Ted Rall to Matthew Phelan: Damned Right I’m Sanctimonious

Here’s Ted Rall’s missive to writer Matthew Phelan, who recently critiqued political cartooning and Ted Rall, specifically. Ouch.

aNewDomain.net — Our Ted Rall ponders whether being bland should win you the biggest prize in journalism. And he takes to task Matthew Phelan’s critique of editorial cartooning and Ted Rall’s work, too. And Matthew, please stop calling Ted Rall “Theodore.”

To most reasonably-intelligent readers, the incredibly-sloppy writing and transparently-inconsistent logic of Matthew Phelan’s critique of editorial cartooning renders his opinions unworthy of serious attention.

But this is the Internet, where most readers are neither reasonable nor intelligent. So some effort at restoring balance to the universe is called for.

First Phelan goes after Steve Sack, cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year. As I wrote at the time:

Sack has been around a long time, is a nice, unassuming guy who is personally popular among the older generation of ‘mainstream’ editorial cartoonists, so his win has been largely greeted as long overdue, sort of a lifetime achievement award as these things often are, a recognition of the fact that unlike many other political cartoonists who slavishly copied the artistic style of deceased Chicago Tribune cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, Steve developed his own drawing style.”

What Phelan appears to be trying to say — and, if he is, I agree with him — is that Sack’s cartoons are bland. And being bland shouldn’t win you the biggest prize in journalism.

To be honest, I think the Pulitzer Board embarrassed itself with their selection.

If Sack had won at the peak of his career, about 15 years ago, there would have been fewer WTFs. As it is, well …

But as for Phelan, sadly he resorts to rhetorical devices that are stupid and sleazy.

For example, Phelan points to a Sack cartoon from the buildup to war against Iraq that supports Bush’s pro-war position by depicting Saddam as a liar about WMDs.

Obviously, Sack was wrong to believe Bush. So were most of my colleagues. And look, I fucking hate that cartoon.

Along with most mainstream cartoonists, Sack has blood on his hands because his cartoon helped contribute to the political shift from “Let’s not invade” to “Let’s do invade.”

But Phelan took a cheap shot.

Peruse the archives of any cartoonist or political commentator and you’ll find stuff that makes them look bad — stuff they wish they could take back. Expecting a humorist to bat 1,000 is asking way too much.

Still, I don’t have too much trouble with Phelan’s conclusion, where he wrote:

That, in brief, is the problem with Steve Sack …. like an antique weathervane, Sack’s cartooning is quaint, inoffensive, and deeply American — and more-or-less an adequate indicator of which way the wind is blowing.”

This is, of course, true of the work of 90 percent of American editorial cartoonists.

And then Phelan turns on me, your humble narrator.

He begins by calling me “Ted ‘Theodore’ Rall.”

Yes. Ted is usually short for Theodore. This made me flashback to George L. Ernst elementary school, where my dimmer classmates would rhyme: “Red Ted lies dead in bed.” Then they’d stare at me, wondering why I was neither impressed nor offended.

I assume Wonkette, where Phelan addresses me, doesn’t have editors or paid staff. Otherwise, who signed off on this?

At this point, I should apologize for burying the lede. But here, we’re getting to it now.

Phelan calls my January 3, 2014 cartoon showcasing quotes from former USAF drone operator Heather Linebaugh “a nasty, sanctimonious piece of business.” Well, Okay. Opinions are like arseholes, etcetera. (Ed: Find this Ted cartoon at the end of this piece.)

But here’s the thing, Mr. Phelan: Cartoons can be bland — or they can be hard-hitting. Edgy work may make some people uncomfortable. It might even offend them.

In other words, you can’t reasonably attack Sack for being too bland in the same essay that you criticize me for being too not-bland.

Well, you can. But then,someone will write something like this, pointing out that you have written something stupid. And so you did.

When done right — and most cartoonists don’t even try to do it right anymore — political cartooning is a blood sport. It’s ball-grabbing, throat-crushing and bile-inducing.

Like some Chinese guy said about revolution, political cartooning is not polite. It is not a dinner party. A good political cartoon — or a cartoon that has a chance of being considered good — takes no prisoners, pulls no punches and it is perfectly willing to be nasty and sanctimonious in the service of an important cause like trying to convince Americans to end the drone murders.

Am I sanctimonious? Damned right I’m sanctimonious.

P.S. Turns out Matthew Phelan is a children’s book illustrator with a twee, not-terribly-confident, style. And he has a truly crappy website.

My January 3, 2014 cartoon — the one Phelan is whining about — below.

Cartoon: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is a nationally-syndicated columnist, editorial cartoonist and war correspondent who specializes in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The author of 17 books, most-recently published The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, Rall is twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Follow him @TedRall, check out his Facebook fan page and definitely follow his Google+ stream here. Ted’s upcoming book After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan is due out in 2014.