Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Priggee should not just be seen, but heard too

Write to the Point

 


The images of political cartoonist Milt Priggees are seen regularly on the pages of the Cheney Free Press in the opinion section.

The real Priggee, however, showed up June 9 to present lectures entitled “Cartooning in the Evergreen State.” His stops included the library in Cheney. The former Spokesman Review editorial cartoonist lives in the Puget Sound area and was part of a speaker series sponsored by Humanities Washington.

It’s too bad that for whatever reason, only a handful of people got to hear not only his thoughts on the past and future of political cartooning, but a history of the craft the Chicago native has practiced for 40 years.

He landed at what were once two daily newspapers in Spokane in 1986 and was both adored and hated until 2000. Priggee’s work is featured in the Colville Statesman Examiner where he was discovered by the Cheney Free Press and is now a regular feature of other papers in the Free Press Publishing family in Davenport, Ritzville and Spokane Valley.

But it was the history of the craft in general that was most enlightening.

Priggee spoke about the history of visual communication, noting that it goes back approximately 35,000 years to when early inhabitants of the earth drew on cave walls. We’ve only been able to read and write for the past 6,000, he said.

Art, more specifically political cartoons, have always been big on blood he said. A case in point he said was Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon from the Revolutionary War era featuring a snake chopped into several pieces.

Political cartoonists such as Thomas Nast are responsible for developing the iconic donkey and elephant, synonymous today with the Democratic and Republican parties. But it was not until President Andrew Jackson came along that the donkey, or ass as Jackson was often called, became that party’s symbol.

Nast didn’t spend all of his time doing opinion cartoons. He also popularized how we view Santa Claus today as the jolly old fat guy.

President Teddy Roosevelt often felt the wrath of the political cartoonists of his day. The rugged individualist and great outdoorsman never shed the memories of a day he was unable to shoot a bear while on a hunting expedition.

What resulted was a series of cartoons, the first in the Washington Post, that often showed a small bear following Roosevelt wherever he went. The term is still with us today with stuffed toys called teddy bears.

Dr. Seuss began his career as an editorial cartoonist but of course became famous as the author of children’s books.

Rube Goldberg is familiar because of his wild and wacky illustrations of complex machines that did simple chores. But he was somewhat of a futurist we all learned after the March 11, 1967 edition of Forbes Magazine.

Goldberg’s cover illustrated technology such as the flat screen television and mobile phones, among other things that are now commonplace.

At the heart of the presentation, however, was Priggee’s introspective look at the nature of political cartooning itself.

The history of editorial cartooning was in its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Numerous competing newspapers featured a political cartoon, designed to attract the interest of the reader with a specific political viewpoint.

And just as there were a wealth of newspapers at the turn of the 20th Century, things have come full circle. As printed papers die, the Internet takes over electronically as a medium.

Priggee loves to laugh that just about every place he has worked in the past has had a paper go out of business while he was on staff.

One of his favorite stories was being fired before he even penned a cartoon. That came after he left the Spokesman and was contracted by the Inlander weekly. The Inlander’s publisher, however, was not at all amused when Priggee did cover art for a competitive The Weekly Planet.

Priggee’s inspiration for cartoons is as endless as the parade of politicians both nationally and regionally. His niche continues to be penning op-ed art that has both national and regional interest, and that’s what he thinks makes him unique.

One hour’s worth of learning what Priggee had to offer cannot be touched within the limits of this column. If given the chance to hear and see him again, do not pass up the opportunity, because he ought to be heard as much as he is seen.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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