These days, the challenge for editorial cartoonists -- and anyone curating an exhibit of their work -- is staying ahead of the news cycle. The political scene seems to be producing, and erasing, political caricatures even faster than the artists can.
Just ask Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, as he stands before a handful of wall-mounted cartoons in Lawrenceville gallery The Framery. Looking over pen-and-ink cartoons of departed White House cronies like Alberto Gonzales and Donald Rumsfeld, Rogers mutters, "We've got to run this show before Cheney and the rest of them leave too."
Bush Leaguers: Cartoonists Take on the White House, takes place before the close of another chapter: It marks Rogers' swan song as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Featuring 99 cartoons selected from some 650 submitted by AAEC members, the show originally appeared at the organization's annual convention in Washington, D.C. And it's elegiac for another reason: Cartoonists, too, are disappearing from the scene as newspapers have fallen on hard times. Rogers says that while the organization has more than 200 members, only 80 are currently working full time for a newspaper; the rest are freelancing or syndicated.
Of course, there are advantages to the freelance approach. Pointing to a work by Ann Telnaes -- which features President Bush sitting on a toilet situated over the North Pole -- Rogers says, a bit wistfully, "Here's what you can get away with when you don't have an editor." And Rogers says he made a point to include alternative cartoonists like Ted Rall (whose syndicated work appears in City Paper) in the show as well.
Rogers, whose work is featured routinely in The New York Times, included three of his own cartoons. He remains old-school at heart. While most cartoonists do the lion's share of their work on computers, Rogers says, "I still like getting ink on my fingers." And he urged artists to send in their hand-drawn originals whenever possible. "I wanted people to see the inkwork and pencil, and where the cartoonist had to use the Wite-Out."
As for the show's Bush-bashing theme, Rogers admits that "A lot of people said, 'Isn't the show going to be one-sided?' And it is, of course." But he estimates that three-quarters of cartoonists are liberal anyway -- and even right-wing cartoonists had a hard time making a pro-Bush cartoon. "A lot of conservatives were turning against him too," Rogers says. "There just wasn't a lot of pro-Bush stuff."
Even so, Rogers says Bush's departure next year will be bittersweet. If you polled the cartoonists on display, he says, "I think they would say this has been the best White House ever -- for cartoonists."
Bush Leaguers Opening reception 6:30-9 p.m. Fri., Sept. 7. The Framery, 4735 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-687-2102