The birdbrain who picks those editorial cartoons

Paul Clark

It’s not often that someone rags us here at The Black Mountain News, but when they do, it usually is about the Opinions page. And it often has to do with the political cartoons we — well, I — select.

Paul Clark

The complaints are usually about a perceived liberal bias (I’m hearing snickering out there, somewhere to my right). Our selection of cartoons seems way out of whack, the few that have bothered to comment complain. It seems as if we have an agenda to dump Trump and on anything that conservatives hold dear. And if I were a reader, I might agree with them.

But I don’t. We — well, I — go out of my way to find political cartoons of a more conservative bent. During the election, I tried to balance the cartoons equally among those that skewered Trump and those that targeted Clinton. When I see a particularly trenchant cartoon that lambasts Obama, I thrilled — not personally or politically, but professionally, in that publishing it helps balance the Opinions page and, I hope, causes progressives to consider their values.

A letter to the editor published today highlights the dilemma we – well, I — face each week in the cartoon selection. I chose the Jan. 5 political gag not because I’m pro-Palestine or anti-Netanyahu. I selected it because Netanyahu was getting slammed by the U.N. Security Council over his drive to build houses in land claimed by Palestinians. The cartoon was timely, well-drawn, topical and immediate. Maybe it doesn’t concern events happening in the Swannanoa Valley, but no cartoonist in the area has volunteered to pen something local (if you’d like to be that person, contact me at

The letter writer loves the political cartoons by Michael Ramirez, and I do too. But I’m restricted to the offerings of the syndicates that we pay for, as well as individual cartoonists whose work we buy. I’d love to draw the cartoons myself (I think the coolest job in newspapers must belong to the political cartoonists, who seem to have so much fun. Once I interviewed several of cartoonists about a convention they were holding in Asheville, and to a person, they all seemed so lively, so devilish, so “up to something” that I wanted to run away and join their circus).

But alas, the job of a deskbound editor doesn’t allow for that. Each week, usually on Thursdays or Fridays, I look at what’s out there and make our selection. I’m enamored of Clayton Jones’ drawings right now because he turns them overnight (I usually get them around 3 a.m., which tells you a lot about the weird lives of political cartoonists). He’s funny and fast and on target. If he skews a little liberal, it’s because people like Trump and Netanyahu are so easy to skewer. They make targets of themselves, as do the Clintons and Obama and anyone else who dares step up to do something they believe will benefit mankind.

The European political cartoonists tend to be much bleaker and harsh than their American counterparts, I’ve noticed. Nothing good seems to come out of the houses of government in Germany, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Syria, if you’re going by what the Europeans are drawing, often to hilarious effect but just as often in a way that makes you quiet and sad. Which is what political cartooning is meant to do — evoke an emotion. And when it evokes a letter to the editor, that’s even better, because it creates a dialogue, which is what all Opinions editors want.

Perhaps if The Black Mountain News is lining the bottom of a parrot’s birdcage, as the letter writer suggests, the Opinion page has served its purpose by provoking a response. But to those who hadn’t thought about lining birdcages with our paper before, I advise caution — parrots are outrageous mimics. Don’t drop a pen and some paper in that cage. It might come back to bite you.