Political cartoonist Ted Rall’s graphic
Pope Francis biography

Kettering native Ted Rall has published over 21 books, his cartoons and editorial column are widely syndicated, and he appears regularly as a cable news commentator.

By Tim Smith

Ted Rall is one angry dude.
The award-winning graphic novelist, political cartoonist, and journalist has made a career out of harpooning and deflating public figures for fun and profit. His editorial targets have covered the spectrum from baby-boomers to Presidents, and a few other trendsetters in between. His latest book, “Francis, The People’s Pope,” takes on a different subject in a different light. He recently explained why he chose this
particular topic.

“This is the third in my trilogy of graphic novel format biographies of positive change makers,” Rall says. “The first was Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. The second was Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Democratic primary challenger to Hillary Clinton. Snowden is the consummate rebel: he’s literally wanted by the government and forced to hide out in Russia. Bernie Sanders has straddled the line between the rebel and the insider. Never joined the Democratic Party, but ran as the Democratic candidate. Pope Francis is the consummate insider running the consummate establishment. The question for me and for the reader was, is it possible to make substantial real change through words alone? Generally speaking, I don’t think so. But I think he might be an exception. I do these books to point out that not everything is criticism. There are people trying to do good work. The best way to point out what people should be doing is to point to those who are doing it and say hey, they’re doing it, you could do it, too. As usual, I’m hoping to be informative and to provoke discussion.”

Provoking discussion has been Rall’s specialty since graduating from Kettering’s Fairmont West High School in 1981. His political cartoons appear in approximately 100 newspapers around the United States, and he also writes a weekly column. To date, he has published 4 cartoon anthologies, 5 graphic novels, and 12 volumes of non-fiction/prose, including the recently released “Francis, the People’s Pope” (Seven Stories Press, 2018). He cites Mike Peters, Garry Trudeau, Matt Groening, Charles Schultz and Jules Feiffer among his influences.

“As the brilliant conservative political cartoonist Mike Lester said, there’s a word for a positive editorial cartoon,” Rall says. “It’s called a greeting card. Well, that’s two words. A phrase. The point is, political cartooning is inherently a critical medium. Most people can think of a powerful negative political cartoon. But there’s no such thing as a powerful positive one. Think of positive cartoons: one that supports something that the government or a politician says, or perhaps an obituary cartoon that celebrates the life of the recently deceased. Those cartoons are always schmaltzy. Whether you are working in music or poetry or journalism, you need to understand the medium that you are working in. The [best artists] were and are effective because they understand the inherent negativity of the medium: the harder you hit, the meaner you are, the better
the cartoon.”

This appears to reflect a quote found in connection with some of Rall’s online biographies—“Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Regrettably, the artist can’t claim the quote as his own.

“I wish I could take credit for it,” he said. “The full quote is ‘The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ It was actually Peter Finley Dunne in 1902. He was a brilliant journalist based in Chicago at the time. But it is the credo of many political cartoonists, including me. I suppose the contemporary version of Dunne would be along the lines of ‘always punch up, not down.’ The point is we live in a highly stratified society divided into classes. The rich, the powerful, and other oppressors do not require any support from us. To the contrary, they need to be brought down to our level. Equality should always be the goal of our society. Perhaps I’ll change my mind if we ever live in a society that makes major in-roads in solving its major problems, like the inherent income inequality and injustice created by capitalism. Until then, every artist should devote at least some of their time to attacking the powers that be. Because, quite frankly, they suck.”

In 2001, Rall went to Afghanistan as a war correspondent for The Village Voice and KFI Radio in Los Angeles. He returned to Afghanistan in 2010, traveling independently and unembedded throughout the country, filing daily “cartoon blogs” by satellite. The experiences informed his graphic books that followed, which took on Presidents Bush and Obama, and White House wannabe Trump.

“I like myth-busting,” Rall says. “Like all societies, like all political organizations, like all religions, the United States of America is based on a series of myths. Some of them are quite harmful. For example, the idea that the United States is exceptionally better than other countries and has the right to decide what other countries should do. Those ideas are promulgated by political and corporate leaders, not to mention the educational and journalistic propaganda infrastructure. I think it’s the job of any thoughtful artist or writer or otherwise creative person to try to undermine those ideas in order to bring an end to a destructive system.”

Rall’s upcoming book launch at Therapy Café will be the Dayton area’s first exposure to his new book “Francis, The People’s Pope.” The event was originally scheduled to be held at an area book retailer, but the offer was withdrawn at the last minute. Rall admits to being perplexed about the change in plans.

“I don’t know why the event was canceled,” he says. “I have nothing but warm feelings for Books & Co., which has consistently supported my work for a quarter of a century. Maybe it’s just a logistical thing? But it’s the first time that anything like this has happened to me there or, to be honest, anywhere else. I do book signings all over the U.S. and in fact, all over the world.”

With the current state of the world, cartoonists like Ted Rall will not have a shortage of targets anytime soon. He wants people to enjoy his latest publication, but does have one thing in particular he’d like them to take away from this event.

“The desire to buy more Ted Rall books.”

Ted Rall will introduce “Francis, the People’s Pope” at Therapy Café, 452 E. 3rd St., Dayton on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:00 p.m. Admission is free, but attendees must be 21 plus. For more information, visit therapycafe.com, or call 937.461.4000. More information about Ted Rall and his books can be found at rall.com.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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