Event sparks discussion, laughter

Olga Cronin

Award-winning editorial cartoonist and Western alumnus Bill Sanders doesn’t naively view the world through rose-colored glasses; he prefers a blue, analytical look on life.

And after he weighs what he sees, he isn’t afraid to show his opinion about it.

Wearing blue-tinted glasses and a black suit, Sanders was welcomed back to the Hill during Homecoming week.

After a 30-plus year career as an editorial cartoonist for newspapers, Sanders has donated more than 700 cartoons from his extensive collection to the Kentucky Museum.

Sanders officially opened his exhibit of about 50 cartoons Saturday morning as part of Homecoming celebrations.

A week ago, the Kentucky Museum held the US Bank Comic Opera to allow students and faculty to see a preview of the exhibit, followed by a forum entitled “Editorial Cartoonists: Lap dogs or Junkyard Dogs?”

The forum participants were Sanders; Joel Pett, Pulitzer prize-winning editorial cartoonist with the Lexington Herald-Leader; Lucy Caswell, curator of Ohio State University’s Cartoon Research Library and Jody Richards, speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Sanders explained his career as a cartoonist was not based on drawing for the purpose of a gag but to express his opinion based on criticism.

There is not enough criticism in journalism, he said.

“The primary role of an editorial cartoonist as far as I’m concerned is that the cartoon is a critique,” he said. “It’s a vehicle for opinion. If it’s not that, then it’s not worth anything.”

Both cartoonists, Pett and Sanders, took to the floor with their microphones and markers to give a running commentary while they drew different cartoon images and symbols for the audience.

The crowd laughed as Sanders and Pett mixed comedy with criticism as they spoke and drew.

Sanders drew a caricature of President George Bush as a cowboy with pointed ears wearing a cowboy hat. His hands held guns that pointed downward.

Sanders has received many letters of criticism from people who did not like what he drew.

“Only problem is that he’s about to shoot himself in the foot,” Sanders joked.

Framed letters to the cartoonists from fans and critics now hang on the walls of the Kentucky Museum.

One letter of criticism says, “I hope you rot in hell for a long, long time,” while another describes Sanders as a “communistic, atheistic, crude, disloyal, obscene cartoonist.”

But Sanders’ hate-mail never deterred him from his mission.

“I want people to see the cartoon, to mobilize their faculties and think, and if they’ve done that, then I’ve done my job,” he said.

Richards talked about the importance of the cartoonists.

“These folks serve as a conscience, so I think when you look at the cartoon, you look at that point of view,” he said. “I think it’s an important part of the fabric of society, an important part of communications.”

After the forum, librarian Connie Mills said she understood cartoonists’ roles better.

“They really hit the spot about perennial topics,” she said. “It was very informative. I’m now more aware of their wanting to change things.”

Government professor John Parker said the frankness of the cartoons serves a purpose.

“They cut through a lot of the verbiage that excuses things in loftily terms, when really what it boils down to is ‘I’ve got to get re-elected,'” Parker said.