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From paper to pixels: Political cartoonists leap into the digital age

Brodner says his style is a work in progress as he finds his sea legs in the ocean of digital media. And though he continues to weave a satirical thread throughout his work, Brodner’s definition of himself has evolved from cartoonist to “an artist, illustrator and filmmaker.”

Other cartoonists have learned to fully embrace the digital revolution from paper, pencil and water colors, producing full-fledged animations that look like Saturday morning cartoons.

“A big part of what I do is trying to make cartooning work in the new world,” said Mark Fiore, whose cartoons don’t come in black and white static drawings but colorful 45 seconds to two minute videos. He was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for animated cartoons. Fiore started as a print cartoonist but gradually taught himself to animate his drawings, starting with blinking eyes or small hand motions.

While Fiore spends three days on the actual cartoon animation, one solid day is dedicated to distribution: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ as well as updating his iPhone app NewsToons.

But widespread facetime on as many online platforms sometimes isn’t enough when it comes to fighting for that thin slice of the media pie. Brodner says he’s had to learn the laws of this new media landscape for cartoonists.

“The rule is I can riff on anything in video,” said Brodner, but there’s a caveat.  “When everyone and their cousin can make a video on the same topic, I become unexceptional and unoriginal. So it’s not best to go for the quick joke or easy laugh because everyone else is already on it.”

Brodner referred to his recent cartoon video about the Mitt Romney’s family trip when they strapped their dog to the roof of the car.

“After I posted my Romney dog video [on YouTube], I asked my girlfriend what she thought about it, and she said, ‘Did you see how many other Romney dog videos there are?’” recalled Brodner.

For anyone eating the media pie, the Internet can be a sensory overload. But cartoonists may have a strange advantage in cutting through the online fat of viral photoshopped memes, endless listicles or data-packed infographics. Because good editorial cartoons provoke – whether it’s laughter or anger.

“Infographics have never instigated a riot the way a cartoonist has,” said Matt Wuerker of Politico. “No one’s ever called a fatwa on the heads of graphic designers who design pie charts.”

And in today’s age of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher, the appetite for political satire is well alive. For many, these popular shows, which rely heavily on Photoshop and caustic graphics, can trace their provenance back to the humble editorial cartoon.

Wuerker says during the days when his cartoons were printed, the highest compliment was when someone would cut it out and tack it up on the refrigerator. Though most editorial cartoonists agree that their profession has been late to the game of adapting to the Internet, there’s a silver lining.

“The Internet and social media are now one giant refrigerator door for cartoons,” said Wuerker. “I get tons of cartoons reposted on Facebook and Twitter and they have a great sticky quality online.”

A week after Wuerker’s Pulitzer Prize announcement, he wrote a response in the Columbia Journalism Review to Manjoo’s Slate article.

“We’re happy to share the space with the new kids on the block,” writes Wuerker, “just treat us with a little respect, will ya?”

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