We’ve all seen one – a dog-eared cartoon hanging on a friend’s refrigerator.
That, says political cartoonist Jimmy Margulies, is a sign of success.
Margulies, whose own cartoons have found their way to refrigerators and even to the counter of a local drug store – with a cartoon targeting the Medicare drug benefit program – calls this phenomenon the “refrigerator test.”
“Clippings on the refrigerator mean that someone liked it enough that they wanted to put it there,” said Margulies. He should know – he is an editorial cartoonist for The Record.
Margulies, who lives in Ridgewood and is a longtime member of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center there, will present some of his work at the shul on Oct. 30.
“I was invited because this is a presidential election year,” he said. He reported that he has a large portfolio of slides on the election campaign, and “I also want to include a handful of cartoons that have gotten more than normal reaction on a variety of topics.”
One such reaction – which Margulies calls “a badge of honor” – was the placement of his name on the blacklist of the National Rifle Association.
“The impetus must have been after the Columbine massacre,” suggested the cartoonist, whose cartoon about the shootings was published by the New York Times on the Sunday after it happened and then circulated widely around the Internet.
“It showed a desk and chair in an NRA office with a telephone answering machine producing the message: ‘If you’re calling about a school shooting, press 1: if you’re calling about a post office shooting, press 2….'”
For Margulies – who says that humor is an important part of his work – cartoons are no laughing matter.
While humor is an “effective way to deliver the message and reach people who may not agree with you,” the cartoons themselves reflect a definite political outlook.
“I definitely am extremely vigilant about issues of tolerance and bigotry,” he said, attributing that awareness to “being a member of a group that has suffered centuries of oppression.”
Margulies chooses his own topics, draws the cartoons, and writes his own captions. He said that he writes to express his point of view and “to persuade people to see things the way I do.”
Nor is it simply enough to get a point across. Rather, said the cartoonist, who describes his work as “challenging, rather than stressful,” he wants to do it in a way that stands out, reflecting the kind of creativity that justifies his having an audience.
The idea of becoming a political cartoonist occurred to him when he was an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University.
“I studied graphic design, but about midway through college I hit upon the idea of doing editorial cartoons,” he recalled. “I liked political satire as long as I could understand it. I had been involved in music, playing the guitar. I definitely responded well to satirical songs about civil rights and the Vietnam War. It dawned on me that a career as a folk singer would be tough, so I went for the second hardest thing.”
From that decision, he said, it took more than seven years to achieve his goal.
“I pioneered the term ‘bounce-back person,'” he said, noting that he went back to live with his parents after college. He was able to get a job in the 1970s, when New York City was in dire financial straits and hiring artists to “fill in the gaps – like a latter-day version of the WPA.” (The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, passed by Congress in 1973, was designed to train workers and provide them with jobs in the public service.)
In 1980, Margulies, now 61, got a job with the Journal newspapers, a chain of suburban newspapers in Virginia and Washington, D.C. He remained there until 1984, when he took a position with the Houston Post. In 1990, he moved to The Record.
The nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for that paper, Margulies’ cartoons appear in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Time, Time.com, Newsweek, and Business Week, among many other publications through King Features. His cartoons on New Jersey issues are self-syndicated to newspapers and websites all over the state.
His work has garnered many prizes, including the 2007 and 2008 Clarion award for editorial cartoons from the Association for Women in Communications and the 2005 Berryman award for editorial cartoons from the National Press Foundation of Washington, D.C. In 1996 he won both the National Headliner Award for editorial cartoons and the Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition.
“I choose subjects that I know most people are aware of, and [about which] I have something interesting or important to say,” said the cartoonist, who pointed out that he “does his homework” and is an avid follower of the news. “Luckily, I’m given a lot of leeway in terms of editorial freedom.”
At the Record, he said, he happens to agree with the official editorial policy, but even at the Houston Post – where his political views differed – “it didn’t matter.”
He noted that feedback from the public varies with the political cartoon. On controversial issues, such as this summer’s flap over Chick-fil-A, he got many responses. Still, he said, “If it wasn’t getting some people angry, it wouldn’t be effective.”
With newspapers being threatened by online news venues, Margulies pointed out that not only are his cartoons available online but that there are iPhone apps for them.
“I’m up to the minute,” he joked, “though I would be more concerned with the fate of newspapers if I were younger than I am.”
He pointed out with the newspaper business contracting, editorial cartoonists have been hit particularly hard.
“There aren’t that many of us left,” he said. “I’m the only full-time newspaper staff cartoonist in the state of New Jersey.”