Go into almost anyone’s home and you’re likely to see a political cartoon, cut from a newspaper or magazine, attached to the refrigerator door. You don’t see paragraphs of prose and you usually won’t see a captionless image either. Instead, it’s that rare combination of artistic and verbal brevity found in political cartoons that captures our imagination.
“Political cartoons boil off lots of complexity, and yeah sure we do over-simplify, but we make it so that it is easily understood and captured in a very short timeframe,” says cartoonist Greg Kearney. “I'd like to say that I don't have much more than 15 seconds of the reader's attention to get the point across.”
“I think a comic let’s you see the big 30,000 foot view,” says cartoonist Ryan Stolp. “It transcends language. It transcend continents and geography.”
Greg Kearney and Ryan Stolp, two of Wyoming’s most acclaimed cartoonists, were recently interviewed by Emy diGrappa, the senior producer for Wyoming Humanities, on her “What’s Your Why” podcast. Their vision of what political cartoons mean in a modern democracy is self-evident in these two lively interviews.
“A cartoon … is the single most powerful form of editorializing that we have,” says Kearney. “My job is not to make the peace. My job is, when I do take a stand; take a clear and consistent stand based upon what I believe.”
“The cartoon is more than just a cartoon,” agrees Stolp, “The cartoon is the statement and the conversation that it drives.”
Kearney and Stolp are from two different generations. Greg Kearney has been a political cartoonist for over thirty years, worked as the sole cartoonist for the Casper Star Tribune for two decades, and now is syndicated in dozens of newspapers around the world. He draws in old-fashioned, black and white, pen and ink.” (“Most of my papers are so small they don’t have the means to reproduce color.”) Ryan Stolp is a new generation cartoonist focusing on the outdoor lifestyle and its intersection with national politics. He draws three cartoons a week for the Jackson Hole News and Guide and his work has a large Instagram following. Stolp often draws with a computer and invariably uses color.
Despite their age and stylistic differences, Kearney and Stolp share a remarkably similar understanding of the role of the political cartoonist in society.
“We’re the court jesters,” says Kearney. “I don’t make any effort to be neutral. I don’t make any effort to bridge. It’s not my job.” My job is to create “signed opinion pieces. Now not all cartoons have to be heavy-handed editorial types. And when you draw daily, you can’t keep that up. So I draw lots of cartoons that are mostly humorous.”
“Lift Lines [Stolp’s Jackson cartoon] ---even a comment about ski bro culture, or fancy restaurants on the West Bank of Jackson---is meant to elicit a response. I don’t think you should put anything out in the world that’s not meant to elicit a response. Otherwise, that’s just clutter. That’s like thoughtless social media marketing.”
“The worst thing of all is to draw a cartoon and have nobody respond to it,” concurs Kearney. “Cartoonists get kind of a fiendish delight in riling people up enough so they will call them up or write a letter to the editor.”
Under the direction of diGrappa, Wyoming Humanities ran a caption contest for two cartoons, one drawn by Kearney, the other by Stolp. Last week the two cartoonists were brought together in a Wyoming Connections broadcast to judge the caption contest.
Stolp’s cartoon depicts two people sitting in the back of a bus; a skinhead wearing a military flak jacket with a swastika tattooed on his forehead beside a little black girl, with a knapsack, suggesting Rosa Parks. The little girl has a small American flag; the man has a large American flag. The winning caption: “Sometimes we all forget that ‘One nation under God’ part,” from Dale Stout.
Kearney’s cartoon has two men facing each other, one with a MAGA truckers cap and a Trump sign, the other with a mustache and a Biden sign. Steam, or perhaps a question mark, is coming out from both men’s’ heads. In between is a tiny cat with a question mark above his head. The winning caption: “How did I get stuck with these two?” from Alfredo Ramirez.
“In the caption that actually accompanied this cartoon,” says Kearney, “the Trump guy is saying real loudly, with exclamation points, “Communist!” And the Biden guy is saying real loud with exclamation points, “Fascist!” And Vic the cat is saying, “Can’t we all just get along.”
“I couldn’t agree more with the winning caption for my cartoon,” says Stolp.“We’re all on the same team in America. That’s kind of what I was trying to get at. I was really wrestling with January 6th, just trying to process it all, wondering how we can get back to a civil discussion.”
Ryan Stolp and Greg Kearney are two of the most insightful editorialists in Wyoming. They come at our state, our culture and our politics from two different perspectives, but agree completely on something you may never have thought of.
“Remember, the job here is thinking up the cartoons, not drawing the drawings,” says Kearney. “I tell my editor you’re not paying me to draw on pieces of paper; you’re paying me to think of ideas.”
Listen to Wyoming Connections: Cartoons In The World Of Politics presentation here: https://youtu.be/N7KdCDOcde8