A picture is worth a thousand words, or maybe just 650ish

By Pat Abbott

I am a cartoonist and proud of it. Sure, I’m not a doctor, lawyer or astronaut (yet), but being a cartoonist is a sweet deal. The world may not be aware of it yet, but cartoons are en vogue. I saw the movie “Zodiac” this weekend, and guess what: it’s about a cartoonist. Well actually, it’s about this serial killer and how it’s a bad idea to go on dates in state parks and, in turn, how it is a bad idea to go on a date to a movie about a guy murdering couples going on dates. But still, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a cartoonist. This comes just a few years after “American Splendor”, which is an entire movie about a cartoonist and his cartoonist buddies.

Ok, actually, it’s about a lot of other things too, but still, they made an entire movie about a cartoonist.


Still think cartoonists are dorks sitting around in tiny, dim rooms with big tables and piles of filled ashtrays and empty coffee cups?

Well then, you might be surprised by those that once took it upon themselves to mix mediocre art with mediocre humor in a single frame.

To begin, Benjamin “Who’s yo’ daddy, American Revolution? That’s right, I’m yo’ daddy!” Franklin. He graces the 100 dollar bill, something I, as a lowly cartoonist, have never seen in person. More than 50 Pulitzer Prize winners have been cartoonists at one point or another (I swear this has nothing to do with the fact that there is a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning). Two of our University’s most prestigious alumni, Hugh Hefner and David Eggers, were at one point editorial cartoonists for this very newspaper.

I am cartoonist. Hear me roar.

The process of editorial cartooning is a little strange. To begin, one has to understand a facet of life that his readers can relate to. Then, the cartoonist has to find something funny or ironic about it. He then squishes all that into one frame along with one or two sentences. Lastly, the cartoonist must produce the cartoon. The finished product is possibly funny, poignant, or well-drawn; ideally it’s all three, but to quote Meatloaf entirely out of context, two out of three ain’t bad.

A good cartoon can bring about three reader responses. People might like it and chuckle. Or, people might not get it or not care. Or, people just might flip out. For instance, I got flak in a letter about a cartoon I drew that was set in Israel.

Apparently, I did not draw the “25-foot apartheid wall” through the country. It turns out I didn’t draw a lot of things, including the paraplegic Hare Krishna and the albino Rastafarian hugging in the streets. There just isn’t room for every viewpoint; I have one measly square. Sometimes I have to simplify things.

This gets me in trouble with some readers. Recently, I made a cartoon about picking a new mascot (Feb. 21) in which I insinuated fraternity members were racist, misogynist, and homophobic. Needless to say, I got letters from people who identified with the term ‘fratboy’ and were offended. One asked, “Do Greeks not deserve the same respect and protection from such an antagonism as any race, nationality or creed?”

Yes sir, they do. As do Albanians, Montenegrins, Slovenians and Italians.

Paddle-spanking, “brah”-loving fratboys however, are fair game, as well as patchouli-reeking, bong-toking hippies, World of Warcraft-marathoning, ROTFLOL-ing dweebs, hair-swooping, pitchfork-quoting scenesters and pencil-chewing, self-depreciating cartoonists. All of those distinctions are open to any race, creed or nationality. I know that people take pride in their social identity, but sometimes they take themselves much too seriously. Little do they know, they make my job easier as I’m specifically paid to take serious things and make light of them.

If you are one of these people, I suggest that you take a closer look, chuckle, and then go on to more consequential things in life, or maybe just the sports page. Go Narwhals.

Editor’s Note:

Pat Abbott is an editorial cartoonist at The Daily Illini.

He can be reached at [email protected]

In lieu of letters in response to this column, “Cartoons to the Editor” may also be accepted.