In The Dallas Morning News, politics is no joking matter. Dallas cartoonist Buddy Hickerson learned that lesson the hard way when his quirky, irreverent cartoon, The Quigmans, was exiled from the comics page recently for daring to do what folks--at least those outside certain Middle Eastern countries--do every day: poke fun at national politicians.
"I knew the rules about the comic page," a doleful Hickerson says of his clash with the News. "You're not supposed to do direct political assaults in the comic page."
It seems The Quigmans hurled some of its twisted humor Bob Dole and Jack Kemp's way. Worse, Hickerson used a naughty word--at least to the ears of News editors--when he described the Republican duo as "dorks."
Because News Executive Editor Ralph Langer would not return a Dallas Observer call, we're left to guess the rules for the News' funny pages. Apparently, cartoonists can make generic jokes about politics and politicians, but can't razz candidates by name, or use the names of political parties.
Hickerson says the problem started when the first of his agitprop cartoons, "Feuding Dorks," somehow made it past the usually vigilant editors about a month ago and into the News' comics page. Predictably, the jab drew some reader complaints. (Even further back, Hickerson had drawn some angry mail when he put a likeness of Perot in the cartoon.) When the News saw that two more politician-naming The Quigmans were in the pipe from the Los Angeles Times Syndicate--including a hideous caricature of Newt Gingrich--Langer told Hickerson his cartoon was "suspended" from publication in the News until, at least, the end of the political campaign. Lest Hickerson try again to sneak something by the News' comics editors, even his nonpolitical cartoons were banned.
Hickerson admits he knew he was taking a gamble by drawing the political cartoons. "It was just a kind of stupid thing on my part; you tempt fate," he says. "I just wanted to push the envelope and see what the market would bear. After 12 years, I thought maybe things had changed."
Hickerson started his cartoon 12 years ago with the Dallas Times Herald, and it was taken over by the News with the 1991 buyout of the Herald.
L.A. Times Syndicate, Hickerson says, had alternative cartoons on hand to substitute for the offending ones, but the News never asked for them, instead suspending the cartoon entirely.
Doonesbury was moved to the editorial pages of many dailies, including the News, during the Reagan era because of its controversial political themes. That option is unlikely for The Quigmans, Hickerson says, if only because he so rarely takes on political issues.
The News has received letters complaining about The Quigmans' absence, Hickerson says, but "of course I don't know the numbers on that."
The 35-year-old Dallas-based cartoonist and illustrator (Hickerson has done illustrations for the Observer) says he tried to explain to the News that it was personally important for him that The Quigmans be seen in his own hometown. "He [Langer] isn't really convinced it's my town. He doesn't see any buildings with my name on them," Hickerson says.
Hickerson says it's unclear if the News will resume his cartoon when the political campaign season is over, or continue to ban it from the funny pages. He fears that the News will continue to buy the cartoon from his syndicate and trash it, rather than allow any other paper to buy the syndication rights and run it.
"It's my hometown paper, for God's sake," Hickerson says. "I'd like to see it in the paper.
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