The 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced yesterday, one of the most prestigious awards in American culture, presented for achievements in journalism, writing, drama and music. And a comic won – but in a revamped category that says much about the state of media and cartooning.
Famously, Maus won a Special Award in Letters Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first and – thus far – only graphic novel to win one, a remarkable achievement that propelled Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust narrative to its status as a literary classic.
For 2022, Fahmida Azim, Anthony Del Col, Josh Adams and Walt Hickey won a Pulitzer in the Illustrated Reporting and Commentary for their non fiction comic in Insider “I Escaped a Chinese Internment Camp“. As the judges described it:
For using graphic reportage and the comics medium to tell a powerful yet intimate story of the Chinese oppression of the Uyghurs, making the issue accessible to a wider public.
In June, many of us in the field were dismayed to find that, for the first time since 1973—and in one of the most politically tumultuous years of our lifetimes—the Pulitzer Prize board declined to issue an award for editorial cartooning. The AAEC issued a fiery statement to “urge radical structural reform of the award to evaluate modern opinion cartoons by 21st century standards.” As far as I was concerned, the decision confirmed that the stewards of old media just aren’t that into us anymore. I had left at the right moment.
Ruben Boling, one of the final finalists, and Tom Tomorrow also talked about it in this Panel to Panel podcast.
It was yet another sign that the role of editorial cartoonist, a position once so influential it changed elections and history, had shrunk away to almost nothing as print gave way to the internet – where getting paid for any kind of creative work is a triumph of the human spirit.
For 2022, the Pulitzer committee completely revamped the cartooning category to recognize “a distinguished portfolio of editorial cartoons or other illustrated work (still, animated, or both) characterized by political insight, editorial effectiveness, or public service value.” The broadened category gives room to consider longer works, like the 2022 winner, animated cartoons – and even on beyond to TikTok, in theory.
The other 2022 finalists exhibit the broadening of the category. Zoe Si is a New Yorker cartoonist, with all that suggests, finding humor in the quirks and foibles of life.
Ann Telnaes is a traditional editorial cartoonist, and one of the greats, who won the Pulitzer in 2001, only the second woman to win it, at the time. As a Library of Congress story noted, only 5% of editorial cartoonists are women.
The level of diversity among “illustrated reporters” is a lot higher – I’d estimate that 50% or even more of graphic journalists are women or non binary.
At any rate, the 2022 Pulitzer winner is a deserving one, and if it marks the changing of the guard and an end of the era – the Editorial Cartooning award was presented for an even 100 years and was the most prestigious award in US cartooning.
That said, it also acknowledges the variety of media that we consume today and giving a chance to an even wider range of creators.