The 2004 Festival of Cartoon Art - In a Series of Snapshots

By Bruce Chrislip | Notebook Sketches by Ron Hill photos by Craig Boldman

The Blackwell, off the OSU campus -- site of the festival.

NOTE: We're grateful to cartoonist and comics maven Bruce Chrislip, who attended the festival with notebook in hand for providing the following 'written snapshots' of what transpired. Also to the GLC's Ron Hill, who was busy sketching throughout the festival. The photographs and accompanying notations are by Craig Boldman unless otherwise indicated.

The 2004 Festival of Cartoon Art (subtitled "Deletions, Omissions and Erasures") was held on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus on the somewhat wintry weekend of October 15 and 16.

This year's guest speaker list included Nicole Hollander (Sylvia), Tom Batiuk (Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft), Al Feldstein (former long-time editor of Mad magazine), Michelle Urry (cartoon editor of Playboy), Charles Brownstein (Director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), author Bob Levin (The Pirates and the Mouse), Jay Lynch (Nard & Pat), Art Spiegelman (Maus & In The Shadow of No Towers), Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha), history professor Cindy McCreery and three editorial cartoonists: Joel Pett, Ann Telnaes and Tom Tomorrow.

The Festival is held every three years under the auspices of the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, a compendium of all sorts of cartooning publications (including comic books), old comic strips and cartoon original art. The Research Library grew out of an initial donation of original artwork and manuscripts by Ohio State alumnus Milton Caniff many years ago. During this year's Festival an interesting collection of fan mail and original art for Caniff's two comic strips Terry and The Pirates and Steve Canyon was on display at the Cartoon Research Library's gallery.

Text by Bruce Chrislip
Notebook pages by
Ron Hill

Snapshot I : Nicole Hollander

Nicole Hollander, cartoonist of the Sylvia comic strip, shared many amusing stories and anecdotes concerning the strip and some of the reactions it receives from its readers.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's staff wrote her a note requesting a recent Sylvia original. According to Hollander, "I didn't want to send it. I shut them up by requesting money."

Some readers are bothered by the fact that Sylvia smokes ­ they keep sending Hollander notes to get Sylvia to stop. Another fan objected to a comic strip that made fun of the rock musician Prince. The fan said, "I think he's more man than you can handle." Another disgruntled fan remarked, 'Reading your strip is like talking to a leper." Oops.

The theme of this year's cartoon festival was censorship (hence the subtitle of "Deletions, Omissions and Erasures.") Hollander noted that, "A newspaper can cancel your comic strip and the syndicate won't tell you about it. The only way I ever find out is if a friend that reads that particular newspaper tells me."


Snapshot II : Tom Batiuk

Tom Batiuk started off by saying, "I don't really do this kind of thing anymore (giving speeches about cartooning.)" But when Festival organizer Lucy Caswell asked him if he believed in free speech, Batiuk replied, "Absolutely! I believe in free speech!!" "That's great," said Caswell, "because we want you to give one at Ohio State!"

The title of Batiuk's speech was 'Ten Things That Need to be Censored" -- which was a witty way to comment about things that bug him about the comic strip business.

Number 10: Gary Trudeau ­ "Because I'm envious of him."

Number 9: Any kind of change ­ because newspaper readers don't like it.

(Batiuk suffered a minor injury and was unable to draw Funky Winkerbean for a while so he enlisted another cartoonist to take over while he recovered. During this time he got nothing but complaints from readers who objected to the change in art style ­ even though the substitute artist was comic book fan favorite John Byrne.)

Number 8: Anything that isn't a gag. ­ Readers only want funny stuff in their comics.

Number 7: The word "sucks."

Number 6: Anything that approaches an adult Point of View. -- Comic strips are ONLY supposed to be kid's stuff.

Number 5: Anything that makes the target audience think.

Number 4: What you (the cartoonist) think.

Number 3: Religion ­ don't touch it (or irate readers will quote scripture at you).

Number 2: Politics -- stay away ( see Religion above).

Number 1: The truth.

Even though the above recital might seem to be the rant of a bitter cartoonist, Batiuk's speech was quite funny ­ and even good-natured. But the point is that there are so many critical readers out there that he felt it didn't leave him much leeway as a cartoonist.


Snapshot III: Playboy Cartoon Editor Michelle Urry

Urry emphasized the importance of Playboy to the cartoon crowd by stating, "I buy approximately a million dollars worth of cartoons a year!"

Besides her editorial duties at Playboy, Urry also serves as cartoon editor or consultant on other magazines like Good Housekeeping, The Cousteau Society, Modern Maturity and even an unnamed religious magazine. They all have their slants and restrictions. Modern Maturity doesn't want any cartoons about politics, money or sex. "The Cousteau Society doesn't like cartoons that make fun of 'tree huggers' or Smokey the Bear."

Urry showed many slides of gag cartoons from Playboy to show off the wide range of subject matter and approaches. Besides the expected sexy cartoons, many had political or social commentary.


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A few of the attendees: GLC founder, Earl Musick

Bob Bindig, who drew Big Boy for all those years.

Stan Burdick, curator of The Hague Cartoon Museum in Hague, New York.

Cut to: Thurber House Gallery, site of the opening reception for "Sensitive Subjects: Ohio Editorial Cartooning," a show of work by Chip Bok, Jim Borgman, Davis Catrow and Jeff Stahler. This took place on the evening of October 15. Pictured above: Amy Lago, Earl Musick, Tad Barney, Roy Doty.

Tad Barney, with a Borgman rendition of Dick Cheney peering over his shoulder.

It's that Tad Barney again, with Ron Hill.

Lara Bidwa, the Director of Art and Publications at Thurber House, greets Chip Bok and Chris Payne.

Lucy Caswell, the guiding light behind the festival.

Jeff Caswell.