Miranda Rights and the Cartoon Police

Now I know how Mitt Romney felt when he was dogged by complaints about his “flip-flopping”. Nothing makes editorial cartoonists angrier than another cartoonist who changes his mind.

There was a short lived debate about whether a Miranda warning should be given to Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who had been questioned without being given the warning. I drew a cartoon featuring Dzhokhar with two other, famous killers, and a caption that concluded that “none of them” deserved a Miranda warning. I got no response from editors or other cartoonists to this cartoon, but I got such a strong reaction from readers against the cartoon, with many well reasoned arguments, that I changed my mind — something that doesn’t happen much in the editorial cartooning profession.

I remember when the Miranda decision came down in the 1960’s, on a 5-4 vote. It was controversial for a long time. Liberals liked it, conservatives still don’t like it. The Miranda debate resurfaced when Dzhokhar was questioned without being given a Miranda warning, a topic that filled editorial pages for nearly a week.

Of-course Dzhokhar doesn’t personally deserve any special consideration, but the American people deserve to have civil rights that are applied consistently to all, including the most heinous killers. Most of the reader responses to my cartoon conflated reading the Miranda warning to Dzhokhar with Dzhokhar’s overall civil rights; I have come to the conclusion that this is a good thing. I see now that the Miranda warning has become a part of our national fabric and I changed my mind. I really read the arguments that readers send to me. I drew a new cartoon that showed a revised conclusion that “all of” the killers deserved to be read their Miranda warning.

Then I learned that, as I was drawing the revised cartoon last Monday, Dzhokhar was read his Miranda warning, so I doubt that my second cartoon got reprinted much. Even so, the talking heads on TV were engaging in renewed debate about the wisdom of giving the Miranda warning in this case, which caused the suspect, Dzhokhar, to stop “talking.”

I’ve changed my mind before, not often, and usually over a longer period of time, but I won’t go back into my online archive to delete my regrettable old cartoons. I posted them, I should live with my history. So both versions of my cartoon are still posted on my web site. (My old cartoons supporting the run up to war in Iraq are still posted too — I’m more embarrassed by those.)

I got almost no response to the second version of the cartoon from readers or editors, but there was an angry torrent of responses from my fellow editorial cartoonists. Some of my colleagues blogged that I had a new, insidious business plan to make more money by offering two versions of the same cartoon, for both liberal and conservative editors — to sell twice as many cartoons with only one drawing. Others agreed, adding that I was cheapening the profession with this crass, two-faced commercialism.

One political cartoonist blogged that my cartoon was no editorial cartoon at all (and by extension, that I am no editorial cartoonist) because editorial cartoons must, by definition, express only one opinion. Another editorial cartoonist raged at my cartoon in his blog by calling me the “Osama Bin Laden” of editorial cartooning.

Some cartoonists wrote that I must surely be lying about my reason for changing the cartoon, because the idea that I would change my mind was simply not credible. Others called for me to be punished for my breach of the unwritten laws of cartoon ethics. Some demanded that I be thrown out of our professional organization.

Other editorial cartoonists demanded that I remove the old version of the cartoon from my archive, as I would do with a cartoon that was revised to correct a spelling error. The idea that an editor could purchase and print both versions of the cartoon, with two different opinions, was repugnant. Bloggers and journalism sites reported on the cartoon controversy.

Yes, the cartoon police really do exist.

I know this all sounds unbelievable, but I’m not exaggerating. It is fascinating that editorial cartoonists have such a different perspective on their own work than editors and readers do. We editorial cartoonists take ourselves far more seriously than anyone else takes us.

I’m tempted to resist this cartoon police brutality. When I’m arrested, I hope they read me my Miranda warning.

Daryl Cagle is a cartoonist who runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


Greedy Bankers Devour Cyprus

The banking crisis in Cyprus is great fun and a gift to editorial cartoonists — like me! It is a story of crazy economic collapse, with Russian mobsters laundering money in secret accounts and crooked Cypriot bankers who gambled the dirty cash away on risky Greek bonds, bringing down the economy of their tiny nation.

The sordid tale reminds me of Greek mythology and Francisco Goya’s famous painting Saturn Devouring his Child, that the Spanish master painted on the plaster wall of his dining room at home, charming his guests when they came over for dinner. I love to draw editorial cartoons that deface masterpieces; editors seem to like these cartoons the best, reprinting them much more than my other cartoons.

Saturn knew that one of his children was going to kill him, so, of-course, he ate all of his kids, except for one that his wife, Rhea, hid from him. Rhea slipped a rock into swaddling clothes and gave it to Saturn, who swiftly swallowed the rock, thinking he was eating his son, Zeus.

Years later, Zeus grew up and confronted his Dad, by some accounts slicing Dad’s belly open and freeing his siblings, the Titans, who emerged no worse for wear after their years of digestive confinement. By other accounts, Zeus slipped his Dad something that made Dad vomit up his Titanic siblings — either way, this Greek myth is a perfect metaphor for Cyprus and the EU.

Spurred on by Russian mobsters, greedy, giant, Greek bankers devoured the little economy of Cyprus and soon the EU will slice open the bankers’ belly (or induce them to vomit, depending on which version you prefer) freeing the Cypriot economy which will be no worse for wear from its digestive confinement.

Another interesting element in this mythical cartoon comparison is that Zeus also castrated his father, just as the EU will metaphorically castrate the Cypriot bankers and give those Russian mobsters a “haircut.”

In cartoons, mythology, masterpieces and economics, what goes around comes around.

Daryl Cagle is a cartoonist who runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


A Cartoonist’s Letter to Israel’s Ambassador

On the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Israel, most Americans think of the dramatic changes happening in the Middle East and the threat Iran poses to Israel. The world is a frightening place for Israel — but American cartoonists have something else on their minds, a Palestinian cartoonist who is jailed in Israel for no apparent reason. Here is a letter I wrote to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Dear Ambassador Oren,

I am writing to urge Israeli authorities to release a Palestinian political cartoonist, Mohammad Saba’aneh, who was jailed by the Israeli Defense Forces on February 16 at a border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. He is being held without charge and is denied access to an attorney. Under Israeli law, Muhammad may be held indefinitely without charge. Only Israeli authorities know why he is imprisoned.

Mohammad is a cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, and he works at the Arab American University in Jenin on the West Bank. He is a respected cartoonist; he is not a terrorist or a criminal. Arab cartoonists often draw ugly, racist, offensive cartoons about Israel, but Mohammad’s cartoons are not among those; his work, although critical, is more balanced and artful.

I met Mohammad in 2010, when the U.S. State Department sent him to our Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in Florida, where he got to meet many of his American colleagues. Mohammad told me he was a fan of my work; he is a charming guy, eager to show his own cartoons to all of his new friends. Mohammad is active in the global cartooning community and cartoonists around the world are closely following the story of his plight in Israel.

I run a small business, Cagle Cartoons, Inc., that syndicates the work of cartoonists from around the world to over 850 subscribing newspapers, including half of the daily, paid-circulation newspapers in America. Among the cartoonists we distribute is Yaakov Kirschen, the cartoonist who draws Dry Bones for the Jerusalem Post; Yaakov’s cartoons run in Jewish newspapers throughout the United States. Our American editorial cartoonists are great supporters of Israel, in contrast to cartoonists from the rest of the world who harshly criticize Israel. The contrast is easy to see as editorial cartoons reflect world opinion. American cartoonists are Israel’s most visible supporters, and my own small business is the leader in distributing these views for America and the world to see.

It seems clear that Mohammad has been jailed to chill his cartoons that are critical of Israel. Instead, this ugly incident risks chilling Israel’s most visible supporters in America’s press at a time when Israel needs our support more than ever.

American cartoonists like to see Israel as a champion of democracy and press freedom in a hostile Middle East — Mohammad’s case undermines that perception and seems to be a clumsy attempt to silence the press. This incident makes Israel appear to be no better than its repressive neighbors.

I’m writing to you in the hope that you will urge the authorities in Israel to release Mohammad, return him to his family and allow us to again see Israel as a democracy that respects a free press.

Truly, Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is a cartoonist who runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at

Please use the cartoon posted with this column. It’s by the jailed Mohammad Saba’aneh. Attribution should be to Mohammed Saba’aneh, Cartoon Movement.


The First Amendment can be Sooooo Annoying

That First Amendment can be Soooooo Annoying

I syndicate the cartoons of Rick McKee, the brilliant, conservative cartoonist from The Augusta Chronicle, to newspapers around the world. Today Rick sent in a cartoon about a local Georgia legislator that was so nutty, I asked him to explain. Rick writes:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” and apparently, Internet Photoshops can really get under the thin skin of Georgia State Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta. Recently he became upset, to say the least, over a manipulated photo in which a blogger digitally pasted his head onto somebody else’s very naked body.

So, he’s co-sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal to alter a photograph so that it “causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction.” I understand where he’s coming from. Nobody wants their head stuck on an obscene image. Problem is, it’s perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution under the First Amendment. You’d think a guy in his position would know this.

Of course, he’s brought the wrath of the Internet down upon him. Bloggers and forums are trying to outdo one another with lewd images featuring the noggin of Rep. Smith.

But then Smith goes further and says, “No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right.”

Wow. This is truly embarrassing coming from an elected official. If that’s true, then as a political cartoonist I am breaking the law every day. Go ahead and lock me up. Jon Stewart and David Letterman can be my cellmates.

Perhaps, in the future, our elected officials should be required to take a basic middle school-level civics class. Or, at the least, we could include a disclaimer in their job description, “Warning: This occupation may be a hazard to those with thin skins!”

Daryl Cagle runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


Better not Insult Adam and Eve

Note to editors : The cartoon referenced in this column follows the text.

It didn’t take long for the new Islamist government in Egypt to start acting like other nutty Islamic regimes when it comes to political cartoons.

The latest wacko religious intolerance comes in response to a cartoon by Egyptian editorial cartoonist Doaa El Adl that shows an Egyptian man with angel wings lecturing Adam and Eve. The three characters are on a cloud beneath the infamous, forbidden fruit tree. The angel is telling Adam and Eve that they would never have been expelled from heaven if they had simply voted in favor of the draft constitution in the recent Egyptian referendum.

The cartoon ridicules proponents of Egypt’s constitutional referendum who were quoted saying that a “‘yes vote’ guarantees one a spot in heaven, while a ‘no vote’ guarantees one a spot in hell.”

The cartoonist, one of very few women cartoonists in the Arab world, is being sued by Egypt’s new “Secretary General for the Defense of Freedoms,” Khaled El Masry along with her editor, Yasser Rizk, and businessman Naguib Sawiris. The Secretary General Masry claims that the cartoon insults Adam, who is considered a prophet in the Muslim religion. Egypt’s Attorney General has ordered an investigation.

I met Doaa El Adl at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention a couple of years ago in Florida, shortly after the revolution in Egypt. She was the only woman cartoonist in a large group of Arab cartoonists sent by the U.S. State Department to visit their colleagues in the USA. In our conversations she was beaming with pride and optimism about Egypt’s revolution and had high hopes and expectations about Egypt’s future. I was impressed with her.

In Egypt, editorial cartoonists are especially important. There are lots of popular, thriving, competing newspapers in Egypt, and most of the newspapers run their editorial cartoon in color on the front page. Editorial cartoonists are the most important voices in each newspaper, and clearly the most threatening voices to Islamic, extremist politicians.

I doubt that Doaa is being sued, and possibly prosecuted, because of insulting Adam; she is being sued to chill her voice, and make it costly to be a cartoonist who is critical of Egypt’s new religious junta.

This is a shame. Doaa is talented, brave and eager to seek a better future for Egypt — just what Egypt needs right now. Read more about her case on the Cartoonists Rights Network site at

Daryl Cagle runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


How to Save an Editorial Cartoonist

These are tough times for political cartoonists as newspapers cut back. Cartoonists are still widely syndicated in newspapers across the country, but national syndication pays a fraction of what cartoonists made from traditional staff jobs, making them an endangered species as cartoonists lose their jobs.

The irony is that political cartoons are more popular than ever; cartoons spread quickly across social networks, look great on tablets and smart phones, and reach millions of readers through syndication. Editorial cartoons are part of state-mandated testing in 8th and 11th grade, and are a part of the weekly homework for millions of students in America.

In recent years the number of editorial cartoonists has declined by half, to about 60. One of the best is Bill Day, who drew for decades for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and before that the Detroit Free Press. Bill has a room full of trophies from a storied career as an editorial cartoonist, winning almost every prize a political cartoonist can win. Bill’s cartoons are syndicated to half of the newspapers in America, but there is little money to be made from syndication as newspapers pay pennies a day for cartoons.

When he was laid off from his newspaper, Bill went to work for Federal Express, lifting heavy boxes, until that was too much for his back. Bill now works every day in a bike shop; he draws his cartoons at night; he is in danger of losing his house and faces the tough choice of retiring from his long career in editorial cartooning — ironically, at a time when more readers than ever are reading his work.

Editorial cartoonists are no different from newsroom journalists, who have been losing their jobs in the same proportion as newspapers cut back. We know that journalism will continue to be important in the future, but we don’t know what form the business will take, as unemployed journalists now work as freelancers and bloggers; the same is true with editorial cartoonists, but since there are so few cartoonists the cuts threaten the viability of the profession. We may soon face a time when there are only a dozen political cartoonists left, and editorial pages will be like McDonald’s, with everyone in the world choosing their dinner from a handful of choices on the same, bland menu.

You can help stop the decline of our profession, stop the bleeding and preserve the public debate by saving one important voice at this important time. You can keep Bill Day working, and we’ll make sure that his work continues to be seen by millions of readers in syndication.

We’re doing a crowd-funding campaign at to raise $35,000, to be paid as a salary to Bill to draw four editorial cartoons a week, every week, for an entire year, as if he was working for a newspaper. That’s a total of 208 cartoons, covering everything from the presidential election to Wall Street and our corrupt political system. If we’re able to raise more we will keep Bill working longer. All donated funds will be kept in a segregated fund, only for Bill’s salary. Bill will send his original drawings as premium gifts to contributors, and will sign prints and send e-books to fans who donate in smaller amounts.

Our unique American art-form needs you. Bill needs you. Please, save our editorial cartooning profession, save Bill and keep an important, progressive voice in the public debate by donating to keep Bill drawing for the next year and beyond.



Daryl Cagle runs the newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


The New York Times Cartoon Kerfuffle

There was a “cartoon kerfuffle” this week as The New York Times announced that they would begin running traditional editorial cartoons again, in an email invitation to selected, top political cartoonists. It was good news that one of America’s biggest newspapers would again embrace our art form, but their offer was so lousy it only made the cartoonists angry.

What the Times proposed was having all the best cartoonists submit finished cartoons to them on Fridays, for publication in their Sunday edition. The Times wanted the cartoons to be exclusive to them; the cartoons could not be reprinted elsewhere. The Times would pick one of the cartoons and pay the winning cartoonist a paltry $250, sending him an exclusive contract only after he wins the selection contest; the dozens of losing cartoonists would get nothing. Of course, the cartoonists reacted to this offer with disgust, and the Internet has been buzzing with cartoon disdain for the arrogant New York Times the past few days.

The Times is arguably the most prestigious newspaper, and they have been without a staff editorial cartoonist for many decades – a sore spot for our beleaguered editorial cartooning profession which has been losing jobs at about the same rate as newsroom journalists, as newspapers’ fortunes have declined. Before dropping editorial cartoons entirely, the Times ran a weekly “round-up” of syndicated cartoons under the title, “Laugh Lines,” in which they selected funny cartoons that were like Jay Leno jokes, expressing no strong opinion, but good for a smile. Cartoonists suspected that the new cartoon in the Times would be the same, encouraging cartoonists to compete for the Times’ favor by submitting opinionless, funny cartoons that would further “dumb-down” the profession. The Times would also remove the artist’s signature from their editorial cartoons, an annoyance to the cartoonists.

Newspapers have gotten used to the idea that editorial cartoons are cheap, because of “syndication” where cartoonists distribute their cartoons to hundreds of newspapers through “syndicates” (businesses that charge very little for the cartoons). But syndication is no extra work for the cartoonist, distributing only cartoons that the cartoonist has already drawn for his own newspaper, and the syndicated cartoons are “non-exclusive,” that is, they can be purchased and reprinted anywhere, unlike the New York Times proposal for exclusive cartoons for only $250, with a contest between cartoonists who would spend time submitting and making changes for the Times’ editors, with only one cartoonist having his work printed and getting paid.

It is a sign of our times, of how far our cartooning profession has fallen, and of how callously editors have devalued our work that the Times would solicit cartoons under these conditions – and also a sign of how arrogant The New York Times has become, to assume that top cartoonists would participate. There has been some blowback, with prominent cartoonists writing letters to the Times dissing the offer and refusing to participate; one of my favorites came from award-winning Canadian cartoonist Cam Cardow who wrote:

“I suggest you take this idea back to the boardroom from which it was birthed and have it reconsidered. I would also humbly suggest that your editors take an afternoon off and head to the local library to study the contributions editorial cartooning has made to journalism and society. For one, you’ll be surprised to find out professional cartoonists don’t live in trailer parks, or panhandle at malls. Some of us even have all our teeth. Well, we Canadian do.”

I’m told that the Times is now “revisiting the policy.” I have a few suggestions for the Times:

1. Try reprinting the best syndicated cartoons again, with signatures of the artists in place, and without the title, “Laugh Lines,” so that cartoons which make a reader cry or think might get equal play in the Times as the little jokes.

2. Or, if you want an exclusive cartoon, trust one cartoonist and pay him or her fairly. Find someone whose point of view is in line with the Times’ editorial stance; commit to that cartoonist and give him the same freedom that you do with your columnists. After all, editorial cartoonists are graphic columnists, except that our work is more powerful than the words of columnists. Nobody tears out a column and sticks it to their refrigerator.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Daryl’s cartoons are syndicated to more than 850 newspapers, including the paper you are reading now. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at


Dominique Strauss-Kahn-Le Pew

My only exposure to French culture as a child was Looney Tunes cartoons featuring the lecherous skunk, Pepé Le Pew. When I grew up, my views of France changed, and I thought of the French as romantic, a view that seems to contrast with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose alleged sexual assault on a hotel maid is remarkably similar to Pepé Le Pew’s antics. Maybe Warner Brothers got it right.

I recently visited France where I learned that the French were also raised with Looney Tunes characters from an early age, and they are all familiar with Pepé Le Pew. In France, the cartoons are dubbed into French and Le Pew loses his French accent; it isn’t widely known that he is supposed to be French. One French lady I spoke with told me:

“We never knew Pepé Le Pew was French — I didn’t learn that until I grew up — and I was shocked. We thought he was just a jerk.”

As a flood of news of past liaisons pours in, everyone now agrees that Strauss-Kahn is a jerk. This is the season for political-Le Pews, with Euro-Le Pews Schwarzenegger and Berlusconi joining our own chorus of American-Le Pew oldies: Clinton, Gingrich, Spitzer, Sanford, Vitter, Ensign, Edwards and more. It is a parade of schadenfreude delights for editorial cartoonists.

The French are remarkably tolerant of their leaders’ sexual indiscretions, and I was interested to see the America-bashing that accompanied the Strauss-Kahn news, as the French press was eager to bash the American legal system for publishing images of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs. The American press wouldn’t publish the name of Strauss-Kahn’s victim — not so in France, where the victim’s name was broadcast widely.

I wondered what the French thought of sexy maids, and I just did a Google search — oh là là! It seems that every aspect of the Strauss-Kahn story reinforces our stereotyped images of the French. I suspect the same is true on the other side of the Atlantic as the French roll their eyes at puritanical Americans with their backward legal system.

I once got a job from a French magazine whose editors asked me to draw the archetypal American; they gave me a list of American attributes to incorporate into the image; they wanted an overweight man with: cowboy hat, hamburger, soda, jeans, sneakers and iPod. Hamburgers are an international cartoon symbol for America, understood worldwide, except in America.

Superman is another international cartoon symbol of America, a fact that may have recently led Warner Brothers to have Superman renounce his American citizenship. I hate to think that Warner Brothers might do the same with Pepé Le Pew. Without his French citizenship, Le Pew would be as pointless for us as he is in France.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Daryl’s cartoons are syndicated to more than 850 newspapers, including the paper you are reading now. Read Daryl’s blog at


My Mexican Flag Cartoon and Angry Readers

I’ve had a crazy week since I drew a cartoon of the Mexican flag, with the eagle shot dead by a stream of machine gun bullets. The cartoon illustrates the terrible violence in Mexico. Since President Felipe Calderón announced his war on the drug cartels, over 28,000 people have been killed in a civil war that shows no sign of easing. I got a spirited, angry reaction on my blog and in e-mails from Mexican readers who objected to my “desecration of the sacred Mexican flag.”

My cartoon appeared at the same time as Calderón‘s state of the union address to Mexico’s Congress in which Calderón claimed to be making progress in the worsening drug war. Mexico’s conservative, national newspaper Reforma, and other papers in their chain, published my cartoon at the top of their front pages. The convenient timing of my cartoon “scandal” was an opportunity for Reforma to make an effective front page dig at Calderón, and soon the cartoon was picked up by almost all of the other Mexican newspapers. The Mexican Embassy in Washington responded to the cartoon with a letter to my home publication,, stoking the cartoon controversy even more.

Many outraged Mexican readers pointed out that it is against the law in Mexico to alter the image of the flag – a law that didn’t deter Mexican newspapers from printing the cartoon.

There are raw nerves all around. I’m still being deluged with online comments and e-mails, half from angry Mexicans who think the image of their flag must never be tampered with. The Mexican mail is laced with colorful profanity, about how America is the cause of all of Mexico’s problems, with our demand for drugs and our guns fueling the violence.

The rest of the responses are supportive of my cartoon, some from Mexicans who say my cartoon describes how they feel, others from angry Americans who see any criticism of Mexico as supportive of their anti-immigrant fervor. Conservative readers seem to take glee in sending me dozens of photos of Mexicans disrespecting American flags in every imaginable way. The Mexican readers write that the American flag is “not the same” and “you Americans respect nothing – you wear your flag in your underwear!” (The flag-underwear reference is a popular one.) I also hear a lot about how “you Americans use your ‘freedom of speech’ to crap on everyone else!”

Another popular argument is that the “sacred” Mexican flag is just like the Prophet Muhammad, and no cartoonist should dare to draw the Mexican flag just as they wouldn’t dare to draw Muhammad. I generally respect religious beliefs and I shy away from religion bashing in my cartoons, but I don’t grant the same respect to governments. It is the role of editorial cartoonists to criticize governments and nations, and to use the symbols of nations in our cartoons. Cartoonists all around the world use flags in their cartoons and no country can opt out of criticism because they view their own flag as “sacred”. This attitude outrages my Mexican critics, especially since it comes from an ugly, foreign, American cartoonist.

Ever since the Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis I get mail on various topics, from readers who want offending cartoons removed, demanding apologies– “just like with the Danish Muhammad cartoons. “ In the old days readers would write thoughtful letters to the editor of their newspaper; now readers expect to interact in real time with the cartoonist; they want to strike back and get retribution for the perceived offense. A few hot-button topics always get the responses: Mexico/immigration, the Confederate battle flag, abortion, gun control, Israel vs. the Palestinians and Islam. The e-mails are always the same: punish, fire or educate the ignorant, racist cartoonist; ban the topic in cartoons; apologize.

Part of the friction comes from a basic misunderstanding of what an editorial cartoon is – some people think editorial cartoons are supposed to be funny jokes. A good editorial cartoon might be funny, it might make readers cry, or think – and sometimes a cartoon that makes readers angry is the most effective cartoon of all.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Daryl’s cartoons are syndicated to more than 850 newspapers, including the paper you are reading now. Daryl’s books “The BIG Book of Campaign 2008 Political Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2010 Edition” are available in bookstores now. Read Daryl’s blog at


Spineless Despots Don’t Like Cartoons

As incredible as it might seem for a modern European democracy, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is suing for an apology and €33,000 ($43,000.00) for a political cartoon, drawn by Martin “Shooty” Sutovec for the SME Daily newspaper, that mocked the Prime Minister’s health by suggesting he didn’t have a backbone.

Editorial cartoons are the best measure of a country’s freedom; cartoonists are barred from drawing their leaders in many countries around the world. Lawsuits from insulted politicians like Fico are typical in authoritarian regimes that claim to have a free press but can’t bear criticism. The government in Algeria claims to have a free press while officials often sue editorial cartoonists in civil court –- a common practice in Arab countries. It is disappointing to see third world style repression in an EU country like Slovakia, which should have higher standards.

In his offending cartoon, Shooty has drawn Prime Minister Fico seated in a doctor’s office. The doctor, after examining an x-ray, which shows Fico’s skeleton with no neck or spine, says to Fico, “I knew it! Your spine can’t possibly hurt because you don’t have a backbone.” Cartoons that accuse politicians of “having no backbone” are universal.

In his lawsuit against Shooty and his publisher, the prime minister stated that while he was suffering unbearable physical pain, the SME daily was misusing his image and mocking his suffering, which harmed his dignity and reputation.

Eliza Young, a spokesperson for Freedom House, an NGO that monitors press freedom around the world said, “The case against Martin ‘Shooty’ Sutovec is one of many inappropriate cases that have been brought against the Slovak media in the past year and represents a wider trend of intimidation of the press by political elites. Not only has the prime minister filed several lawsuits, but the Chairman of the Supreme Court has harassed publishers and a radio station, demanding out-of-court settlements of up to €200,000 ($286,000). The courts’ inclination to rule in favor of politicians in many cases is worrying, and we fear that the extreme fines associated with these charges will lead to increased self-censorship by Slovakia’s journalists. In a democratic society, a journalist’s first loyalty should be to its citizens, not its politicians.”

Slovakia’s Fico, who clings to his communist roots, often sues the media for libel and has been awarded substantial compensatory damages. In 2009, Fico was awarded €92,000 in damages for various libel claims against the press, including €66,000 in a case where a newspaper was unable to prove that Fico had called two journalists “dirty bastards”.

Editorial cartoonists in America are given broad protections allowing them to ridicule public figures. By choosing to become a public figure, American politicians give up their right to sue cartoonists. I drew President Clinton as the character in the “Operation” game at the time of his heart surgery. One of our syndicated cartoonists, Monte Wolverton, drew an anal-interior view of President George W. Bush after a colonoscopy revealed five small polyp growths in Bush’s colon –- cartoons lampooning our leaders’ health issues are common fare in American editorial cartoons.

Being subject to public scrutiny and potential ridicule should be a part of the job for public officials in the civilized world – especially when it comes to spineless despots, like Fico.


See more of Shooty’s cartoons here:’t-like-cartoons/

Caption for the cartoon:

This is the cartoon that offended the Slovakian Prime Minister. Martin “Shooty” Sutovec’s cartoons are syndicated to about half of America’s daily newspapers, including this newspaper.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Daryl’s cartoons are syndicated to more than 850 newspapers, including the paper you are reading now. Daryl’s books “The BIG Book of Campaign 2008 Political Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2010 Edition” are available in bookstores now.