Thursday, Sept. 22

Satire Festival’s kickoff panel highlights influence of political cartoons — or lack thereof


Duke University’s Political Cartoon and Satire Festival began Thursday morning in Reynolds Theater, and an interesting thesis statement came out of the day’s first panel: Political cartoons may not have much influence over voters, after all.

In a conversation titled “Making Satire Great Again,” cartoonists David Horsey, Signe Wilkinson and Steve Breen were in agreement that, as the election nears, their work is likely changing fewer and fewer minds.

“There’s something so fundamental about [voters’] beliefs that I don’t think cartoons are going to change that,” Wilkinson said.

Added Horsey, “At this point, we’re just reinforcing the people who already agree with us.”

Regardless of the actual impact their artwork may have on the public, the cartoonists agreed that this particular election has been unlike any other. The 24/7 news cycle, countless social media platforms and the uprising of millennial voters have made for what Breen called an “almost overwhelming” year of politics.

And Wilkinson believes that cartoons have an important place in today’s political conversation, whether or not they sway any voters.

“To say that no one is taking these things seriously is really wrong,” Wilkinson said. “We are — the cartoonists of America.”


‘Lynch Mobs’ panel examines impact of social media trolls


When does political satire go too far?

That was the question at the center of “Likes, Loves and Lynch Mobs,” a panel held Thursday morning that took a closer look at the dangers of cartooning in a social media-heavy world.

Joel Pett, Ann Telnaes and Matt Bors — all of whom have ignited social media engagement, for better or worse, with polarizing cartoons — took the stage at Reynolds Theater to break down their most memorable experiences with negative reader feedback.

Pett, who once got caught up in a war of sorts with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a common subject of his satire, played the audience angry voicemails he’d received from conservative readers; Telnaes, whose controversial Ted Cruz GIF was ultimately pulled by The Washington Post, detailed a few of the harsh names she was called on social media afterward; and Bors, who famously engaged with hedge fund co-founder Martin Shkreli on Twitter, reflected on a few of his favorite satirical memes.

Although each panelist had become all too familiar with enraged and disgusted readers, they agreed that social media is still very beneficial for promoting their own art.

“It’s been amazing for me to get my work out there,” said Telnaes, who, despite being called some unsavory names on Twitter, earned 16,000 followers after her Cruz cartoon gained attention.

Bors also noted that the power of social media simply can’t be ignored in the modern journalism industry. “We’re actively trying to take political cartoons to where people are,” he said. “That’s Facebook and Twitter.”


Black Lives Matter discussion reveals sobering truths about police brutality


On the heels of police shootings in Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte N.C., the third panel discussion of Duke’s Political Cartoon and Satire Festival was as timely as ever.

“Black and Blue: Cartooning #BlackLivesMatter and Modern Policing” featured cartoonists Keith Knight and Darrin Bell, as well as North Carolina State Sen. Mike Woodard, in a conversation about how police brutality against minorities can possibly be satirized.

After showcasing some of their work, Knight and Bell urged Woodard to help change the police force’s perception of the black community.

“It doesn’t matter what we do,” Knight said, noting that minorities are still targeted whether they protest peacefully or violently. “People say, ‘I’m not racist. I tell my kids not to be racist.’ It’s not good enough.”

Woodard admitted he is disappointed about the current relationship between police and community members, acknowledging that “the level of distrust between our residents and our police is at an all-time high.”

Though Knight and Bell offered some suggestions for improving that dynamic — including jail time and significantly reduced pension funds for cops who demonstrate violent behavior — Knight confessed that he isn’t optimistic about seeing change anytime soon.

“At this point, I don’t expect justice to come out of anything,” Knight said. “If you lose me — if I don’t think justice is going to be served — you’re probably losing most of the people.”


Conservative cartoonists weigh in on GOP’s future

During the 2016 election, Democrats and Republicans alike have been fair game for satirization.

But during a panel titled “Finding the Elephant’s Funny Bone” on Thursday afternoon, cartoonists Scott Stantis and Chip Bok spoke at length about the specific challenges of drawing for a conservative audience.

Echoing statements made by panelists earlier in the day, Stantis said the difficulty of cartooning isn’t getting the audience to understand a particular illustration. The real issue is persuading them to change their political views.

“You don’t draw one cartoon and have people say, “Oh my God, it’s an epiphany,'” Stantis said. “It’s a matter of doing it over and over again. One cartoon doesn’t change the world. But a series can, definitely.”

Stantis and Bok were also candid in their opinions of the Republican Party and how it has changed in light of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

In fact, they aren’t entirely convinced the GOP will exist four years from now.

“You better believe that the elites are not going to allow this to happen twice,” Stantis said of Trump’s presidential campaign. “I would expect that in four years, you will have a common, run-of-the-mill [Republican] nominee, if [the GOP] is around.”


Friday, Sept. 23

Political illustrators shed different perspective on election artwork

After hearing from a number of political cartoonists on Thursday, attendees at the Duke Satire Festival were treated to a different kind of artistic discussion on Friday morning.

The panel titled “Small Hands and Big Hair” featured Steve Brodner, Thomas Fluharty and Victor Juhasz, three illustrators who satirize politics via paint, sketches and digital design tools.

After showcasing some of their work from the 2016 campaign — which Brodner said has provided “great material to work with” — the artists segued into a lengthy discussion with audience members about the finer details of illustrating for politics.

Throughout the forum, the panelists were adamant that, regardless of the political climate or the subject of a particular artwork, it is important for aspiring illustrators to remain diligent about honing their skills.

“There’s no problem that you’re ever going to have in illustration that you can’t solve with extra sketching,” Brodner said.


House Bill 2 forum finds humor in controversial North Carolina law

As protests in Charlotte continued to make headlines Friday afternoon, the conversation in Reynolds Theater turned to another contentious North Carolina topic — House Bill 2.

Otherwise known as the “bathroom bill,” the polarizing piece of legislation was the topic of “Bathroom Banter,” a panel featuring Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers and political reporter Jim Morrill.

Before Siers presented a slideshow of his House Bill 2 cartoons, Morrill detailed the timeline of the legislation’s creation, acknowledging along the way that the bill “was always about more than bathrooms.” Although the bill does require individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate, it also prevents state municipalities from setting a local minimum wage and enacting anti-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community, among other things.

For cartoonists, though, Siers joked that House Bill 2 has been “a godsend,” in that it combines “a civil rights issue with potty humor. Who can resist?”

Given the wealth of material that cartoonists can — quite literally — draw upon, Siers said he and his fellow artists are careful not to be insensitive to those affected by the bill, particularly the transgender community.

“The whole point is to confront the issue and use the shorthand of humor,” he told the audience. “You have to be clear about what it is you, the cartoonist, want to say and then shape your message so that if people are offended, it’s because they understand what you’re saying, and not because they misunderstand it.”

As audience members debated with the panelists about the long-term implications of House Bill 2 — especially after the NCAA and ACC pulled lucrative basketball tournaments from the state — Siers posed a question to the crowd that seemed to summarize the hour-long discussion: “Gov. McCrory signed the bill just hours after [he became aware of it]. What would have happened if he had slept on it?”


Political cartoons cross international borders during Satire Fest

The Duke Satire Festival wrapped its second afternoon of panels with a candid discussion from cartoonists doing their work around the globe.

Titled “International Ink,” the panel featured artists from other countries — Venezuela’s Rayma Suprani, Kenya’s GADO and New Zealand’s Rod Emmerson — who shed light on how political cartoons are received differently outside of the United States.

Both Suprani and GADO have been fired from publications in their countries, after publishing controversial artwork about politics at home and abroad. But they continue to create original artwork on their own time and, with the help of the Internet, are still able to reach a wide audience.

Although the panelists live and work thousands of miles from one another, they agreed it is impossible to ignore the impact of American politics, particularly during the 2016 election. The men and women on stage could be seen nodding vigorously as moderator Kal Kallaugher suggested, “Donald Trump might be the most well-known person in the world right now.”


Simpsons producers reveal their creative process during keynote Political Cartoon event

Two days before The Simpsons‘ 28th season began on Fox, three seasoned producers from the animated series joined moderator Bill Adair for “A Night With The Simpsons,” the keynote event at Duke’s Political Cartoon and Satire Festival.

Jeff Westbrook, Carolyn Omine and Stewart Burns — all of whom have produced and written for The Simpsons for more than a decade — appeared at Page Auditorium to break down the process of making a typical episode, an endeavor that takes nine months to a year.

Though The Simpsons has satirized such topics as immigration, gun rights and presidential elections in the past, the panelists agreed it is hard to satirize current events, given how long it takes to produce just one episode. By the time it airs on television, any specific references in the script will likely be outdated.

Still, Burns assured the crowd that there are very few topics he and his colleagues are afraid of tackling, as long as they can find some humor in them.

“If you gave us a topic that you thought was taboo, we’d find a way to do it,” he said.

One exception? Donald Trump might not appear in many Season 28 episodes, even as the election nears. Despite recognizing Trump as a timely subject of satire, Omine admitted, “We don’t want to give him more attention.”


Duke alumni-turned-TV fact-checkers weigh in on challenges of 2016 election coverage

As the Political Cartoon and Satire Festival came to a close Saturday afternoon, three Duke alumni took the stage at Richard White Lecture Hall to discuss the role of satire in their professional lives.

Adam Chodikoff, a longtime senior producer at The Daily Show, joined Naureen Khan and Ishan Thakore — a researcher and former fact-checker at Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, respectively — as they offered insight into their work processes during the “Facts and Comedy” panel.

As they provided commentary on clips from their own TV shows, the panelists spoke about the importance of vigilant fact-checking, even when they feel disheartened by viewers who ignore objective truth.

“If you asked if I’m [leaning] left or right, I’m pro-truth. I go where the facts are,” Chodikoff said. “There’s so much fact-checking now. I would hope that, by osmosis, people are exposed to it.”

Moderator Bill Adair then opened the floor to audience questions, several of which came from Duke undergraduate students seeking advice for a career in the television industry.

According to Khan, a healthy dose of skepticism is crucial for anyone interested in political news, as well as the ability to think critically — something that she believes students are already learning in their classes at Duke.