The Non-Cartoonist Cartoonist ~ Cartooning in the World Today

By James Donahue

The basic premise of I’ll Kick Your Ass is that Ass-Kickin’ Jim kicks the ass of someone who has said or done something stupid. In the fast-paced world of social media, there is rarely a shortage of targets.

He has kicked the ass of Representative Todd Akin for using the term “legitimate rape,” Avril Lavigne for getting engaged to the lead singer of world’s-worst-band Nickelback, and the always frustrating Autocorrect feature of today’s smartphones. Those are all pretty straightforward, but sometimes it’s not so simple. When national tragedies occur, like the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut or the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, things get tricky.

I was asked the day after the Boston Marathon if I was going to draw a strip about it. My response at that point was that I didn’t know who the strip would be about since the suspects had not yet been identified.

That was the easy answer, but it goes further than that. I considered where the focus should be during such a horrific event. When so many have suffered, I shy away from drawing something that focuses the attention on myself or the strip, even if it’s well-meaning.

I drew a 9/11 strip this past year recounting my own personal experiences of being in downtown Manhattan that morning. I detailed my story and thanked the brave first responders. When I was done, I sat back and really questioned whether I was doing the right thing. Was this about me or the heroic actions that took place that awful day? I ended up putting the strip online and the response was overwhelmingly positive. But it was also 11 years after the attacks had taken place.


I saw too many terrible images on Twitter following the Marathon bombing and had to question the job of the news cycle. Is it their job to report and show these images as they happen or should more consideration be given to the victims and their families?

In both the Newtown shooting and the Boston Marathon, targets for ridicule presented themselves rather quickly. Politicians and religious fanatics tried to advance their own agendas using these events. Conservative commentator Bryan Fischer blamed the lack of prayer in schools for Newtown and the Westboro Baptist Church announced that they would picket the funerals of the Marathon victims, blaming gay marriage as the reason it happened.

So the big question is: What is the right thing to do? Do I jump on an event as soon as it happens to add my voice to the spotlight and keep the strip timely, or do I take a step back out of respect for what has happened? These are the types of things I struggle with when it comes to the political side of the cartoon. Many news agencies made huge gaffes the week of the Marathon bombing, including the New York Post, who prematurely published photos of two innocent men on the cover of the paper as suspects. What if I had done a strip based on bad information and kicked the asses of two innocent people?

When doing research, it is usually as simple browsing the headlines of the day’s news. Sometimes a topic will jump out at me and the decision will be easy. Like the fact that Justin Bieber’s tattoo artist, Bang Bang, allowed Bieber to tattoo him in kind (with a horribly amateur cartoon mouse named Swaggy, no less).

It can also be difficult depending on the actual news source. I usually start with Yahoo! because it has a little of everything: top news stories, entertainment, sports, and politics. But headlines are meant to catch your eye and can often be misleading. For example, Judge Derek Johnson made some very insensitive comments, by stating that a rape victim “didn’t put up a fight” during her assault, and that if someone doesn’t want sexual intercourse, the body “will not permit that to happen.” That is a startling headline and a newsworthy topic. Upon further reading, though, it turns out those comments were made in 2008 but only made the news in 2012.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance did not find out about the comments until a recent news story made mention of what the judge had said. While still wrong, these comments were not published until after the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” remark. So was this story making bigger headlines because of the Akin remark? Is this old news? Has the Judge said or done any other offensive things between 2008 and now? These are all questions that need to be asked before drawing a strip about it. The judge was admonished for his remarks, apologized for them, and still sits on the bench.

Information can be straightforward or require research. I usually try and read a few articles on any one story, depending on the original source and whether any bias might be involved.

These are all things that need to be considered as the strip continues to evolve—the attempt to remain conscientious and accurate.

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