A political cartoonist shares his work and memories of his career while lamenting the current state of journalism and politics.
The tone of his writing suggests a genial man, but Sanders (b. 1930) spent an illustrious career wielding a sharp pen, angering segregationist-minded readers in the South during the civil rights struggles. In 1963, he began drawing for the Kansas City Star, where an editor told him, “we’ve had more letters to the editor in a month over your cartoons than we’ve had total in the last five years.” He also received anonymous, viciously racist letters that were “dripping with what in most cases was illiterate venom.” During the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign for president, the local John Birch Society launched a campaign to get 10,000 subscribers to cancel their subscriptions to the otherwise conservative paper because of the cartoons. But Sanders made a fan in Harry Truman, who previously hadn’t seen much he liked in the Star, and the cartoonist also became a favorite of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Since his memoir is mainly professional—with some side trips into his obsession with traditional jazz as a fan and musician—it serves as an overview of the political currents that roiled the nation. His work has potently captured the tumult of the civil rights era, Vietnam War (where he made firsthand observations on a couple of tours), Watergate, and, most recently, what he considers the unfathomable election of Donald Trump. Yet his memory of the Reagan years is that it was almost as unconceivable that a glib actor of so little political accomplishment could be elected. Sanders retired from the Milwaukee Journal a quarter century ago but found himself recommitted to his calling as an internet blogger, one who has no dearth of material. Yet he acknowledges that “what is good for cartoonists is not necessarily good for the country.”
A solid encapsulation of a significant, occasionally controversial career.