SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Kentucky cartoonist Joel Pett is the 2023 recipient of the “Rex Babin Memorial Award for Excellence in Local Cartooning.” The panel of judges also named Boston’s Sage Stossel as finalist.
The prize was announced Saturday, Oct. 7, at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), in San Francisco.
“Famous for his acid wit, Joel Pett treats local political fodder with the same unflinching critical eye he wields in his national cartoons,” stated the three-judge panel of cartoonists. “His work relentlessly picks apart the cruelty and hypocrisy of his state’s power brokers. Long an ambassador for the importance of local political cartooning, Joel Pett is the embodiment of the ethos the Rex Babin Award was created to celebrate.”
Pett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning staff cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, was unceremoniously dropped from his long-time position in July of this year in a round of layoffs by The McClatchy Company that solely targeted the few remaining editorial cartoonists in the newspaper chain. He continues to draw for his syndicate, Tribune Content Agency.
“Tip O’Neill used to say that ‘all politics is local,’” noted judge Rob Rogers, “and no one understands that better than Joel Pett. When Pett won the Pulitzer in 2000, his portfolio included several cartoons about Kentucky politics. To most of us in the industry, it was unheard of that a portfolio heavy on local cartoons would win a prize that usually recognizes more national topics, but Pett’s work transcends the divisions between local and national. He has been dedicated to local cartoons for his entire career, savagely attacking those in power and championing the powerless. The cartoons in his current entry are no exception.”
“That a career spent shining this constant spotlight would attract the ire of those exposed such that it helped contribute to his dismissal was likely the ultimate backhanded compliment,” added Steve Stegelin, last year’s Babin Award winner and one of the judges for this year’s contest.
The judges were also enthusiastic about Finalist Sage Stossel and her work for The Boston Globe: “Stossel’s submission for the 2023 Babin Award was a clear standout, embracing the power of sequential art to craft a true conversation with readers rather than just a quick-hit punchline. Journalistic and hyper-local, Stossel’s sublimely illustrated strips are personal, informative, and wryly humorous … it’s little wonder why these neighborly yet powerful strips resonate with the readers of the Boston Globe.”
Judge Matt Davies wrote, “Stossel’s first person narrative form of local cartooning is original and compelling. She weaves together the political and the personal in a remarkably deft and approachable format. Reading almost as full page diary entries, Sage gives a woman-on-the-street viewpoint to real things happening in Cambridge, Boston and even Martha’s Vineyard, where after the national news cameras left, she points out the quietly humane treatment of the migrants dumped in the wake of another state’s political stunt.”
Davies added, “Judging the Babin Award this year was extremely difficult. Unfortunately we can only choose one winner and one runner-up, but there were myriad entries deserving of a prize, and it was with gratitude that we saw some incredibly good and powerful local work being produced in all corners of our country. Even with the headwinds of many newspapers’ aversion to controversy, quality and leadership, political cartoonists are relentlessly finding ways to publish work that holds local leaders accountable — and our hat is off to every single one of them.”
Pett now joins Davies and Stegelin as a judge for next year’s Babin Award. The Babin is one of the only journalism awards for editorial cartoonists that is selected by a jury of peers.
About the Rex Babin Award:
The AAEC established the award to honor the life and career of the political cartoonist Rex Babin. Babin, the editorial cartoonist for the Albany Times-Union and The Sacramento Bee, passed away in 2012 at age 49 following a long fight with cancer. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and received the Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation the same year. His fellow cartoonists elected him President of the AAEC in 2009, and he was honored posthumously with the Mark Twain Award for Journalistic
About the AAEC:
For 65 years, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has been the professional association concerned with promoting the interests of staff, freelance and student editorial cartoonists in North America, including political illustrators and the growing field of comics journalists. The AAEC is active in First Amendment, free speech, and journalists’ rights issues worldwide.