In a distinctive pen and ink cross hatching style that sometimes seems to carry forward the tradition of the great Thomas Nast, Kevin Kallaugher, who signs his work as KAL, has been skewering the insanities, abuses and tragedies of American politics and society at large for over 17 years from his position as editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun.
Although his eye for events has always been up-to-the-minute, in many ways, KAL is traditional – from his obvious affection for traditional pen and ink artists and cross hatching techniques to his staunch support of the tradition of political cartoonists doing their best to find the absurdity in government and social institutions wherever it may lie, not just in having a party line axe to grind.
His drawing style is a wonderful study in contrasts. It can be loose and sketchy, with objects and figures suggested with just a few quick lines on one part of a drawing, and rendered with fine-lined tonal detail in another part of the same drawing. His caricatures are evidence of the fun he finds in exploring the surface and geometry of a face and mapping out in detail the facial “landscape” that makes an individual’s appearance unique.
His drawing style and editorial voice are part of what makes him unique and part of what has given the Baltimore Sun (a paper I often read and enjoy) its unique character for a long time. Sadly, the paper is losing a lot of that character, and many people, myself included, feel that the once shining Baltimore Sun is beginning to dim.
I’m sorry to say KAL’s cartoons will no longer be seen in the pages of the Sun (article here). As of this January he “retired” from his position, accepting a buyout that is part of Tribune Co.’s wrong-headed attempt to cut costs by dropping editorial cartoonists from the staffs of its newspapers. Tragically, this trend is not limited to Tribune Co. papers, although they are perhaps the most aggressive of the newspaper conglomerates in devaluing the place of editorial cartooning in their papers.
Hmmm… let’s see… circulation is down, so let’s throw away the unique voices, incisive viewpoints and talented visionaries that make our papers unique and appealing, and instead make everything more bland, ordinary and homogenized; sweeten it up an dumb it down. We’ll jam our papers so full of ads, phamphlets, leaflets, flyers and other junk that you won’t even be able to find the content and we’ll shrink what little content there is down to the point where there’s nothing left to buy the paper for, and then we’ll sit around and cry about how the internet is ruining newspapers. Great idea.
But we’re actually to blame, us, all 300 million of us. America has made its choices: Wall-mart instead of community businesses, McDonald’s instead of great little diners, Thomas Kinkade instead of earnest local artists, Katie Couric instead of Bob Scheiffer and another page of supermarket ads and syndicated astrology columns in place of insightful editorial voices like Kallaugher’s. (You’ll notice I resisted the enormous temptation to include a political statement there. Really bit my tongue on that one. Yessir. No suggestions about America making bad political choices here!)
There are still some who recognize the value of a great talent like KAL, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has mounted an exhibition of his work: Mightier than the Sword: The Satirical Pen of KAL, that will run from June 18 to September 3 of 2006.
There are also collections of his work; some are out of print but still available through used book services at Amazon and elsewhere: Kal Draws the Line, KAL Draws a Crowd, Kaltoons: A Collection of Political Cartoons from the Baltimore Sun, and Drawn from the Economist: A collection of caricatures.
In the meantime, here are some places on the web where you can still see the talent and vision that made Kallaugher one of the greats of American editorial cartooning.
Exhibit link via Art Knowledge News.