Rob Tornoe | for editor and editor
In May, Insider won a Pulitzer Prize, joining a small group of digital-only news organizations that won the top journalism award. But like Politico in 2012, recognition came in an unlikely category for an online news organization — comics.
Insider won for comic book journalism that told the story of Zumrat Dawut, a mother of three who was detained in a Uyghur internment camp in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region before eventually fleeing to the United States. . As the Pulitzer judges noted, the team combined words and images “to tell a powerful yet intimate story of Chinese oppression,” making it accessible to a wider audience.
The victory was shared by illustrator Fahmida Azim, journalist Anthony Del Col, editor Walt Hickey and art director Josh Adams, the son of the late comic book icon Neal Adams – and a comic artist drawn in its own right, who was responsible for recruiting Azim.
“We put it in comic book form because there’s never been any pictures or photos of what these places look like,” Del Col told the Daily Press in Timmins, Canada. “And that’s why we thought it would be great to tell a story in comic book form, because we can do representations of what those places are like, what they look like, and although we can’t get you pics, here’s a re-staging of what happened.
2022 was the first year a Pulitzer Prize was awarded for Illustrated Reporting and Commentary, though it’s not the first time a comic has won. In 1992, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” – a semi-biographical graphic novel about the Holocaust, in which Nazis are portrayed as cats and Jews as mice – won the Pulitzer Special Prize for Literature.
The new illustration category has replaced the Editorial Cartoon category, which dated back to 1922. Needless to say, the change has not gone down well with many editorial cartoonists, who see it as the latest affront to their dying profession, which has seen the number of cartoonists employed in newspapers drop from 250 in 2000 to around 20 or so today, at least by my calculations. The irony is that thanks to social media, editorial cartoons have never been more popular.
The Pulitzer Prize board did not explain why it quietly changed the category in January, and it did not respond to a request for comment for this column. But it’s no secret that the number of cartoonists in newspapers has rapidly declined thanks to industry consolidation and the financial strains caused by the digital age.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to combine them into one category,” said Kevin Necessary, a freelance editorial cartoonist who draws for the Cincinnati Enquirer., where Jim Borgman’s cartoons won a Pulitzer in 1991.
Necessary is not alone. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists released a statement calling on the Pulitzer board to reinstate editorial cartooning as its own category while also recognizing illustrated reporting as a separate form.
“Editorial cartoons are quick, instant commentary, which artists must learn about complex issues and craft well-informed opinions in one take that emphasize clarity in everyday deadlines,” the organization said. in a press release. “Picture journalism, or comic book journalism, takes days, weeks, or months to create a story, which may be pages long and may or may not present an opinion.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Pulitzers have updated their categories in an effort to reflect the current state of journalism. The Pulitzers added audio reporting as an experimental category in 2020 due to “the renaissance of audio journalism”. And in 2000, the Pulitzers added a category for Breaking News Photography, separating it into a creative and journalistic endeavor separate from Feature Photography, which had been award-winning since 1968.
Nécessaire thinks the same distinction should apply to reporting by editorial cartoonists and comics.
“The Pulitzers saw that news photography, which is on the spot and in the moment, is different from setting up a plan for a feature film,” Necessary said. “You’re still using a camera, you’re still using a photographer, but those are two different skills for two different situations. It’s much the same as editorial cartooning and comic book journalism.
Necessary is in a unique position to know. In addition to drawing editorial cartoons, he authored a number of comic book journalism articles while on staff at Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO. Her three-part series, which followed the life of an undocumented immigrant, her DACA recipient son and two American daughters, won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards.
“I try to have a very sharp, almost explosive impact with good editorial cartooning, as I try to really focus on a story, on an overarching topic and a narrative with comic book journalism,” said Necessary.
Last year there were three finalists in the Editorial Cartooning category – Ken Fisher (who goes by Ruben Bolling), Lalo Alcaraz and Marty Two Bulls Sr. – but for the first time in 48 years, the Pulitzer Prize Board has decided not to name a winner for the category. Needless to say, a number of cartoonists took it as an insult, and Too Bulls drew their response in a cartoon published by The Washington Post.
While many editorial cartoonists were unhappy with the Pulitzer’s change, artists who have worked for years producing illustrated journalism hope it will convince editors to give cartoonists and illustrators a chance.
“Now that even the Pulitzers have an ‘illustrated reporting and commentary’ award, I see no reason why there aren’t perhaps more than a handful of illustrated reporter jobs in journalism,” tweeted Susie Cagle, a longtime journalist. comic book journalist who spent years making rounds of press conferences trying to convince editors and publishers that mixing news stories and pictures was legitimate journalism.
“It’s an institutional endorsement that I thought we’d never see,” Cagle added, “but there’s still little lasting support for the work.”
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor and Publisher, where he writes about digital media trends. He is also a digital editor and writer for The Inquirer of Philadelphia. Contact him at [email protected]