The Exit Interview: Pink-Slipped Memphis Cartoonist Bill Day
When Comic Riffs reached political cartoonist BILL DAY yesterday afternoon by phone, he was still trying to absorb the news: The Commercial Appeal in Memphis had just pink-slipped him, and more than a dozen colleagues, several hours earlier.
As Day, 61, spoke (packing his newsroom belongings as a security guard walked nearby), he conveyed how much Memphis -- the city, the newspaper, the political perch -- means to him after more than a decade there. The artist, who won a National Cartoonists Society editorial cartooning award in 1996, took time to share his reactions, his convictions and his uncertainty about what to do next.
MICHAEL CAVNA: Were you at all anticipating this layoff, or were you blindsided by it?
BILL DAY: It was a terrible shock. I don't know what I'm going to do. I've got a family to support and my 401(k) is shot and I might lose my house. I'm a total wreck right now. I'm at a total loss of even what to think.
MC: So how did you get the news?
BD: I got a telephone call and I had to go down to Human Resources at 1 o'clock [Wednesday]. They had a folder for me. I'm just sitting here. Like, "What in the hell is happening to my life."
MC: And does your syndicate deal pay much?
BD: Syndication pays a pittance. ... But [I'm thankful] they've said they'll still carry me.
MC: How long have you been an editorial cartoonist?
BD: I've been in political cartooning my whole life. I'm 61. I've been in Memphis for 10 years ... and I was a staff artist back [here] in the late '70s [before going to Detroit]. I love Memphis.
MC: So what do you plan to do next?
BD: I don't know what I'm gonna do. The only thing that keeps running through my mind is how terrible this is, at this juncture in history. America just elected a black man as president and already the forces of reaction are trying to destroy [his administration]. I'm not going to be on board to fight the bigots -- these forces of reaction that are trying to destroy him.
MC: And of course, you've been a polarizing newspaper figure in the South.
BD:You wouldn't believe the stuff that I get through the transom -- the bigotry. I'm a lightning rod -- a liberal-minded guy in the Deep South. These people are just wicked when it comes to politics -- you're talking about the ultimate Rush Limbaugh people. I won't be on staff to fight it.
MC: Will the Commercial Appeal let you do a farewell cartoon to the community?
BD:They dumped me with not even a farewell cartoon. I had to turn in my ID card. ... My last day is the 27th, but my real last day is now.
MC: And what do you reflect on that's positive at the paper?
BD: In the last five years, I've had Otis Sanford as my editorial page editor and he's given me total freedom. It's the only time in my career I've had this much [freedom]. He has not censored me, and he's taken the heat. He's an African Americian editor and he knows what I'm about in the South and he's let me do what I had to do in the South. I can't tell you how great that is.
MC: What do you think of this trend, of so many political cartoonists losing their jobs amid industrywide layoffs and buyouts?
BD: I don't understand why, when you're going to a visual medium [online], why you want to get rid of cartoonists. It's made for cartoonists. ... We're like the Jiminy Cricket of the newspaper. We're the conscience."
| March 19, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists
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