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Editorial cartoonists draw crowd here

When Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers invited Teresa Heinz -- wife of a Democratic presidential hopeful, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry -- to speak to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists here last week, she thought Rogers was kidding.

"I thought it was a joke from the newspapers," she said. "They were trying to do me in, weren't they?"

Already a target herself more than a year before the next presidential election, Heinz instructed the 150 cartoonists from around the country on how not to draw Kerry in the coming months, using an overhead projector to display cartoons she already disliked: "My husband should not be confused with Punxsutawney Phil. He isn't a basset hound. Please resist the impulse to use Heinz products when drawing my husband & " Concentrate, she said, only on "his noble chin, focused gaze and & smile. In other words, draw him like this."

Up on screen flashed a cartoon of John F. Kennedy.

But it wasn't all about speaking power to truth.

"Whoever the government is, we should never agree with them," syndicated columnist Ted Rall told his colleagues. Rall railed against the use of labels in cartoons -- "Japan," say, or "Poverty" written on the sleeve of a cartoon metaphor, for instance. And no more donkeys and elephants, bulls and bears, Lady Libertys and Grim Reapers either, he added. Rall riled the audience by plugging for, in his terms, "Wordy, poorly drawn altie cartoons" -- such as the ones by Rall in City Paper -- "versus well-drawn, meaningless cartoons" that appear on some mainstream editorial pages. Rall admitted a few of his own were ugly examples of the wordy variety ("The whole cartoon relies entirely on text. This is ridiculous. Who the fuck is going to read this thing?"), then showed what he called "ugly" examples of Rob Rogers' heavily labeled ones.

"I'm sorry, we're going to have to shut this panel down," Rogers joked.

Steve Kelley, editorial cartoonist for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, plugged for the traditional variety. "I like to think of symbols as bullets in our belt," said Kelley. "My God, Ted, even writers use metaphors."

But in this overwhelmingly white male profession (judging from the crowd), Kelley probably knew he was outnumbered. "It's all right to do a sucky image & if it's Bush," he complained. The enthusiastic reception given liberal Al Franken, speaking at the conference's close, likely did nothing to change Kelley's impression.

"Looking at the faces here, I have to applaud you for not letting this affirmative-action nonsense" affect the profession, Franken told the group. He cruised through his take on recent history ("The hijackers of 9/11 ruined it for the normal hijackers. Normal hijackers watched that and went, 'Ah, shit.'"), then he launched into the Bush administration and right-wing media in preview of his fall book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. He decried conservative television commentators stringing news clips together selectively against the Democrats: "Why is that different than Jayson Blair? Can you explain it to me?" Should the country's terrorism alert level ever rise to red, Franken said, the only sacrifice we can expect George W. Bush to ask of us is "to shop online." 

Asked about Democratic prospects for 2004 election: "Well, I think, and this might surprise you, that Bush is going to have an advantage."

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