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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 03/19/2009

The Exit Interview: Pink-Slipped Memphis Cartoonist Bill Day

By Michael Cavna

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."

By Michael Cavna  | March 19, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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"the forces of reaction"? Did he really say that, and repeat the phrase?

Maybe it's related to the Clinton "Conspiracy".

Posted by: MSchafer | March 19, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

When Bill Day refers to those "forces of reaction" you're being snide about, Mr. Schafer, he's referring to the physical threats made against him and his family, the vile hate mail he regularly received, and the burning cross planted in his yard. Believe me, there are some very hateful Memphians who will be very happy to see no more of his "make them question their prejudices" editorial cartoons.

Posted by: johnread3 | March 19, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Mr. Day has endured a lot of persecution, but his statement shows his concern for the President. I do not read anything suggesting this president is getting more hate mail than the previous.

Posted by: MSchafer | March 20, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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