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A Dying Art 

Editorial cartoonist on scarcity of colleagues: 'Bloodless massacre of epic proportions'

There is not an intensive care unit nor house of worship to hold vigil or grieve over what was mortally wounded at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo. A river of tears will surely flow at the memorials for the 17 people, many of them journalists, murdered by a few terrorists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group before being killed themselves. The freedoms that were victimized on Jan. 7 are not worshiped at any altar but in the soul of anyone yearning for those endowments. Throngs have filled the streets in solidarity: A stunning 1.6 million marched through Paris on Jan. 11, rivaling crowds last seen celebrating the 1944 liberation of Paris from the Nazis, while millions more have expressed anger, purpose and grief on the Internet. But an even deeper resolve has been a collective experience among a fraternity of cartoonists who watched their brethren die because of their art.

"It's a shock to the system," said Adam Rosenlund. "Yes, you could say there's a family of cartoonists. This is not something that a large amount of people choose to do with their lives."

"It's horrible. There's a lot going through my mind right now," Elijah Jensen-Lindsey told Boise Weekly just a few hours after the Jan. 7 massacre.

"I just can't understand this reality. I just don't get it. It completely distorts my mind to figure out what kind of person would..." E.J. Pettinger said, his voice trailing off as he paused for a moment. "It's really strange to me that a group can get this upset about a cartoon."

Rosenlund, Jensen-Lindsey and Pettinger are all regular Boise Weekly contributors, and they all know something about getting pushback on illustrations.

"I did a cover image for Boise Weekly a couple of years ago," Pettinger said. "Let's just say it included a guy squatting over a sprinkler during the dog days of summer. Yes, there have been a few of my cartoons that have upset people, but nothing really sustained."

Jensen-Lindsey said he crafted a few provocative drawings for BW at the height of the 2014 Idaho Statehouse debates over the Ag-Gag law and the Add the Words movement.

"I simply couldn't not address those debates with my comic," Jensen-Lindsey said. "And yes, I had some references to Gov. Otter in my comic. For the first time in all my years of doing this, I got backlash. There were moments when I asked myself, 'Oh geez. Is this the right thing to do?'"

Rosenlund has drawn some of BW's most provocative illustrations. They often accompany news features, this story included.

"Actually, there was some stuff you and I worked on years ago that I still hear about," Rosenlund said. "Do you remember that investigative story you wrote about Idaho dairy cows where high levels of antibiotics were discovered? I still hear about the image I did for that story. It still comes up and it gets tagged all the time."

This trio of acclaimed artists happens to be part of a vanishing breed, especially in the United States. According to a 2012 study by The Herbert Block Foundation, "There were approximately 2,000 editorial cartoonists employed by U.S. newspapers at the start of the 20th century. Today there are fewer than 40 staff cartoonists, and that number continues to shrink."

Near the top of a current, albeit shrinking, list of American cartoonist-provocateurs is Dwayne Booth, aka Mr. Fish, whose cartoons appear regularly appear in Harper's Magazine and in alt-weeklies across the nation. Booth told BW, "Anyone incapable of interpreting the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris as anything but a cruel and meaningless act of mass murder deserves neither my respect nor deference."

Bemoaning the scarcity of editorial cartoonists in the United States—something he terms a "bloodless massacre of epic proportions"—Booth said, "It should be noted with some urgency that something systemic in the culture is substantially diminishing the cartoonists' population and threatening the very survival of the rendered word and the contemplative caption and very essence of creative dissent."

Outside of the United States, editorial cartoonists have never had greater urgency, according to Rosenlund.

"Cartooning seems to be inhabiting a similar role overseas similar to what we had in the United States during our Industrial Revolution," he said. "If you think of how many people in the U.S. may have been illiterate at the time, a powerful cartoon could break through all of that and paint a clear picture of injustice. And that's similar to what's happening in a lot of the world's current hot spots. But recently a cartoonist in Syria, Ali Farzat, was beaten and had his hands broken. Cartooning is more important than ever in so many countries, especially in fighting corruption."

Pettinger, Rosenlund and Jensen-Lindsey said they were inspired to put pen to paper to express their feelings on the Charlie Hebdo massacre for this issue of BW (Rosenlund's image is above and another is on the cover of this issue; Pettinger's is on Page 22; Jensen-Lindsey's is on Page 27).

"For me to have the freedom to express socio-political issues is a pretty powerful thing," said Jensen-Lindsey, who said he liked to meditate on the events of the world around him with a unique balance of content, analysis and satire. "You're scrutinizing everything. And you're thinking of your audience all the time. And you're always looking at life..." He paused for another moment. "But you're looking at life on a deadline."

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