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« After Tiller: A Documentary that Invokes Compassion | Main | Jesus, the Poor and the Church »


An Interview With Cartoonist Jimmy Margulies

By Angelo Lopez
November 30, 2013


One of the nicest and most thoughtful persons that I met in the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is Jimmy Margulies. Jimmy Margulies was editorial cartoonist for 22 years at The Record in northern New Jersey, and he continues to produce a cartoon every Sunday for The Record. His cartoons are distributed by King Features and his cartoons on New York City issues appear regularly in amNew York and his cartoons on New Jersey issues appear in newspapers all over the Garden State. Among his national awards are The Berryman Award from The National Press Foundation, The National Headliner Award, The Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition, and four Clarion Awards from The Association for Women in Communications. His work has appeard in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek and Businessweek. Before he worked in The Record in New Jersey, Jimmy Margulies was the Editorial Cartoonist for The Houston Post as well as for Journal Newspapers of Maryland and Virginia. An avid runner and vintage watch collector, he and his wife Martha have two adult children.

Thank you Jimmy for doing this interview. Growing up, were you always interested in cartooning? What were some early cartooning or artist heroes of yours?

I was not always interested in cartooning as I was growing up. I really became interested only when I was in college, and started noticing editorial cartoons in various publications I saw. My first exposure to cartoons was probably in high school, when I would read the New Yorker cartoons, since my parents subscribed to that magazine. But it was definitely before I had any notion of wanting to be a cartoonist myself.

You majored in Graphic Design in Carnegie Mellon University. What led you to doing editorial cartooning? What editorial cartoonists do you look up to and inspire your own work?

I had been interested in political satire before I specifically focused on editorial cartoons. As a teenager and young adult, I was very into music and playing the guitar. And some of what I really responded to were protest songs, or topical music as it was called, which commented on current events such as civil rights and Vietnam. I loved the idea of combining political commentary with an art form.

So when I was in college, it dawned on my that since I was interested in art, I could combine that with political satire and draw editorial cartoons.

I probably first noticed Oliphant and Herblock when I was getting interested, and then some of the others who were becoming prominent, like MacNelly, Don Wright, Mike Peters, Tony Auth and Doug Marlette.

I also loved David Levine's work, some of which I had seen in Time Magazine, and elsewhere.
So midway through college I had decided that editorial cartooning was my career choice.
Perhaps a little after the first names I mentioned, I discovered the work of Paul Conrad and was also very excited by his cartoons.

And when I was very early in my career, Ranan Lurie took me under his wing, and gave me sort of an apprenticeship where I would travel to his studio in Connecticut once or twice a week and suggest topics for cartoons and act as a sounding board for his ideas. Lurie really impressed upon me the need for an editorial cartoonist to be a real journalist, not just a gag writer.

In other words, that a good cartoonist would be as knowledgeable about current events as an editorial writer or opinion columnist, and if we were not using pictures to get our point of view across, we would be able to express those views in words like traditional journalists.

I remember during the Washington D.C. convention you saying that you participated in some demonstrations when you were younger. Your cartoons seem to show a center left point of view. What experiences, people or books have influenced your political point of view? How did living through the tumultous sixties and early seventies influence your point of view?

Growing up during the sixties and seventies certainly did influence my political outlook... civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the counterculture, and then Watergate. There was a lot of questioning of government and institutions that coincided with my reaching adulthood and thinking for myself. So it was as though I was there at just the right time to be pushed in the direction of being an editorial cartoonist.

When I look at different editorial cartoonists, some offer harsh no-holds barred attacks that really try to pulverize opposing ideologies. Your cartoons are more gentle satires that attack the foolishness of all political sides, Democrats and Republicans both. Do you have any philosophy about how you approach doing a political cartoon?

As far as my approach to editorial cartooning, when I first started out I guess my cartoons were more heavy handed or shrill than funny. I shifted somewhat towards more use of humor for two reasons. One is that this was what seemed to be more successful in getting published, and ultimately in finding a job. The other is that trying to reach an audience which definitely includes plenty of people whose views differ from mine, if I could at least attract them to the humor, I might get them to see my point of view along the way.

If I only did very hard hitting cartoons, it would restrict my appeal to people who already agreed with me. And I found that works on me too. If a cartoonist with whom I do not agree is able to produce something that I enjoy because it is very imaginative, I will really remember that have it make more of an impact that someone who I agree with doing something that is not as fresh.

A long time ago, I was interviewed and made the point that I sometimes liked a MacNelly cartoon I disagreed with more than a Herblock cartoon I did agree with because MacNelly made it so entertaining with his humor and terrific drawing.

But I like doing a variety of cartoons depending on the issues. If there is a need to do something about an injustice I perceive, I am certainly willing to be more hard hitting. If I am doing something about a less serious topic, then more emphasis on the humor is the way to go. If a cartoonist has his or her work appear five days a week, it is best to offer a change of pace, just like a pitcher in baseball does not only throw fastballs. Sometimes he throws a curveball, or another pitch to keep the batter off guard.

You were once Editorial Cartoonist for The Houston Post as well as for the Journal Newspapers in Maryland and Virginia. What was the political climate like in Houston, Maryland, and Virginia? What did you learn from doing political commentary in those areas?

When I was Editorial Cartoonist for the Journal Newspapers of Maryland and Virginia, I was restricted to drawing cartoons about state and local issues even though I was in the metropolitan Washington, DC area. Since DC is the epicenter of national politics, it was hard to compete for people's attention with what was going on nationally. So whatever issue there were seemed to be greatly overshadowed by national politics, and I really do not remember anything that stands out 30 years later.

When I was working at The Houston Post, I thought that a liberal leaning cartoonist would get more angry responses in what I assumed would be a more conservative political environment. But either I made an incorrect assumption, or people were too polite to complain more, because I did not get the response I had braced myself for. One of the most signficant memories I have from that time was when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. Since Houston was the home of the Johnson Space Center, I felt an incredible amount of pressure that day in how to react in my cartoon about that.

Texas state politics these days are known for being pretty far to the right, but back then there were two Democratic governors that I recall, Mark White and Ann Richards.

For 22 years you were editorial cartoonist at The Record in northern New Jersey. If there is any place that would have an interesting political scene, I would assume it would be in the New Jersey/New York City area. What is the political climate like right now in the New Jersey area? Have you had fun commenting on the Chris Christie governorship?

The cartoons I have done for The Record, both as the staff cartoonist for 22 years, and now as a regular contributor on Sundays have definitely benefited from some of the interesting individuals or good issues in the state. For the past few years Governor Christie has been a frequent target, both for his personality and his policies, plus his very clear ambition to run for president. In some ways I see Christie similar to Reagan in that he is able to get the votes of people who would disagree with him on the issues. Maybe they like the fact that he is a colorful individual who puts New Jersey on the map, since it is often overshadowed by its proximity to New York City. New Jersey has been Democratic leaning in recent years, and if Christie runs for president in 2016, it will be much easier for the Democrats to find a stronger candidate to run for governor next time. The woman who ran against him, State Senator Barbara Buono, had a good record in the legistlature but was not the best candidate. The stronger Democratic possibilities all shied away from the race because they thought Christie was too strong an opponent.

One more thing about cartooning Christie, is that cartoonists from out of state have drawn cartoons making using of his weight. It is such an obvious physical characteristic. But it is also a distraction from attacking him on the issues. So in my view, ridiculing him for being fat is letting him off the hook for his policies. I tried to focus on both his politics as well as the personality, such as the way he would express his anger in a very unbecoming way.

The NSA surveillance has been very big in the news for the past couple of years. But in looking at your cartoons in the past couple of years, I've noticed that you have always been critical of government intrusions on our private lives. You did some wonderful early cartoons on December 25, 2005, December 18, 2005, December 26, 2006 , and September 26, 2006 that could still apply today. What has led you to consistently attack this sort of government overreach?

The cartoons I have done about the NSA are consistent with my philosophy of questioning powerful institutions whether they be the government or big business. In my view there are instances throughout history where in reaction to some legitimate threat, the government overdoes what is necessary to deal with it. So I see the efforts of the NSA as part of this pattern of excessive measures being taken rather than more tightly focused ones to deal with whatever the threat is.

You've done some great cartoons over the years that have attack prejudice against illegal immigrants, gays and lesbians and Muslim-Americans. You had good cartoons on December 25, 2005, November 22, 2005, December 26, 2006, and December 15, 2006 that attack the stereotypes against these groups. With such a consistent socially liberal point of view, have you been attacked by the religious conservatives in your area?

I have not gotten a lot of negative feedback to cartoons I have done attacking prejudice against Muslims, gays and lesbians, illegal immigrants, etc. from the immediate circulation area of when I was drawing full time for The Record. While there are people who are conservative , I think that the area is pretty tolerant. On occasion I have gotten more of a response from outside the area. One example that comes to mind is from last year 2012, when the controversy over Chick-fil-A first arose.

I did get some negative feedback on a cartoon I did criticizing the chain's founder for his views on same sex marriage. Some people complained I was trying to stifle his freedom of speech. I explained that he is free to express his view, but that if he does, then I will use my forum to strongly oppose him. I think that the country has expended a lot of wasted energy on intolerance toward one group or another and that Dr. King's marvelous observation in his I Have A Dream speech should still apply... just people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, or some other factor.

In your bio, you wrote that you are proud to be on the National Rifle Association blacklist. You did some recent cartoons on December 18, 2012 and December 19, 2012 that I'm assuming have really ticked off the NRA. What led you to be such a strong supporter of gun control? What are some of the reactions of the NRA to your cartoons?

I think that my being on the NRA blacklist goes back to one or more cartoons I did after Columbine, one of which was used in the Sunday New York Times shortly after that. I guess what makes me an avid supporter of gun control is the basic feeling that people in our country ought to feel that they can go about their business without having to be fearful of gun violence. And that if we call ourselves an advanced society it should be a peaceful one.

It is blatantly obvious that getting ones hands on a gun to do something evil is way too easy. There are things that can be done to prevent these mass killings which would not prevent hunters or sport shooters from using their guns, or those who feel the need to have a gun in their home.

The gun lobby in Washington, DC and perhaps in some of the state capitols is about the worst example of our political system in my view. Public sentiment favors reasonable gun control, yet a lobby that reflects an extreme view (not even representing the views of all of its members ) is able to block sensible measures, even after these horrific gun massacres. Since not all NRA members endorse the extreme views of its leadership, it would be great if they split to form an organization with more sensible views.

Over the years, the number of fulltime staff editorial cartoonists has gone into a steep decline, as newspapers have had to cut back on their budgets. What are the advantages of a staff editorial cartoonist position that freelance cartoonists don't have? What do you think the future of editorial cartooning will be?

The full time staff editorial cartoonist is just like any other high profile contributor to a newspaper, in that they become one of the most identifiable parts of the publication.... something regular readers look forward to and turn to every day.. From my own experience at The Record, people have told me they miss my cartoons and that even though the paper uses mainly syndicated work, they like mine better. Now, I firmly believe that there is nothing substandard about syndicated cartoons The Record has been using, but just the idea of a familiar presence day in, day out is what these readers say they miss by not seeing my cartoons every day.

Given the fact that most newspapers are losing circulation, it strikes me as very unwise to give readers any reason at all to stop reading the paper. But eliminating a popular feature does do that.
A staff cartoonist can do local cartoons that most papers cannot get from a syndicate, and acts as an ambassador for the paper... speaking to community groups, etc. Plus, with the move to the web,a feature that is so strongly visual is a natural fit for that audience.

The future of editorial cartooning , especially for younger cartoonists, will be on the web. The problem is that very few cartoonists have figured out a way to make this pay enough at this point. Even though the number of cartoonists working full time on newspapers has been drastically reduced, it is still far more than cartoonists who are able to support themselves by just being on the web. One thing I have a hard time figuring out is how cartoonists are going to attract enough eyeballs to their work on the web. In the old days when someone had a newspaper delivered to their home, the cartoonist had a captive audience. But with the endless choices that are online, the question is, how do you get people to keep coming back to find your cartoon?

As a cartoonist who does both local and national news, which type of cartoons do you think have the most influence? I noticed from reading the Cartoonist Rights Network International website that foreign editorial cartoonists still have the clout to be seen as threats to their government. Do American editorial cartoonists still have that clout on local issues to make a difference?

I believe local cartoons are a prime reason for a newspaper to have a staff editorial cartoonist, and I would advise every cartoonist working on a newspaper to provide a steady flow of them. Local cartoons work best when the news stories that they are based on are familiar to the readers from both the newspaper, as well as local TV news, radio news,etc. That does not apply in all cases, so there are some limits to what kinds of issues will resonate with readers.

Personally, I have probably had stronger reaction to national cartoons than local cartoons. I don't know if that is because the issues are more controversial, or that people have agreed with me more on the local stuff.

It's true that cartoonists working abroad have angered people in power with their work more than that has occurred in the U.S. One memorable example where it did occur was when Jack Ohman did a cartoon about lax regulation in Texas after a fertilizer plant explosion, and Governor Perry wanted Ohman to lose his job over it.

But the one personal instance I can cite of a local cartoon having a strong impact was something I did back in 2001, when three of New Jersey's top officials were simultaneously in the news. This was also at the time that the HBO series The Sopranos was becoming very popular. I used the opening scene from The Sopranos, where mob boss Tony Soprano retrieves the newspaper from his driveway (The Star Ledger of Newark, which was the main competitor to my paper The Record ) On the front page he sees a headline about these three officials and says "It's guys like this who give Jersey a bad name..."

One of the names I used was Acting Governor Donald DeFrancesco, who had just declared his candidacy for governor. Shortly after his announcement, he withdrew from the race, claiming unfair media scrutiny ( some investigation of his past by The New York Times raised conflicts of interest earlier in his career) As the most egregious example of media coverage he complained about,he held up my cartoon when he withdrew his candidacy.

What do you most enjoy about doing editorial cartooning?

What I enjoy about editorial cartooning is the ability to combine in my job a few of the things that interest me.... humor, drawing and politics. It is great to be able to use my imagination and express my point of view, and be able to amuse, provoke, or in some other way reach an audience. I also like the idea of start afresh every day and creating something new. Many artists who work in other forms spend weeks and weeks on one piece... but I enjoy doing something different every day.

For a person who is visiting New Jersey for the first time, what places would you recommend that person to see?

You asked about what I would suggest a visitor to New Jersey would like to see if it was their first time. I may not be the best person to answer this... my favorite part of living in New Jersey where I do is how close it is to NewYork City.

But to better answer your question, in the summer the Jersey Shore is a very popular destination for the many beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and boardwalk activities that are part of it. For those who enjoy gambling, Atlantic City is a pretty popular destination. Outside of New York City, some of the best shopping, in the form of a few malls, exists in Northern New Jersey. There are also some interesting historical sites associated with The Revolutionary War.... New Bridge Landing in River Edge, Washington's headquarters in Morristown, and the place where Washington crossed the Delaware in the Trenton area.

The one thing that New Jersey can brag about as far as political cartoon significance is that it was home to Thomas Nast, in Morristown. The home he lived in is still there, and a family lives in it. For the centennial of his death in 2002 they were gracious enough to allow a small group of cartoonists and cartoon devotees to see the ground floor of the home. The Morristown Public Library holds some Nast historical things, and Macullough Hall, a small museum, regularly exhibits some of its Nast holdings. All of the forementioned are very close to one another.

Here are two book collections of Jimmy Margulies cartoons:

Hitting Below the Beltway: The Best of Margulies

My Husband Is Not A Wimp: Margulies Cartoons From The Houston Post

Here is a youtube video of Jimmy Margulies speaking at Sacred Heart University's Schine Auditorium as part of the Gottlieb Memorial Lecture Series

Cartoonist Jimmy Margulies on "Political Slant: Editorial Cartoons

Here are more interviews that I have done

An Interview With John Auchter
An Interview With Cartoonist Ted Rall
An Interview With Navy Veteran Randy Leer
An Interview With Progressive Christian George Koukouris
An Interview With Cartoonist Scott Stantis
An Interview With Cartoonist Peter Evans
An Interview With Cartoonist Gustavo Rodriguez
An Interview With Children's Book Illustrator Lea Lyon
An Interview With Democrat Nancy Hirstein Smith
An Interview With Cartoonist Ann Cleaves
An Interview With Muslim American Activist Zahra Billoo
An Interview With Peace Activist and Lay Pastor Jim Ramelis
An Interview With Cartoonist Monte Wolverton
An Interview With Cartoonist Adam Zyglis
An Interview With Reverand Gerald Britt
An Interview With Cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards
An Interview With Poet, Activist, and Teacher Diane Wahto
An Interview With Cartoonist Jesse Springer
An Interview With Cartoonist Steve Greenberg
An Interview With Eric Wilks
An Interview With Cartoonist Greg Beda
An Interview With Poet Melissa Tuckey
An Interview With Cartoonist Andy Singer
An Interview With Author Robert Balmanno
An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper
An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen
An Interview that Everyday blogger Diane Wahto kindly did of me


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