August marks the 20th anniversary of Ted Rall's syndicated editorial cartoons! Editor Sue Roush reflects on the past two decades and shares thoughts from Ted himself:
There will be blood.
That's one thing I can count on each week in a Ted Rall cartoon -- something will blow up, a fire will rage, destruction will rain down, bodies will be dismembered. For 20 years, I've had the pleasure of reading the weekly railings of America's angriest cartoonist. And it has been a pleasure (except maybe for a few of those profane phone calls I've gotten). Ted has strong opinions, forcefully expressed, that I don't always agree with, but that often make me see things from a different perspective. That's pretty much the whole point of political cartooning.
The thing is, for this two-time winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist, editorial cartooning is just the tip of his talent iceberg. Ted is also an author, a blogger and a graphic novelist who has traveled to war zones -- repeatedly -- to see what's going on for himself.
I asked Ted to take a trip down memory lane and tell me what he thought of the last 20 years. I've had a blast and I'm ready for at least 20 more; it sounds like Ted is, too. Here's what he had to say:
Back in 1996, I was in my fifth year of syndication, having started out at the now defunct Chronicle Features, which was owned by the San Francisco Chronicle. I was 33 years old, relatively young for a comics creator, but I could read the writing on the wall and so was very happy to follow fellow Chronicle creators Gary Larsen of "The Far Side" and Dan Piraro ("Bizarro") to Universal.
Moving to Universal was a thrill for me. They had an amazing list of great cartoonists, and editors who seemed to have the best taste in the business. What they wanted with me, of course, remains a mystery.
I've managed to pack in a lot of amazing experiences over the last 20 years. I've traveled to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia numerous times, done war correspondence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, gotten into the graphic novel business with a little bit of success, written some books that I'm really proud of and, of course, earned my fair share of controversy.
I don't know how many other political cartoonists have their own "controversies" section on Wikipedia. I can tell you that controversy isn't something that I seek out. My thing is, I call things as I see them and I don't really care what happens as a result. You can't have an opinion without making someone mad. And if you don't have a strong opinion, you probably don't have much of an opinion at all. So the way I look at it is, go for it.
A friend who worked in the White House under President Bill Clinton told me that his boss hated my cartoons. He was especially offended by the fact that I compared him with his presidential precedent, George Herbert Walker Bush. I'm putting this part in just so that it's clear that I'm an equal opportunity offender. Democrats and Republicans both hate me. But things really got crazy after the disputed 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and then especially after 9/11. I did a lot of cartoons that criticized Bush, and depicted him as a Latin American dictator. There's sort of a trilogy of cartoons that may have been some of the most viewed political cartoons of the 21st century: the "terror widows," my cartoon about Pat Tillman, and George Bush after his 2004 re-election. Anyway, one thing that I always appreciated about Universal was how my editor Sue Roush gave me the freedom to be myself and to express myself politically while nevertheless letting me know that there was a safety net in case I fell off my artistic tightrope. She warned me when I did something that might be going too far, but she never refused to send something out purely on political grounds. A lot of cartoonists complain about editors. Not me. I like being edited. I need it. Also, I work as an editor so perhaps I appreciate the job a little more than other cartoonists.
Now I'm thinking that I'm ready to take it easy and not take on the system as much, but here come Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom are among the most disgusting politicians I've ever had to chronicle. So I guess that's not going to happen. Not to mention, I found myself having to defend myself from the Los Angeles police department and the Los Angeles Times, which inexplicably turned out to do the bidding of the police and lied on their behalf about me. So I'm suing them for defamation. There's no telling how that will turn out.
So the adventure continues. I'm 53 years old, almost, and life and this career is every bit as thrilling as it was 20 years ago. And I'm still just as thrilled to be with Universal. Just one thing: Sue is never ever allowed to retire.