On the Job
Editorial cartooning — also referred to as political cartooning — has traditionally been a newspaper-related job. Editorial cartoonists are usually full-time employees of a newspaper, often serving on the paper's editorial board. The editorial board is responsible for the Opinion section of the newspaper, where news is commented on rather than reported factually. As a member of this department, the editorial cartoonist typically provides one cartoon per day for the paper's Editorial page, and sometimes illustrations for the Sunday Opinion section.
There are a couple of myths about editorial cartooning. The first is that an editorial cartoonist takes orders on subject matter from a higher editor. In many papers, the cartoonist has sole responsibility over the opinions expressed in her cartoon. An editor may argue for a viewpoint or suggest an angle, but the cartoonist is generally not under any obligation to comply.
However, that doesn't mean the cartoonist has complete autonomy and can publish whatever he chooses. That's the second myth. In reality, an editorial cartoonist must have his work approved by a higher-ranking editor, who may choose not to run the cartoonist's work that day. In these situations, there are three possible outcomes:
The cartoon is discussed and a compromise is agreed on.
The cartoonist creates a different cartoon.
A syndicated cartoon is run in the cartoonist's spot the next day.
Editorial cartoonists often gain additional income through syndicates. They create the cartoon for the newspaper, and then send it to the syndicate for distribution to other newspapers. Newspapers that subscribe to the syndicate may run the cartoon as early as the day after the original is published.
Of course, that last option is the worst for everyone involved and is the least preferred outcome. It's typically indicative of a poor working relationship between editor and cartoonist and should be avoided. To get around this, newspapers generally hire cartoonists who are sympathetic to the paper's political slant.
In effect, a cartoonist is a visual columnist. She is free to formulate her own opinions but still answers to the management of the newspaper. Unhappy readers may send their complaints to the Letters page, but very unhappy readers may end up visiting the editor's office. Smart editors know that the time to decide whether the cartoon is right for their pages is before it's printed, not when an angry protest group is at the door.