Unemployed Political Cartoonist Looks to Crowdsourcing to Fund Work

This column was originally written for Editor & Publisher magazine.

In 2009, Bill Day was an award-winning, nationally syndicated political cartoonist flying high at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee. But on a March afternoon, Day became a casualty of budget cuts and was escorted out of the paper — just one of many staff cartoonists let go in recent years by newspapers struggling to control costs.  

Now, three years later, Day works at a bike shop during the day and continues to draw political cartoons for newspaper syndicate Cagle Cartoons in the evening. Despite being part of a package that reaches 850 newspapers, syndication only pays a fraction of what his job at the Commercial Appeal once did. As a result, Day is faced with the possibility of have to give up editorial cartooning all together in order to afford to stay in his home.   

On Day’s behalf, a fundraising campaign was launched on the crowdfunding website indiegogo.com. With less than three weeks remaining, the campaign is close to reaching its goal of $35,000, thanks to more than 600 backers who have donated money in exchange for perks such as signed prints, original artwork, and even custom cartoons drawn by Day.  

If the campaign is successful, it will allow the award-winning cartoonist to not only stay in his home, but to continue drawing the political cartoons that have garnered national acclaim, something that means a great deal to the lifelong cartoonist.  

“If we’re successful, it will allow me to continue my passion of drawing editorial cartoons at a time when it’s very difficult for me to continue,” Day said. "We’re so close, and I feel honored that so many readers feel so strongly about my cartoons to support me.”  

Day is being helped by Daryl Cagle, owner of Cagle Cartoons and a political cartoonist himself, who has witnessed first-hand the effect that the decline of newspapers has had on the ranks of political cartoonists.  

“There are probably only about 60 editorial cartoonists left who have jobs at newspapers,” Cagle said. “There were twice that number 20 to 30 years ago, and as newspapers face more financial hardships, cartoonist jobs continue to be cut, making editorial cartoonists an endangered species.”  

Cagle, who grew up reading Day’s work, came up with the innovative idea to use a crowdfunding website to pay Day’s salary for a year and help the struggling cartoonist continue drawing cartoons. Cagle fears a time when there are only a handful of cartoonists left in the country, likening the lack of diversity to the choices at a fast food restaurant.    

“It’s going to be like a McDonald’s menu where everyone eats the same 12 things off the same menu,” Cagle said.  

Day, who grew up in the South and witnessed the civil rights movement first-hand, has long been an advocate of civil rights, and his cartoons are highly critical of our current gun culture. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut his cartoons about guns and violence are an important voice.

“Guns are a violation of human rights,” Day said, noting that throughout the civil rights period, a great number of people were murdered with guns. “The whole issue of violence and civil rights is part of my message as a human being and what drives me as a cartoonist.”  

Despite trends in the cartooning industry and his own experience with being laid off, Day is still optimistic about the future of political cartooning, and thinks editors will realize that cartoons are more popular than ever online, and that the Internet itself is a very visual medium.  

“The Internet is evolving, and with cartoonists such as Matt Wuerker at Politico (syndicated by Universal Uclick) winning Pulitzers for their online news sites, it’s only a matter of time before we see more cartoonists on staff at online publications across the country.”  

But for now, Day is moved and thankful for everyone who has contributed to his campaign.  

“I thank them for their willingness to help the cause and promote the art of editorial cartooning so it doesn’t die,” Day said. “They believe in me and their generosity is truly touching.”    

Click here for a video message from Bill Day and Daryl Cagle.

The fundraising campaign is available here.

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