Strong opinions, love of drawing motivate Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist

Friday, January 11, 2002

The outrage she felt during Anita Hill’s testimony at the confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas led former Disney animator Ann Telnaes to begin a career as an editorial cartoonist.

“I love to draw. I’ve always had very strong opinions about things, and now I could finally put the two together, which is what editorial cartooning is all about,” Telnaes said during a Dec. 16 Inside Media program at the Newseum.

Capitol Hill inquiries aren’t the only issues the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist is passionate about. “Anything that has to do with the First Amendment will grab my attention really quickly … anything having to do with religion, the Second Amendment, those will tend to get my attention,” she said.

“You have to just sort of always be looking. It never stops — your day is not 8 to 5. You just have to just keep thinking and reading and sketching. It’s a never-ending thing, but I find that it’s very invigorating. I love it. It’s great,” she said.

Telnaes is one of the few women in her field, and last year she became just the second female editorial cartoonist to win the coveted Pulitzer. “Maybe it has to do with the fact that editorial cartoons have to be strong and forceful … and frankly I think that little girls are taught more to be a little bit more demure … so maybe that’s the reason that women are not drawn to it.”

Telnaes said condensing her opinions about complex and controversial issues is one of her biggest challenges. “You don’t have hundreds and thousands of words to explain your position, to explain the issue … You have to decide what is it you want to say in that one drawing and … if you can get one point into that drawing and make it a strong visual statement and that way it’ll catch the reader’s eye, that’s what makes a successful editorial cartoon.”

Unlike many editorial cartoonists who work for a newspaper, Telnaes works independently and distributes her cartoons through Tribune Media Services. So when she found out she had won the Pulitzer, she didn’t experience the usual newsroom jubilation.

“When I found out I won, I was so shocked. I was working at home like I normally do … I just stood up, and all I remember is I took my dog for a walk because I couldn’t handle getting the phone,” she said.

Telnaes said that while winning the Pulitzer has prompted more people to pay attention to what she has to say, the tragic events of Sept. 11 have had a much greater impact on her work and career. “It has affected what I do in the sense that I have been getting a lot of criticism that my cartoons since the 11th have been anti-American, which I don’t believe. I don’t see how free speech is un-American at all.”

The cartoonist is one of six women who ink the daily comic strip “Six Chix,” which looks at life from a woman’s perspective. “You’re on a whole different deadline, and I guess I still have problems because I’m always trying to turn it into an editorial cartoon, which upsets my editor quite a bit.”

As a woman, Telnaes said she brings something new to the table in a field where there is very little diversity. “It’s basically a good old white boys club. Now that’s not to say that there’s not great editorial cartoonists that look at different issues in different ways, but I would like to see more diversity. I would like to see more women in it really.”

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