Originally created 04/22/00

Editorial cartoon: A tradition with a mission



A newspaper's editorial page is the place for ideas and opinions on issues of the day. One of its historic features over the past 200 years is the editorial cartoon. The Chronicle's editorial page is no different.

"Cartoon" is a misnomer, however. What is called an editorial cartoon is, in fact, comment in the form of visual symbols: Pictures if you will, in the long tradition of pencil-sketched commentary that breathes vitality into a page otherwise dominated by the written word.

The commentaries may be witty, wry, ironic, satirical, whimsical or moving. The topics may be serious or light, political, cultural or seasonal.

And just about any event of the day can spark an idea for a sketched commentary. What is central to them all is that the message is supposed to catch readers' attention and cause them to think and reflect.

Last Thursday's visual symbols of ignorance and evil by Rick McKee hit the nerves of many of our readers in Midland Valley, some of whom called to tell us that the day's editorial cartoon offended them. The cartoon had a ghoulish couple symbolizing ignorance and evil standing over a one-year anniversary cake with the word "Columbine" on it. The couple planned to celebrate the anniversary in Midland Valley, where earlier this week two students were arrested for threatening to blow up Midland High School.

It wasn't meant to offend, but to stimulate thought and reflection on the issues of the day. That is, after all, the mission of an editorial cartoon.

But nerve endings were frayed in Midland Valley in recent days, with parents and students at Midland High School full of understandable anxiety over what might happen Thursday, which marked the one-year anniversary of the slaughter of students in Littleton, Colo. Some students didn't want to attend school; some parents weren't sure their children should attend. It was a difficult day for everyone in the Midland Valley area, but particularly for students and parents.

What the cartoon was meant to convey is the sinister encroachment of evil and ignorance that has seeped across the land and into the lives of our children. It's a subject we have portrayed often as we explore the problems associated with the ever-increasing violence that pervades our children's lives.

It should be a topic that all Americans are concerned about. Every day reports arrive about children plotting to kill someone. Every manner of weapon is involved from guns to bombs to butcher knives. What has happened in America that has transformed some of our children into conspirators?

We think a lot of people ask themselves that question, just as we do. This week, some readers have offered answers:

The solution begins at home, they told us. Parents must be vigilantly involved in their children's lives. Prayer must be returned to home and school. Some say the media should back off.

A number of valley residents would rather we have not run the editorial cartoon in question, and we have heard their concerns. At a time when the community was reeling from the news of the bomb plot, and they reasoned it didn't need more negative attention.

Yet no community in the country is immune to this bizarre increase of malevolent behavior among young people.

Some people felt we were making light of a terribly serious situation. That was not the cartoon's intent. The matter is deadly serious and can't be ignored.

We hope readers focus on the overriding societal problem, which is neither created nor solved by an editorial cartoon. If we can encourage discussion and the search for meaningful solutions, then we'll have fulfilled our mission on the editorial page.

We welcome your comments and constructive suggestions as to what our nation must do to turn children away from evil and back to the joyful childhoods we wish for them all.

The author is the editorial page editor of The Chronicle.