John Klossner

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Work in Progress: And now a word from our cartoonist...

A Dee Lee caricature.

Welcome to "Work in Progress," FCW's newest blog. We created this blog as a venue in which to preview upcoming projects and to provide a behind-the-scenes look at content appearing in the magazine and on the Web site. FCW cartoonist John Klossner will be a recurring guest, giving us all some insight into the thinking that goes into each week's editorial cartoon.

As a general introduction, I have been drawing cartoons for FCW for almost 12 years now. That means I understand almost one-third of the acronyms in the federal marketplace.

As our process goes, I usually touch base with Chris D. (editor in chief and FCW Insider) early in the week. He will give me an idea of the subject he is thinking about editorializing on, and we can discuss any background information and/or questions I may have. I consider this an ideal cartooning situation for two reasons: a) The subject matter is provided, saving me time that would be spent researching editorial possibilities, and b) The readership is knowledgeable on most of the specific issues, allowing me to make subtler comments and jokes. When the audience knows what you're talking about, it allows you a greater variety of commentary possibilities, as opposed to situations where the audience doesn't know the subject matter, and you have to keep it simple.

This particular cartoon presented a challenge -- making a positive commentary. Editorial cartooning has been called "the negative art" and it is easier to make a negative comment than a positive one, especially when humor is involved. The specific issue here is the impending retirement of Deidre Lee. Lee most recently was director of management and chief acquisition officer for FEMA, but before that the wearer of many hats at many agencies in a highly-regarded federal career. A running joke among cartoonists when trying to create a "positive" cartoon is "Are we for that or against that?"  For example, "Are we for feeding the hungry or against feeding the hungry?" Or, in this case, "Are we for the highly respected federal employee or against her?" I hope you can appreciate the difficulty in going negative in this instance. The problem with "positive" editorial cartoons is that they come out looking too soft, or not thought-provoking, and they bore the reader.

So while I tried to think my way around this, I worked on a caricature of Deirdre Lee, in case I needed it in the cartoon. She has a great look for a character - a distinct haircut that translates well to a graphic image, and a strong nose. In looking through her publicity photos, I also liked her clothing -- it always looked good for imagery.

I then spent the next hour trying to rid my mind of all the cliches that pop up in this sort of situation -- images of people on pedestals, leaving big shoes to fill, a large hole in the office/agency. I aim -- but don't always succeed -- to come up with an original image or concept for the cartoon, and avoiding these cliches is the first step. And, in keeping with the negative/positive struggle and my own professional tendencies, I kept trying to find a way to sneak something cynical in there for humor's sake. For a while I got stuck on the phrase" ...a group of us got together and..." that is often heard in personal milestones -- birthdays, retirements, anniversaries, etc. I came up with the sketch below, but the final punch line didn't seem too snappy. "For your retirement a group of us got together and decided to go into fetal positions at your ankles until you change your mind," "...a group of us decided to cry like babies," " ...a group of us decided to lie in front of your parking space" -- there's a good joke there somewhere, I just didn't find it.

Look for the final cartoon in the Jan. 21 issue of Federal Computer Week.

A cartoon concept that did not work as well.

Posted by John Klossner on Jan 16, 2008 at 12:18 PM


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