Susie Cagle on Occupy Protests, Opinion Reporting, and the Death of Editorial Cartooning

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Susie Cagle’s dad, Daryl, is the go-to guy for newspaper editorial cartoons: he runs the Political Cartoonists Index and creates single-panel cartoons for But as Susie sees it, that one-image format is just about dead. Doing her own thing with the illustration medium, Susie is a “graphic journalist.”

“Drawing the news” is far from new; before he became the father of American political cartooning, Thomas Nast illustrated Civil War scenes for Harper’s Weekly, back in the 1860s. A hundred years later, when Harvey Kurtzman was editing Help! magazine, he sent the comics artist Paul Coker to Cuba, Arnold Roth to Cape Canaveral, and the future underground cartoonist R. Crumb to cover Harlem and Bulgaria. And Stan Mack, whom I interviewed for Imprint just a few weeks ago, created “Real Life Funnies” for the Village Voice back in 1975. Now Susie, still in her 20s, renders her own, personal take on events for The Atlantic, The Guardian, and many other media outlets. And she’s been arrested—twice—while on the job during Occupy demonstrations. She also blogs at her website and on Tumblr.

Both Stan and Susie were on a couple of panels earlier this month at the San Diego Comic-Con, which I covered for Imprint last week. You can read Stan’s follow-up on his blog. And Susie’s comments were provocative enough that I asked her for a further conversation, to expand on some of the issues that were raised. Here, then, is part one of my interview with Susie Cagle. Stay tuned for the conclusion on Monday. [Update: here’s part two.]

Susie illustrated “Salton Sea” last week. It will have a 40-second audio clip when it runs in the preview issue of the tablet magazine Symbolia later this year.

During your “Progressive Politics in Comics,” panel you touched on the future of political cartooning. How would you describe your attitude?

I have always loved what cartoons bring to media, but they’ve been first on the chopping block, of course. Single-panel editorial cartooning is dying as newspapers are contracting, and those jobs aren’t being replicated on the web. Many news sites don’t have art directors or designers. I think we’re reaching a tipping point, though, where people are missing not just comics but original illustration. All media is in flux right now. It’s scary and sometimes brutal but it’s also an opportunity. I see a lot of hope in new technology platforms and funding strategies.

I don’t think the web is to be feared. It lets us do great new things, especially with breaking news. I drew and painted a two-panel cartoon at a gallery event in San Francisco Tuesday night while following the Anaheim riots on my phone, and posted it on Twitter while it was drying.

What does your dad think about these beliefs of yours?

My dad and I have debated politics for forever, so none of this surprises him.

And what sort of pushback has your work gotten?

It’s often reasonable and often not. Last fall I went undercover to Christian crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women not to get abortions, and drew a comic about it for Cartoon Movement. The piece spread through the pro-life world, but I was expecting more of a zealous response than I got from them.

Occupy inspired a special passion in a lot of people, especially over the course of time and broken windows. It was extremely polarizing. At one point, one of my critics made a fake Twitter account of me, “susie gimme.” It was weird.

Disagreeing on the issues doesn’t bother me—I welcome it—but the personal stuff, especially the attacks on my credibility, can be wearying.

I’ve been surprised by how so many people still subscribe to the view that a “journalist” comes from a place without an opinion, and, of course, that a journalist cannot be a cartoonist, or vice versa. I think that’s changing and that we’re growing more savvy in our consumption of media, recognizing all the frames and sources of our stories. But until then, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the fact that I have opinions and those opinions are sometimes in the story. For me, it’s a more honest way of reporting. I like to let my readers know where I’m coming from, and I work to not let it affect my gathering of facts.

An Occupy watercolor for Truthout

Above and below: a crisis pregnancy centers investigation. Cartoon Movement, September 2011

On the recent bankruptcy of Stockton, California. Boston Review, July 2012

.You might enjoy The Insider’s Guide To Creating Comics And Graphic Novels, now on s
ale at