How to draw with dynamite

Editorial cartoonist Robert Ariail of the Camden (SC) Chronicle Independent penned a pointed and potentially explosive cartoon about the split between the former Episcopalians in SC and the Episcopal Church. He talks about why.

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Araial talks about his approach to the subject in his blog

My hometown paper, the Chronicle-Independent ran this cartoon and received only one letter protesting the cartoon as being “racist.” The publisher asked me to write a column about what I do as a cartoonist and this cartoon in particular. In case there are any other readers who have interpreted the cartoon as defaming the Church, I offer these excerpts from my column:

” Editorial pages and editorial cartoons are forums for expressing opinions and different ideas that on occasion clash with those of the reader. Editorials and cartoons can inform the reader on issues of the day and hopefully, provoke thought and discussion. That’s their primary role.

Because they are expressed visually, cartoons tend to evoke stronger, more visceral reactions than the written word. Good cartoons can tickle your funny bone or grab you by the lapels and slap you around. One day they can champion the underdog and on another eviscerate a lying politician … Editorial cartoons should, to use the words of H. L. Mencken, ” comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Cartoons can be funny, persuasive, infuriating, clever, abrasive, hard-hitting and sometimes misunderstood.

Case in point: a recent cartoon I drew on the very public schism within the Episcopal Church. …
A reader expressed disgust that I would portray the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as “racist.” I did not. That’s not at all what the cartoon implies and given the context of the news on the schism, to infer that it conveys a racist message doesn’t make sense.

The national Episcopal Church has… become increasingly liberal in its ordination of gay clergy and embrace of gay marriage.The conservative churches of the Episcopal Diocese of SC … have decided to leave on these and other issues… My use of the confederate battle flag here is to make the point that, once again we are witnessing… South Carolinians engaged in a battle to secede from a national federation. I know there are some who view the flag as a sinister symbol of racism and there are others who uphold it as emblematic of their Southern heritage, but first and foremost it’s a battle flag that represents the secessionist states of the Confederacy….

As symbols go, the Confederate battle flag is the visual equivalent of nitroglycerine. Combine it with the volatile topic of religion, whether it be Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic or Gamecock Football, and you’ve got the makings of a metaphorical nuclear device.

As a writer and cartoonist, I try to choose my words and symbols with great care lest they blow up in my face. After 29 years in this dangerous practice, I still have all of my fingers and most of my faculties…. I will continue to handle these explosive tools of the trade carefully and thoughtfully to create offerings that leave readers laughing or crying or cursing out loud over their intended meanings. However I must ask readers to consider the context in which these cartoons are offered before rushing out to cancel their subscriptions and remember that, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a battle flag is just a battle flag.”

The full column exists behind a paywall here.

Comments (5)

Thank you, Robert. Perfect. I have been struck from the first at the obvious ironies between the church events of the last few years and South Carolina's pre-Civil War history. May I suggest as the motto for the new Lawrenceite diocese "Too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum." (This was the famous quip of the Charleston lawyer Pettigru on hearing the SC convention had voted to secede in 1860.)

Interesting reactions. As a visual person with a graphics background (and from the northeast), I didn't see the Confederate flag - I saw the St Andrew's cross simply enlarged and applied to a red background. Only after reading comments did I go back and count - 9 original Diocese stars, not 13 as in the Confederate flag.
Yet another example of differences of perception influenced by culture and experience.
Kit Tobin+

One correction. Mr. Petgru spelled his name with one "t". It was Pettigrew at birth. Mary Chesnut accused him of Huguenotting his name.

Yes, according to William and Jane Pease, the authorities on this subject, the name is James Louis Petigru but his father spelled the name as Pettigrew. If this great man were still around I imagine he would shake his head in dismay as if to say "been there done that."

Gotta admit - very funny. Although I wonder if some in former Episcopal Bishop Lawrence's rump diocese will even get the joke or see it as one.

Bob Button

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