David Wallis notes in his introduction to Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression (Norton, 2007) that J. Edgar Hoover closely monitored Mad magazine for its supposed subversive content, and kept a file on publisher William Gaines. The FBI director thought so much of cartoons’ effectiveness, that he suggested, in a 1968 memo to an FBI staffer, that the bureau consider the use of cartoons to disrupt the antiwar movement. “[This] will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons we can use.” (Hoover was not alone in this assessment. Time magazine concluded that David Levine’s 1966 caricature of Lyndon Johnson showing off a scar on his stomach in the shape of Vietnam was more damaging than any photograph ever taken of the president.)
Killed Cartoons is the second entry in Wallis’s Killed series, the first being Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print (Nation Books, 2004), which collected essays spiked by major publications like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker by the likes of Betty Friedan, Terry Southern, and Robert Fisk. In Killed Cartoons, writer and editor Wallis collects some of the great nixed editorial pieces of recent vintage. J.D. Trostle’s in-poor-taste offering of “Unwise Halloween Costumes,” depicting a couple in matching plane-struck Twin Tower outfits (perhaps wisely killed by the Chapel Hill Herald in late 2001) is included. Matt Davies’s image of President Bush riding a horse labeled “Iraq Strategy” atop a globe titled “World Opinion”—Bush says, “You don’t want to change horses in midstream”—while the horse pisses on the world below, is also here. Killed also includes interviews with the cartoonists themselves, explaining what they believe to be the rationale for why their work was canned. In the case of Davies, who works for the Journal News in White Plains, he said his editors viewed his depiction of Bush pissing on world opinion as “excessive.”
“Cartoonists are our most incendiary journalists,” says Wallis. “Editorial art reaches out from the static pages of newspapers and magazines and pokes readers in the eye.” Wallis also believes that as the bomb throwers of the fourth estate, cartoonists need greater protection from overzealous editors fearing controversy. As cartoonist Milt Prigree was told by his editor at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington: “If you want to survive at this paper you’ve gotta stay under management’s radar. Don’t do anything good. Don’t do anything bad.”
Another problem, according to Wallis, is the ongoing consolidation in the media, where decisions about profit projections often trump editorial ones. “Cartoonists are viewed as disposable by the corporate media,” says Wallis. “Why pay for the expense of having a staff cartoonist when you can pick one up through syndication?”
David Wallis will give a talk about censorship in the press, “Graphic Violence: How the Media Censors Cartoonists and Illustrators,” and sign copies of Killed Cartoons at the Woodstock Library on April 21 at 5pm. (845) 679-2213; www.killedcartoons.com.