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Clay Bennett – Editorial Cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Part 3 of 3)

By Admin | November 12, 2008


How has the Internet affected editorial cartooning?

The internet has had a huge impact on our profession.

Its most profound impact on editorial cartoonists has probably been in the delivery of our work. A drawing that used to take several days by snail mail, or a day (and no small expense) by FedEx to deliver, now arrives immediately, inexpensively, and digitally perfect via e-mail
or an FTP site.

In a profession that depends on the timeliness of their product’s arrival, this is no small accomplishment. The internet’s economic and creative impact on our profession, however, has been far less profound.

Economically, the web has been a wash for most of us. We might get a few more reprints and certainly more readers from our exposure on the web, but it hasn’t yet become a marketplace that can provide many of us with a living wage.

Creatively, the internet has proven to be less than revolutionary, too. There are a few among us who get it: cartoonists who understand that you have to exploit the features that are unique to this platform – sound and movement – to make an impact on the web.

In fact, many of them have abandoned print journalism entirely, staking their claim in the digital frontier with animated editorial cartoons. But for most of us, static cartoons are still the industry standard, and the internet has served as little more than an impetus to add some color to our work.

How do you actually draw your cartoons? What medium did you start with and what do you do now?

In the past, I would draw pencil sketches very lightly on Bristol Board and then ink right over those lines with a brush and India Ink.

Now, I draw my line art on tracing paper using a felt marker. The advantage in using tracing paper is that refining the elements within the drawing, or its overall composition is much easier and faster to achieve.

Usually, I’ll go through four or five of these preliminary drawings before the line art is complete. Once I’ve got the line art looking good, I’ll scan the drawing into a PhotoShop document where I’ll add the tones/color, the shadows, highlights, labels, borders and captions if needed.

A finished cartoon takes many hours to complete. Depending on the complexity of the drawing, it could take as few as two to three hours or as many as ten to twelve.

What were you doing when you found out that you won the Pulitzer?

I was awaiting the results.

The date and time of the Pulitzer Prize announcements is well known. Most years, the finalists in the various categories are public knowledge too.

Knowing I was one of the three finalists for the editorial cartooning prize in 2002, I was waiting for the verdict in the office of my editor at The Christian Science Monitor.

My wife had come down to the newsroom, so we both watched nervously as my editor kept an eye on the AP wire as the winners names were released.

Editorial cartooning is one of the last categories announced, so the wait was excruciating.

I should tell you, that I had been a nominated finalists the three years prior to 2002, so I was well acquainted with seeing it slip through my fingers. I was probably expecting the same as I stood there awaiting the verdict.

But that wasn’t the case this time. When the editorial cartooning category was finally announced, it was my name. So, I hugged my editor and my wife – in that order, I’m often reminded – and was whisked out to the newsroom to celebrate with my colleagues at The Monitor.

Which of your many awards has meant the most to you professionally? Personally?

Journalism awards are awarded for different beats and by different groups, so they’re all special in their own way.

The Overseas Press Club award, for instance, recognizes the best coverage of foreign issues and events, while the Robert F. Kennedy Award goes to outstanding journalism on issues concerning the underprivileged of society.

Some awards are judged by editors and writers, while others are given out by fellow cartoonists.

Professionally, I’d have to say that The Pulitzer Prize probably means the most. It’s one of the oldest and most recognized of the awards in journalism. Reflecting that, it’s often said once you win a Pulitzer, you know the first three words of your obituary.

Personally, I’d have to say that the ‘Ink Bottle Award’ means the most to me. It’s the award given out by the AAEC (Association of Editorial Cartoonists) to a member of the organization for service to both the association in particular and our profession in general.

It means so much to me because the AAEC has meant so much to me over the years. I’ve had many peaks and valleys in my career, but no matter where I was along the way, my fellow cartoonists have always been there for me.

Their friendship and support has always meant the world to me, so getting the ‘ink bottle’ made me think that I may have paid back at least bit of the huge debt I owe them all.

How do you develop ideas for your cartoons? Do you find you have trouble turning off your “cartooning” brain, for instance, when you are watching football or on Christmas morning?

I don’t ever want to turn off the cartooning part of my brain. Cartoons are everywhere, just waiting to be found. If I’m not looking for them constantly, I might miss a really good one.

As for conceptualizing cartoon ideas, well, they come to you in many ways. Sometimes an idea will hit you like a bolt of lightning, other times, most times, the idea is produced through long hours of playing with different images, or turning different phrases.

This process is very difficult to explain because it’s so abstract in nature. Some cartoons are a product of inspiration, some are the product of perspiration. The trick to good cartooning is to make the latter look like the former.

If you weren’t a cartoonist, what would you be doing professionally?

I don’t know. This is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I suppose I might be a reporter, or maybe a teacher.

What two pieces of advice would you give to someone who wanted to become an editorial cartoonist?

My first bit of advice would be to think again. There just aren’t that many career opportunities in this line of work. That being said, this advice won’t discourage anyone who’s REALLY a cartoonist.

Cartooning is not a choice, it’s a madness that you can’t repress. That being the case, I would encourage any budding cartoonists to study and learn animation. The future of journalism is online, so being skilled at using the elements that the internet has to offer -sound and motion – might well improve one’s chance of gainful employment.

Please click here to read Part 2 of Clay Bennett’s interview.
Please click here to read Part 1 of Clay Bennett’s interview.

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