A few weeks after the AAEC and three dozen past Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists protested recent changes to the Editorial Cartooning category of journalism’s ‘biggest award’, aspiring cartoonist (and CNN anchor) Jake Tapper has written to the Pulitzer Prize Board encouraging them to rethink their decisions. Here is the letter Tapper sent, reprinted here with his permission.
May 31, 2022
As an erstwhile political cartoonist who knows a bit about the power of visuals when it comes to discussing news, analysis, and opinion, I write to ask that you re-examine your decision to collapse opinionated political cartoons and illustrated news reporting into one Pulitzer Prize category. They each deserve their own recognition.
From my own experience, viewers just react differently to the animated pieces I used to create for State of the Union. Those efforts engage with a different part of viewers’ brains. They come from a different part of my brain. And frankly, one of the reasons I stopped doing them is because as a straight news anchor, I was constantly pulling my punches, making it less effective. Quite unlike the powerful jabs and uppercuts one sees in the editorial cartoons from the left and right, whether Barry Blitt (2020) or Steve Breen (2012).
Please don’t misunderstand me: Fahmida Azim and her collaborators’ excellent visual storytelling in Insider deserved your recognition. Graphic storytelling is a powerful art form, worthy of the Pulitzers’ efforts to boost it. I consume dozens of graphic novels every year. After MAUS, which you recognized with a special citation in 1992, was un-recommended for students in a school district recently, I purchased copies for every child in my extended family.
But graphic novels are not editorial cartoons. The move you’re making, respectfully, would be like combining the fiction and opinion writing categories for the written word. They’re just different animals. It does not take away from the power of a graphic novel or graphic storytelling to note that it takes more time to consume, and it allows more complexity, than a short editorial cartoon, the simplicity of which can be in some ways more challenging to achieve. Both are important.
As Azim and her colleagues deserved their recognition, so too do the creators of at least one of the political cartoonists whose work you reviewed — single panel, multi-paneled or animated. I shudder to think of all the influential and powerful editorial cartoons by Rollin Kirby or Herb Block or Bill Mauldin that might have evaded recognition if forced to compete with a completely different art form.
So I ask you to reconsider combining editorial cartooning and illustrated news reporting into one category, and offer instead two separate awards.
With all due appreciation for the difficulty of your job, and with thanks for listening,
Art by Jake Tapper, a self-caricature for Mad Magazine in 2017.