other cartoons.”

The Ehime Maru.

That was clearly a disturbing response for the editor to hear. I think I ended up sending the editor a signed print or something, and I think I recall the editor proudly saying that the admiral had the print of this calendar page hanging in his office. I mentioned that the admiral might have also liked one of my killed cartoons, but that, again, wasn’t what the editor wanted to hear.

I understand the laments of other cartoonists, like Rob Rogers, who have a large percentage of their cartoons killed after a change in editors. Editors can be control freaks, and cartoonists get under the skin of control freaks. It was all the more frustrating for my editor in Hawaii  because he must have known that these were the cartoons that the Advertiser really should have been printing at the time.  Needless to say, I didn’t last long at The Honolulu Advertiser, which let me go in less than a year for “cost cutting purposes.” That was an excuse I didn’t believe at the time, because of all the killed cartoons; now I think it is likely true that I was canned for cost-cutting because the whole newspaper went out of business not long after that. Now the combined “Honolulu Star-Advertiser” runs my syndicated cartoons.

My last submarine cartoon was this one, of Commander Waddle. After all of the proceedings about Waddle, he turned out to be a tragic character, genuinely haunted by his responsibility for the horrible event. Waddle was given an honorable discharge and he went on an apology tour in Japan. I feel sorry for the guy. Here he is, like a cowboy at the end of a movie, waddling off into the sunset.

Ever since I was dropped by The Honolulu Advertiser, and after I left The Midweek, I haven’t had a problem with killed cartoons. and never killed a cartoon, even when The Washington Post owned Slate (and I worked for them for a year) the Post didn’t kill any of my cartoons.

Killed cartoons happen when a cartoonist and editor are stuck with each other, they don’t see eye to eye, and both think they are doing the jobs they should do. That may not happen much longer as all of the editorial cartoonists lose their jobs and become freelancers, working through syndication. When editors pick from many syndicated cartoons, some cartoons still don’t get printed, but no cartoons were killed by the editors.

Syndicates still kill cartoons, though. Maybe I’ll write about that later.

Read more about my time as a local cartoonist in Hawaii on my blog here.

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