Gallery Hop: In Joel Pett's 30 years as editorial cartoonist, McConnell has been with him all the way

jpett@herald-leader.comJune 19, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    Gallery Hop

    What: Self-guided tour of art exhibits at 50 venues in and around downtown Lexington.

    When: 5-8 p.m. June 20

    Learn more: (859) 255-2951, Galleryhoplex.com

    Exhibits mentioned in these stories:

    ■ Kevin Nance's photography will be at Hunt-Morgan House, 201 N. Mill St.

    ■ Joel Pett's editorial cartoons will be at the Herald-Leader, 100 Midland Ave.

Five presidents, six governors, five mayors, four publishers, half a dozen editors, so many terrific reporters, photographers and colleagues I couldn't begin to name them and many thousands of loyal readers, pro and con.

That's how I measure three decades of drawing political cartoons for the Herald-Leader.

It amuses comics fans to know that among the 100-plus applicants for this job in 1984 was a Cincinnati freelancer named Bill Watterson. (I'm sure he could have done this gig, but I could never have drawn Calvin and Hobbes.)

The starting salary was $400 a week, which I thought was pretty sweet.

In 1984, Kentucky's congressional delegation were nearly all Democrats. Sen. Dee Huddleston was being hounded on TV by a savvy upstart named Mitch McConnell.

Now, the delegation is nearly all conservative Republicans.

Before computer graphics, inking the cartoons was a painstaking process, and a single mistake could cost hours. God bless the inventors of PhotoShop.

This job hasn't made me a good political prognosticator. In the 1987 governor's race featuring John Y. Brown, Julian Carroll and Steve Beshear, we interviewed a feisty table-pounding upstart here in our boardroom. His political adviser wore tight jeans and a T-shirt and he cackled wildly. My keen observational skills told me we'd never again hear from either Wallace Wilkinson or James Carville.

The basic themes of our work on the editorial pages haven't changed much. We still squawk about poser politicians, lament the excesses of capitalism, sound environmental alarms, defend the defenseless and try to interest people in saving an ever-more-precarious democracy. (What's that old saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?)

The industry, however, has changed dramatically. We have far fewer resources today, and newspapers have been swept along in a media world obsessed with inane drama, money, infotainment, culture trends and instant gratification. (Happy 20th anniversary, O.J. car chase.) I've seen no sign that anyone in corporate journalism has a clue what to do about it, or even regards it as problematic.

I've drawn slightly more than 7,000 cartoons for this paper and a few hundred more for other publications. Eighty or so will be on display Friday at the Herald-Leader during Gallery Hop. I hope you can come. It's worth the price of admission just to see the sarcastic letter I once got from Senator McConnell. (Admission, of course, is free.)

Joel Pett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Herald-Leader. (859) 231-3443.

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