Pelican Publishing Company
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

The Race for the 2008 Democratic Nomination: A Book of Editorial Cartoons
The Race for the 2008 Republican Nomination: A Book of Editorial Cartoons

Edited by Eric M. Appleman
Pelican Publishing Company (July 2008)

Eric M. Appleman June 17, 2008

These two collections of editorial cartoons on the campaigns for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations provide insights into the candidates and the processes by which the parties chose their nominees.  A review of the literature on presidential campaigns over the last four elections shows numerous books by candidates, journalists and academics, but a gap in the area of editorial cartoons.  There does not appear to have been a book of editorial cartoons focused strictly on a presidential campaign since Campaign: A Cartoon History of Bill Clinton's Race for the White House edited by Mary Ann and Paul Barton (University of Arkansas Press, April 1993).

The roots of these books go back eight years.  I clipped a box full of cartoons on the 2000 presidential campaign, but wasn’t sure how to go about publishing a book or books.  In 2004 I pitched the idea to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) at their convention in hopes that someone would take it on, but no one did.  In July 2007 I presented the idea to Ted Rall, president-elect of the AAEC (2008-09), in a conversation at the AAEC convention.  This time I offered to do the editing and proposed that a substantial share of the proceeds go to the AAEC.  The books, scheduled to come out around the time the national conventions, would draw attention to the profession and craft of editorial cartooning at a time when people are intensely focused on politics. 

Rall suggested Pelican Publishing Company in Gretna, Louisiana as a possible publisher.  Under the leadership of Dr. Milburn Calhoun, Pelican has for many years produced the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year (BECY).  In response to a letter, Dr. Calhoun expressed initial interest in the project in September 2007.  The AAEC board approved the project in October 2007.  The original plan called for two books 96 pages in length to sell at $12.95 each. 

This project would have been impossible without the support of the AAEC; the books were a cooperative effort (and in my view AAEC should appear on the front cover as well).  Editorial cartooning is a unique profession, and some of these cartoonists are geniuses, producing really clever and insightful works several times a week.  At the same time, editorial cartoonists have been affected by the downsizing and difficult economic times faced by newspapers.  Some have adapted by starting blogs in which they discuss the ideas they considered and how they arrived at the day's final cartoon, and a few have taken to producing animated cartoons.

In December 2007 Rall sent out an initial e-mail request for cartoons to AAEC members, and I followed that up with a letter to some members in January 2008.  The plan was to make several rounds of requests as the campaign progressed; this first request was to obtain cartoons on the early stages of the campaign.  These initial communications may have been too close to the holiday period.  Additionally in January/February a number of cartoonists were busy putting together portfolios for prize consideration.  Nonetheless about sixty cartoonists responded.  AAEC president Nick Anderson sent a second e-mail to members in February and another e-mail on April 21 to catch up with developments.  I also made specific requests to home state cartoonists for works on presidential prospects who decided not to enter the race and lower tier candidates.  Finally, in the closing stages of the campaign, I kept a look out for relevant cartoons on the AAEC website, the Cagle website, and individual cartoonists' sites and made more targeted requests. 

In the first request, I had set a limit of a dozen cartoons, not knowing what to expect.  Later on, this limit went by the wayside.  Some cartoonists sent dozens of works to consider, and others just a handful.

Ultimately over 120 cartoonists (from Nick Anderson-Adam Zyglis) submitted several thousand cartoons, all via e-mail.  The contributing cartoonists were very helpful in going back through old cartoons, providing cartoons in the high resolution format required by the publisher, and in some cases even re-scanning images.  I also reached out to cartoonists who are not members of the AAEC.  It was a privilege to coordinate with artists whose works I have long admired, and I hope that readers will appreciate the generosity of the cartoonists and syndicates who shared their works for these books.  Only a handful of cartoonists whose works I would like to have included did not respond, and only one cartoonist directly said he was not interested in participating in the project. 

The process of narrowing down and organizing all the material was far more difficult and time consuming than expected.  Over the months I received a steady flow of cartoons.  I downloaded them into files by artist.  After a while, I organized all the cartoons, whether good or not so good, by themes and subthemes.  Next came the initial selections.  There were many instances where I had to choose between two or three or a dozen cartoons on the same subject or theme.  I first determined whether, based on my understanding of the campaign and the candidates, an individual cartoon made a valid point.  Did the cartoon reflect reality or the perception of reality or was it off point.  Second, did one cartoon make the point more effectively than the rest?  An effective cartoon can be delightfully humorous or tie two themes together in an elegant way or be so on point as to give the sense that the cartoonist was at an event in person.  Third, other things being equal, I do like good artwork.  Fourth, these artists bring different sensibilities to their work.  One cartoonist seemed to put his own words into candidate's mouths.  Other cartoonists have a style that gets off into tangents, and I wanted to keep a tight focus.  A few cartoons seemed needlessly offensive.  Finally, I gave thought as to how a cartoon would stand up over time.

Having selected what I judged to be the best cartoons, I printed them out, and put together clip books for the two volumes.  I found I had too many cartoons and made more cuts.  In general I sought to touch upon as many of the significant aspects and happenings of the campaign as possible and maintain a narrative flow in relevant sections.  I would like to have showed the many different ways in which cartoonists portrayed some specific episodes or incidents, but the tight page limitation generally precluded such riffs.  For example, the Hillary Clinton planted question incident generated a lot of laugh-out-loud cartoons, but was relatively minor in the grand scheme of the campaign so I could not include many of them.  Matt Wuerker, editorial cartoonist at Politico, and Dan Amundson, research director at the Center for Media and Public Affairs, provided invaluable assistance with some of the final winnowing, but I am responsible for what is in and what is not. 

Not every cartoonist who submitted works appears in the books.  The  Democratic book ended up with cartoons by 79 artists and the Republican book 77 artists.  I made a very serious effort to put together a good mix of cartoons by both well known artists and lesser known artists.  The most difficult decisions were leaving out some cartoonists who had taken time to send in their works.  In a few instances I opted to include a good cartoon by a lesser known cartoonist over an excellent cartoon by a cartoonist already well represented in the book, but some cartoonists' works did not fit the look I envisaged for these books.  At the other extreme, given the number of great cartoonists, I had to be careful not to include too many from any one artist.  I did not establish a limit on the number of cartoons per book by any one cartoonist, but tried to keep a general sense if anyone was getting too many.  One could put together a good book using the cartoons I had to pare out to meet the page limit.  In April, Pelican agreed to increase the page count to160, each selling for $16.95, but even that was not enough. 

The Republican and Democratic books presented distinct challenges.  The page limitation necessitated many painful cuts from the Democratic book in particular.  The intense and protracted Democratic race generated perhaps twice as many cartoons as the Republican race.  Indeed at one point Pelican suggested doing away with the Republican book altogether.  The main challenge on the Republican book was the fact that most observers saw the Republican prospects as being very bleak, and the cartoons reflected that view.  Some readers might interpret this collection as being unduly critical of Republicans and President Bush, but I sought to reflect the body of work from all sides of the spectrum as well as I could.  The publisher, concerned that the draft I presented might not go over well with Republican buyers, nonetheless made a few minor changes. Another interesting finding in the Republican book was the paucity of cartoons on Ron Paul.  Ideally, Paul should have had as many as the other major Republicans, but I was only able to find a handful.  I even contacted the editor of the "Daily Paul" website to see if he or his readers recalled seeing any cartoons.

The text also posed challenges.  The idea of the books is to showcase the cartoons, but I did want to give the cartoons context and hopefully increase the durability of the books.  Most sections have a half-page of text (one page double-spaced), but the sections on the major candidates have a full-page (two pages double-spaced).  My original texts were long and I had to chop out many details.  It turned out that the two-column format the publisher used would have allowed a bit more length; given additional time it would have been useful to work a few of the details back into the text.

Another major challenge was putting the books together in the midst of the campaign.  Keeping the P2008 website I run updated during such a grueling campaign was difficult, and doing that and the books was very difficult.  By late May and early June there was a rush to close the books.  I received PDFs of the typeset Republican book on June 2 and the Democratic book on June 5, and final changes were due the week of June 9-13.  I could definitely have used more time with the proofs.  There was time to correct errors and make small improvements but not more reflective changes.  Thus, a week later I found myself thinking of a point I really should have included a cartoon on.  I also had to keep a sharp eye on the promotional copy developed by the publisher.  This too often seemed to present an random assemblage of points combined with a splash of errors and a dash of hyperbole, rather than providing a coherent overview.

The covers proved to be a somewhat contentious issue; AAEC pulled one way and Pelican another.  The end result is not the way I would have done it, but it works.  AAEC has not been happy with the BECY covers and wanted to final approval on the covers; they made that clear from the outset.  Having not done a book project before, I did not forsee this would be a problem, and I did not think to get that proviso spelled out in the contract.  The lesson learned is that if an author or editor has concerns on the cover, or wants input on the cover, that must be spelled out in the contract. 

The objective was to come up with covers more dynamic than the BECY formula.  I did not like the idea of selecting one cartoon and putting it on the cover as that looked to me kind of cobbled together.  Instead I wanted covers specifically for the books.  Ted Rall recommended, J.P. Trostle (Jape), a North Carolina-based artist.  I envisaged crowds of elephants streaming towards the Twin Cities and crowds of donkeys streaming towards Denver--not editorial cartoons, but an apolitical, and maybe a bit abstract or fun, illustrations.  I also strongly argued that the covers should be in black and white, with maybe a dash of color for the title or balloons.  It seemed to me that at the conventions there will be a surfeit of red-white-and-blue stuff, and more understated covers might stand out.  Further, all the cartoons in the books are back and white so it made sense that the covers would be black and white.  These arguments did not prevail. 

J.P. went to work in April.  He presented an initial concept which seemed more graphic than illustration.  His next idea of editing together a collection of different artists' drawings of elephants and donkeys showed promise but was rejected.  Ultimately he presented sketches of a small group of elephants and of a small group of donkeys, and then produced finished art.  Pelican did away with the white space above and below J.P.'s art and added the large talk balloons to the covers.  Pelican also dispensed with the more dyamic titles we had advanced.  The initial working titles were Road to Minneapolis-St. Paul: Race for the 2008 Republican Nomination and Road to Denver: The Race for the 2008 Democratic Nomination; these had evolved to Twin-Cities or Bust! Editorial Cartoons on the Race for the 2008 Republican Nomination and Denver or Bust! Editorial Cartoons on the Race for the 2008 Republican Nomination.  Over protests Pelican went ahead and substituted its more generic titles.  Finally, Pelican took the "with the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists" line off of the front cover. 

Despite the stress over the covers, Pelican demostrated flexibility and patience in working through the various concerns.  It is my hope that these collections will, like Marcel Proust's famous madeleine, recall some of the moments and currents of the nominating campaigns, that readers will enjoy and appreciate the works and insights of the editorial cartoonists, and that these two books are the first of what will become a regular quadrennial series. 

Evolution of the Cover: initial designs by J.P Trostle and final design

early concepts by Eric M. Appleman

(not dynamic enough...needs
other elements such as
balloons or signs)

Copyright © 2008  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action