Prestigious awards are given annually to cartoonists and illustrators for excellence in journalism, and the Pulitzer Prize is as distinguished as it gets. It is the highest honor, the coronation. We’re biased, but we consider our in-house cartoonist Wes Rowell worthy of being in this company.
By January 25 each year, approximately 1,100 journalism entries are submitted to the Pulitzer Prize Board. The competition is more than fierce. So we were disappointed in January when Pulitzer’s team quietly replaced the Editorial Cartooning category, which dated back to 1922, with Illustrated Reporting and Commentary. It left the cartoonists throwing up their hands (and pens).
At the time, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists released a statement calling on Pulitzer’s board of directors to reinstate editorial cartooning as its own category while recognizing illustrated reporting as a separate form.
“Editorial cartoons are quick, instant commentary, which artists must learn about complex issues and craft well-informed opinions in one take that emphasize clarity in everyday deadlines,” the organization said. .
Wes, who has illustrated editorial cartoons for The Durango Herald and The Journal since October, and has deep ties to southwestern Colorado, explained the difference between the categories in a nutshell. “Opinion,” Wes said.
“Illustrated Reporting is just that, reporting facts,” he said. And ‘tends to be several pieces created over time. Comics usually present the artist’s opinion on a certain topic. Cartoons tend to be fast-paced and often lack subtlety. The illustrated report is revealing; caricature is reactionary.
Before editorial cartooning was eliminated as a category, Wes was disappointed to learn that there were no awards for editorial illustration. So he wrote a letter to the Pulitzer board. “I kept coming back to Norman Rockwell, and how that meant he never won a Pulitzer,” he said. “I find that outrageous. No American has been more critical in documenting and relating the mid-20th century period than Rockwell. No filmmaker, writer, or photographer. Rockwell’s images captured not only a precise scene, what she looked like, but also what she felt, what it meant, without a word.
The path was already narrow for editorial illustrators. Now press cartoonists are getting stiff. That’s a shame. We appreciate the many dimensions – and impacts – of cartoons. Take Wes’ cartoons, which tend to be quirky, irreverent, or funny. Or festive or sad or just a reflection of what it’s like to live here, now. He always has something to say. Often, Wes also exemplifies how we feel.
“I try to keep my work localized,” he said. “I select topics that I think would be of interest to La Plata/Montezuma residents. I visually install my work in The Corners. When I read articles I want to comment on, I start with the reporters from the Herald and the Journal. Then stories about La Plata, Montezuma by non-Herald/Journal writers. Then state histories, then national histories, etc. Even when the story is national, I frame it from the local perspective, how it affects the people, creatures, or environment of that region.
Meanwhile, Wes illustrates projects that fit into other Pulitzer categories. It is the natural continuation of his work. We hope to one day be that newsroom, spraying champagne in honor of Wes who won a Pulitzer.
Durango Herald Editorial Board