September 11, 2001, was a watershed moment for everybody. For us as cartoonists, it was a call to arms, a call to challenge complacency and inaction. That’s what we strive to do. John Cox
Quel meilleur hommage à ceux qui l’ont rendu possible en ce 3e anniversaire de la libération de l’Irak ..
Que ces entretiens de deux des plus éminents représentants, dans le petit monde des dessinateurs de presse, du refus de l’instinct grégaire et de la voix de la foule, John Cox et Allen Forkum …
The Cox and Forkum Interview
June 1, 2004
Forkum: Sales have been slow but steady — not as good as we’d like, of course, but at this rate we’ll eventually profit from it. We self-published the book, so it was a risky venture from the start. The blog has definitely helped sales. Certainly more people know of us now than before.
Cox: For all the satisfaction the book has offered, our work on the Web site has been a huge adrenaline rush. Speed and responsiveness is rewarded in blogging, and it has given me a chance to do the kind of work that normally doesn’t thrive in conventional outlets. For all the quick reaction time and head-long thrill of instantaneous fan response, I swear there ought to be racing stripes and sponsor decals on my drawing board.
Forkum: As an example of what John means, we were able to post our « In The Dark » cartoon within hours after the blackout happened. Having that kind of freedom is fun.
John Little: « Why aren’t these guys syndicated? » is a question I hear a lot. Is syndication necessarily an indication of success for cartoonists and is it something you’re pursuing aggressively?
Forkum: We’d love to be syndicated, and we’re striving for it. With the blog we’re reaching a couple of thousand viewers a day on average. A syndicated cartoonist has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands. Not only would that much exposure be rewarding professionally, presumably the income would be better, too.
Cox: To me, syndication would be the limo ride of cartooning. Blogging is more like a Ferrari road trip, opened up and blasting through the country-side. So far, the bug parts on my sunglasses seem kind of cool.
John Little: In our two-party system there’s the assumption that we operate from a common pool of values. Is that attachment still there for the Democratic party or is the far-Left enveloping the mainstream Democrat?
Forkum: As far as the Democratic leadership and prominent politicians go, I think the Leftist ideology has taken over. I’m from Tennessee, and here rural Democrats are very different from urban Democrats. I think that’s why Gore couldn’t even carry his home state in 2000. He’d be president right now if he had, but he was too far left.
Cox: Oooooooooh……President Gore. That’s a case of Bombay Gin and four days in Vegas to a cartoonist.
John Little: The Left really appeared to be gaining momentum in the months leading up to the war in Iraq. The war took a lot of steam out of their movement but they’re slowly gaining traction again. Do you think they will be able to focus the diverse coalition they assembled to oppose the war into defeating George Bush or will they remain fractured by different priorities?
Forkum: I think the Democrats are too fractured right now, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t come together and pose a threat to Bush. It may simply depend on whether or not the Green Party fields a candidate and takes votes away votes away from the Democrat nominee. I imagine that they will because they won’t be able to resist the opportunity to bash Bush.
John Little: Are there any public figures on the Left that you can respect or that you believe would serve as proper role-models for a « rational Left » or am I dealing in oxymorons here?
Forkum: I don’t know of anyone today.
Cox: I think you’d have a better chance of seeing Schwarzenegger pass a diction course than witnessing a prominent Leftist spouting a rational approach to world leadership.
John Little: Your work is guided by the philosophy of Objectivism as opposed to a purely politically conservative viewpoint. Political
differences aside, I often find myself most disturbed by the sheer lack of reason, of critical thought, that I find on the Left. Can you relate?
Forkum: Absolutely. As far as they’re concerned, their socialistic ends justify their means. Reason and critical thinking only get in their way.
John Little: What do you think drives a person to associate President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney with a monster like Hitler while simultaneously appearing to be unmoved by the atrocities of a Saddam, bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, or the like? Where does this homegrown assumption of American evil by default come from?
Forkum: From morality. Generally speaking, Leftists think it is morally wrong that America is rich and powerful while other countries are poor and weak. Their morality — altruism — dictates that the haves are morally obligated to sacrifice for the have-nots. Politically this leads to collectivism and socialism.
America, on the other hand, is still basically individualistic and capitalistic. America is about being self-responsible, pursuing your own happiness and interests, making money and having the freedom to choose how you spend it — even if that means choosing not to give it away to the needy.
What could be more evil by Leftist standards? To them America is propagating the « evil » of capitalism and economic freedom. By comparison, the crimes of Saddam, bin Laden and Kim Jong Il are considered lesser evils (if evil at all), crimes that are further mitigated by the socialistic/anti-American sentiments of the brutes who commit them.
The Leftist moral evaluation of reality is the exact opposite of the truth because their morality is the exact opposite of the good.
John Little: Do you ever find yourselves at odds over creative or philosophical issues? How does the collaborative process work and how do you resolve differences if they arise?
Forkum: As the writer, I have the final say on philosophical and political issues, but it’s extremely rare that John and I find ourselves at odds. Our basic approach is that once we have an idea, whether it’s mine or John’s, whatever serves that idea becomes the standard — that is, whatever helps the cartoon communicate the intended message is good, whatever interferes is bad. Most often that approach is what resolves any differences of opinion in, say, how something looks or how something is written.
Cox: And I would add that having worked with Allen for about 14 years, I can safely say we know each other’s aesthetics. The only time we seem to differ in a cartoon’s direction is when my attempts at exaggeration become « over cooked. » I like prodding and poking the outer limits of what makes a cartoon visually arresting.
John Little: What are your thoughts on your peers at the opposite end of the political spectrum? Can you look at a Ted Rall, for example, and appreciate the work but despise the message?
Forkum: Not in the case of Ted Rall. But there are a lot of excellent cartoonists with left-leaning politics — far more from the left than the right. Just to name a few, Ben Sargent, Pat Oliphant, and Don Wright are all great artists and masters at communicating their ideas with powerful visuals, and that’s true whether I agree with their opinions or not. And from the right there’s the wonderful Michael Ramirez. But far-Left cartoonists tend to merely write screeds with spot illustrations. It’s as if they are so caught up in the words of ideology they can’t even think of visual ways to communicate. I don’t appreciate that type of editorial cartooning no matter what politics it
Cox: Peers? We are the only two-headed, four-eyed, Objectivist visual commando this side of Pluto. We’re a new mutation. I think Allen’s take on the news coupled with my insatiable need for inky fingers make us unique.
John Little: How did the events of 9/11 shape or impact your work?
Forkum: We started editorial cartooning in mid-August 2001. I had written three cartoons but we hadn’t started drawing them yet. September 11 totally changed our approach. Rather than casually pursuing the work, I suddenly had burning desire to speak out. The large majority of our cartoons have since dealt directly or indirectly with what we think is the appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks.
Cox: It also triggered a dictum that Allen and I really treasure: Cartooning is pointless only if you make it pointless. September 11, 2001, was a watershed moment for everybody. For us as cartoonists, it was a call to arms, a call to challenge complacency and inaction. That’s what we strive to do.
INTERVIEW WITH JOHN COX & ALLEN FORKUM
December 04, 2003
I have enjoyed Cox & Forkum’s editorial cartoons in The Intellectual Activist for a long time and it was therefore very interesting to read Robert Tracinski’s interview with the dynamic duo in the March 2002 issue of TIA. I was one of the first individuals who had the pleasure to find Cox & Forkum’s virtual home in cyberspace. I have enjoyed their book, Black & White World, very much.
EGO: First of all, I want to thank you very much for your work with the EGO logotype. Do you want to tell my readers how you came up with the logotype?
The initial idea for the logo was a graphic solution using the word « ego » to form a person’s face, but the results didn’t really connote egoism strongly enough. I knew John could illustrate a heroic, proud man so that is the tack we took. The original drawing had a square border around it. We eliminated that so the man would be the highest graphic element in the logo. The sphere was meant to connote a lofty peak or even the world itself.
COX: Heroic was what I was shooting for. There was power in his stance that I think captured a sense of joy and determination. I really wanted to work simple, simple, simple. You put the logo on a jersey and I’ve worn that shirt out. [EGO Editor: How about sending a X-mas gift to John & Allen?] I really liked the understated size of the artwork, yet its intent is a real attention-getter. That logo was a fun project.
EGO: Your first war cartoon, « Blend, » was created on September 20, 2001. Please tell me your reactions to what happened on 9/11.
Disbelief, horror, fear, anger, grief … and under all those feelings was a dismay at my own ignorance that such a threat even existed. Of course I knew that militant fundamentalist Muslims hated America and that they regularly attacked us overseas, from Lebanon to Africa to Yemen. I knew they had attack the WTC once before. I knew the Taliban had destroyed non-Islamic statues in Afghanistan. I recalled the name Osama bin Laden. But I never imagined Islamists’ willingness and capacity to commit an atrocity on the scale of 9/11. It was a wake-up call for me, to better educate myself on the threat and how to defend ourselves against it. In particular I wanted to fight the battle against Islamist jihad ideology. That desire is fundamental to our editorial cartooning today.
That day changed America. It changed me. How could it not? Now, all I want to do is take the fight to the horrific ideologies that fueled such anti-Americanism. We’re editorial cartoonists, so the battlefield is there.
FORKUM: Along those lines, I elaborated about the « Blend » cartoon in our book: Islamic terrorists share an irrationalism with certain activists in America which results in a common bond — a willingness to use force against those who disagree, a willingness to place their causes above individual rights.
EGO: I think that your cartoon, « Censorship, Berkeley-Style, » is showing how the leftists of the academic world are trying to use dirty tricks as a method in order to stop the freedom of speech at universities. For a background, read my post, ANTI-REASON AT UC BERKELEY. Have you been in contact with many students through your blog?
Yes, they’ve contacted us. University students have asked permission to use our cartoons on flyers advertising demonstrations and lectures. Some student newspapers have published our cartoons. The cartoon « Affirmative Racism » even caused somewhat of a controversy at Texas A&M. So there’s definitely some interest there.
And I would add regarding the Berkeley cartoon that it also shows what many college leftists are in essence: intolerant, anti-free-speech thugs.
EGO: What’s your favorite source and inspiration for new cartoons?
Mainly current events, though sometimes we « lead » by commenting on issues we think are important. I spend a lot of time checking the latest news online at CNN, FoxNews and Google News as well as surveying information in the blogosphere, which is abundant and useful. I often wish that I had more time just to keep up with the blogosphere. The op-eds at The Ayn Rand Institute are also inspiring.
EGO: What’s your view on today’s media?
My general view of them is pretty negative. There’s seems to be a gross lack of objectivity that leads to biases of every sort, from editorializing in « news » articles to the total evasion of important events. Some of this may be laziness, some may be political sympathizing, and some may be out and out propagandizing. But whatever the reason, it is not good journalism. This is not to say that all journalists and every media outlet are corrupt in some way. I don’t know enough to comment on the extent of the problem. But when you have major news organizations like Reuters that even after 9/11 refused to call terrorists « terrorists, » it’s an indication of deep problems.
EGO: During a panel discussion at the Oslo Objectivist Conference, one question was about the fact that several individuals have learned about Ayn Rand’s books and philosophy, through listening to a rock group called Rush. Do you know if you have inspired some of your readers to check out literature by Ayn Rand?
Yes, a couple of people have mentioned to me that they’ve looked further into Objectivism, and I find that immensely rewarding even though it is not the primary purpose of our cartoons.
EGO: What kind of different feedback have you got from your readers?
The overwhelming majority of our feedback is positive, but we also regularly receive criticism, from the full political spectrum — conservatives, libertarians and leftists.
COX: The biggest kick I get out of our work is opportunity to hear from folks so fast. I’ve stated it before, but the time between airing the work and hearing what fans think of the work is now down to virtually nothing, and I truly dig the vulnerability… laying it out there and experiencing the response.
It was very interesting to read the interview in TIA on how you developed an idea for a cartoon. You refer to Ayn Rand’s book, The Art of Nonfiction. How have you been able to achieve such clarity in your style?
That’s a tough question. It’s partly a matter of practice. I used to write editorials for my own publications as well as write letters to editors of other newspapers. Effective op-eds and LTEs boil an issue down to its essence and comment on it concisely, often using analogies and metaphors to drive home a point. Creating cartoon ideas is a similar process. Beyond that the execution of the drawing must clearly communicate the idea, which is where John’s skills are so important.
EGO: Could you compare an op-ed with an editorial cartoon? What are the differences and similarities?
I’ve already mention some similarities above. Of course the main difference is that an editorial cartoon concretizes an opinion with an image. Metaphors and symbolism that are merely handy for an op-ed become essential tools in cartoons. The better editorial cartoons are the ones that emphasize visuals over words and dialogue. That doesn’t mean that word-oriented editorial cartoons can’t be effective — we do those type all the time. But the strongest cartoons essentialize an idea to a quickly perceivable concrete.
This strength in editorial cartoons is a weakness compared to op-eds, which can present full arguments, refer to multiple sources and contexts, and deal easily with high-level abstractions. It’s basically the difference between a book and its cover. One advertises an opinion; the other explains it.
EGO: Have you read Ayn Rand’s book, The Romantic Manifesto?
FORKUM: Yes, I highly recommend the book — all of Ayn Rand’s books are worth reading. The Romantic Manifesto is an excellent, philosophical analysis of art, from television to novels to painting.
COX: The Romantic Manifesto was a fun read. It kind of gave me a beginning point to justify my « throwback » aesthetic. Instead of being an unimaginative hack, I could be a messenger bringing back the joy of Realism. I found her words to be very invigorating. Now I had something to say to all those stiff-necked modernists who prefer barbaric paint globs over humanist values.
EGO: John, for how many years have you been a painter of fine art? Who’s your favorite artist?
COX: I’ve been showing my paintings for 10 years, and I hope to do it for the rest of my life. I consider my fine art goals to be the engine for my cartooning. A lot of the adrenaline rush I get from a sharp cartoon is found in the experience of selling a very personal painting. I’ve come to realize that my two loves are inseparable, and I want to pursue them both with equal passion.
Who are my painting heroes? Andrew Wyeth for his elegant use of the figure in large expanses of landscape. Edward Hopper for his sense of solitude in his work. He found a dignity in physical isolation that I find very romantic. Maxfield Parrish for his sense of design and his magical take on Realism. But for pure bravura and lust for the human experience, I’d have to say writer Ernest Hemingway‘s life is the most inspirational. Not his outrageous fame per se, or his shameless irresponsibility, but how he reveled in physical and intellectual pleasure. I really admire his sense of adventure and the courage to see it through. Although, I think I’ll pass on the shotgun thing.
EGO: Allen, could you provide us with a gag cartoon from your magazine, Automotive Report? How about something on the topic « Amish versus Technology »?
FORKUM: This cartoon is from 1996 and, if I remember correctly, it was entirely John’s idea.
Yeah… the Amish thing. Loaded with paradoxes that lead to some really funny ideas. Granted, the cartoon was also skirting the meaning of progress, but when I hit upon the idea of a horse crunched in a garage door, it became pure slapstick. The cartoon represents my tendency to make fun of religious dogma… and dumbfounded farm animals.
EGO: What are your plans for the future? When could we purchase your next book? Another Cox & Forkum product?
We’re still striving for syndication. We recently sent out submissions and are waiting for reactions. In the mean time, we’re producing cartoons as if we’re syndicated. Publishing a second book is a strong possibility, perhaps sometime next year. But first we want to sell more copies of « Black & White World. » I have too many stored in my garage! We’ll likely add more t-shirts to our line. And we’re considering selling some of our original artwork.
Ultimately, I’d love to see our work in a big gallery show. Think of a nice airy room with cream walls and hundreds of original drawings all matted and glassed. Bottles of cabernets and pinot grigio piled near a bandstand oozing delicious jazz music across the room. Kind of a celebration of art and ideas. Until then, though, I’m thrilled with the possibilities of where the drawings can lead us. I tell everyone, You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Autre dessinateur à découvrir, pour ceux qui le connaitraient pas encore, l’anti-Doonesbury Chris Himes: http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/