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Our View: Cartoonists deserve Pulitzers

Prestigious prizes are awarded annually to cartoonists and illustrators for journalism excellence, and the Pulitzer Prize is as distinguished as they come. It’s the highest honor, the crowning achievement. We’re biased, but we see our in-house cartoonist Wes Rowell as worthy of being in this company.

By Jan. 25 of every year, about 1,100 journalism entries are submitted to the Pulitzer Prize board. The competition is beyond fierce. So we were disappointed in January when the Pulitzer team quietly replaced the Editorial Cartooning category, which dated back to 1922, with Illustrated Reporting and Commentary. This left cartoonists throwing up their hands (and their pens).

At the time, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists issued a statement, calling for the Pulitzer board to reinstate Editorial Cartooning as its own category while also recognizing Illustrated Reporting as a separate form.

Wes Rowell

“Editorial cartoons are quick, in-the-moment commentary, whose artists have to educate themselves on complex issues and craft well-informed opinions in a single take that emphasizes clarity under daily deadlines,” the organization said.

Wes, who has been illustrating editorial cartoons for The Durango Herald and The Journal since October, and has deep ties to Southwest Colorado, explained the difference between categories in one word. “Opinion,” Wes said.

“Illustrated Reporting is just that, reporting of facts,” he said. And “tends to be multiple pieces created over time. Cartooning typically features the artist’s opinion on a certain topic. Cartoons tend to be quick and often lack subtlety. Illustrated reporting is revelatory; cartooning is reactionary.”

Before Editorial Cartooning was eliminated as a category, Wes was disappointed to learn there was no prize for Editorial Illustration. So he wrote a letter to the Pulitzer board. “I kept coming back to Norman Rockwell, and how this meant that he never won a Pulitzer,” he said. “I find that outrageous. No American was more critical in documenting and relating the mid-20th period than Rockwell. No filmmaker, writer or photographer. Rockwell’s images captured not just an accurate scene, how it looked, but also how it felt, what it meant, without a word.”

The lane was already narrow for editorial illustrators. Now, editorial cartoonists are getting stiffed. This is too bad. We appreciate the many dimensions - and impacts - of cartoons. Take Wes’ cartoons, which tend to be quirky, irreverent or funny. Or celebratory or sad or just reflective of what it’s like to live here, now. He always has something to say. Oftentimes, Wes illustrates what we’re feeling, too.

“I try to keep my work localized,” he said. “I select topics I think La Plata/Montezuma residents would be interested in. I set my work in The Corners, visually. When I read stories I want to comment on, I start with The Herald and The Journal reporters. Then stories about La Plata, Montezuma by non-Herald/Journal writers. Then state stories, then national, etc. Even when the story is national, I frame it from the local perspective, how it affects the people or critters or environment in this region.”

Meanwhile, Wes is illustrating projects that fall into other Pulitzer categories. It’s the next natural step in his work. We hope to one day be that newsroom, spraying champagne in honor of Wes winning a Pulitzer.