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Nation's cartoonists converge in Durham, NC

Editorial cartoonists tend to be a solitary bunch, independently skewering politicians from the isolation of their drafting tables. One exception is during the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), where cartoonists converge on a city like ink-soaked locusts. This past year I've been honored to serve as president of the national association. My one year term culminated with a four day celebration of satire and free speech in Durham, NC. The meeting was officially dubbed the 2016 Political Cartoon and Satire Festival, and was co-hosted by Duke University.

As president, I was tasked with running our programming and budget. But this year was a true team effort for the rest of the planning. I was quite lucky to have a team of organizers who served as our cartoonist hosts: Kevin Kallaugher (KAL), JP Trostle and Cullum Rogers. Our partners at Duke really made this all possible. They were led by Frederick "Fritz" Mayer, Director of POLIS - The Center for Politics, Leadership, Innovation and Service, and Bill Adiar, Director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. This partnership helped nudge our organization toward meetings with bigger public events and community engagement.

The convention was a success, and I've been getting lots of great feedback on the program. We had around 125 attendees this year, with 75 of them being cartoonists. To see a list of the public events, click here. Absent from that list, is a great opening reception for our members at the Power Plant Gallery on the beautifully restored American Tobacco campus. The gallery showcased a retrospective work of Raleigh's Dwane Powell, a North Carolina cartooning icon. The restored factory was the perfect backdrop (see the smoke stake in the picture above). Much like Buffalo, Durham has a hip, energetic vibe of a city on the move, just on a smaller scale. Our host hotel, 21c is a slick contemporary art gallery that doubles as a hotel and business center.

Many of the panels reflected the year in cartoons, with a local dimension. We had two panels on the presidential election. The first one featured three Pulitzer-winning cartoonists - David Horsey, Signe Wilkenson, and Steve Breen. And another one featured nationally renowned illustrators - Steve Brodner, Victor Juhasz and Tom Fluharty). The illustrators panel really inspired the group, and was one the favorites.

We also wanted discussions to reflect the local community. Our panels on police brutality and HB2 were both extremely current and relevant to the state of North Carolina, and created a wonderful exchange of ideas. Looking back, I'm glad we didn't waver in our decision to stay in NC, despite the boycotts. Being at the heart of the bathroom bill controversy make the HB2 panel much more impactful. And in an attempt to really broaden the festival to other forms of satire we had a series of afternoon/evening events that tapped into the realm of television, with writers from The Simpsons on one day, and people behind the The Daily Show and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on another.

We close out each year with an awards banquet that speaks to the different aspects of our mission. This year we handed out the John Locher Memorial Award for best college cartoonist to Devon Manney. He stole the show with his acceptance speech and is the first winner to have included an animated in his portfolio. The Ink Bottle Award honors someone in the AAEC who helps to tirelessly promote the craft and the organization. This year's winner was a no-brainer, going to KAL who helped make this convention happen. We finish the night with a celebration of global free expression. Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) hands out the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award. And this year it went to an artist with the alias Eaton Fish. He's produced his work while being detained in an Australian prison. See his story here. This echoed the struggles of other international artists in attendance who presented their work the day prior. That panel included Rayma, Gado and Rod Emmerson. After the CRNI award, the night continued at the presidents party at a bar down the road (The Atomic Fern). Whiskey, beer and pizza were consumed in excellent company.

Thanks for all who attended, and looking forward to seeing you again next year.



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