Paging Ken Burns!

June 11th, 2010 | Posted in General

Over on the’s terrific cartooning and comic’s blog Comic Riffs, Michael Cavna writes an open letter to “Amercia’s Documentarian” Ken Burns suggesting he film a documentary about cartooning in Amercia… and the sooner the better for several reasons:

First, the state of the American cartoon is in such tremendous flux: Staff political cartoonists have been disappearing from the newsroom landscape quite precipitously in recent years, as the American newsroom itself has been remade for deeply transitional times. The American newspaper comic strip, to put it simply, is seeing great change in terms of syndication and online delivery. The New Yorker is a bastion for the American magazine cartoon, but such print outlets are fewer, many cartoonists say. Meanwhile, audiences for the comic book and the graphic novel have exploded in recent decades.

Second, there are some longtime cartoon legends who still walk, and talk, colorfully among us. At the National Cartoonists Society’s Reubens Awards some days ago, I spoke with sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, whose historic tenure at the New York Daily News stretches back to World War II; George Booth, a longtime cartooning icon at The New Yorker; and Mort Walker, whose strip “Beetle Bailey” is the last newspaper comic approved personally some 60 years ago by publisher William Randolph Hearst. All three cartoonists had so much boyish glee in their eyes, who knows … they might outlive both Ken Burns and myself. But the larger reality is, they represent a generation of near-nonagenarians (one that includes “Family Circus’s” Bil Keane, and the 80something Mell Lazarus, among numerous others) who have great stories to share now.

This is absolutely true. Many of the giants of the cartooning industry are getting pretty old and nature will be taking it’s due course as it does for all of us eventually. Many of the legends of MAD Magazine like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee are also in their 80’s, along with greats like Arnold Roth. This was more apparent than ever at this year’s Reubens, where many of these iconic cartoonists were either absent entirely or not as active as they have been in the past. An era of cartooning will be basically over when these superstars leave us, and while they are still around and able to share their experiences and stories there should be an effort to document them and their impact on pop culture and Amerciana.

Caricaturist and cartoonist Joe Vissichelli goes one further in an e-mail he sent out today calling for those who want to see this happen to drop a personal note to Mr. Burns at the following address:

Mr. Ken Burns
Florentine Films
P.O. Box 613
Walpole, NH 03608

Joe is right in that an outpouring of interest in this subject might get Mr. Burns thinking about such a project. I’ll be sending my note out today.


  1. Mugshotz says:

    I like it! Any chance we could get an email address? I’m sure more people would be on board to send an email than take out that pesky ol’ fountain pen and put a stamp on it! 🙂

    • Tom says:

      I don;t have one, and to be honest I think e-mail is a lousy way to communicate with somebody when you want to make an impression. It’s exactly the time involved of dragging out the pesky ol’ fountain pen, stamp and putting it in the mailbox that shows the sender means it.

  2. I’ll send my note too
    thanks for the post, address, and the concern
    Cheers Mate

  3. Mark Engblom says:

    Hell, if the guy could do an entire documentary on JAZZ, for God’s sake, he can certainly do one on cartooning. I probably wouldn’t hold your breath, though.

  4. Mark Engblom says:

    Or, perhaps someone else besides Burns could take a shot at it. Burns’ style has almost become a parody of itself….so maybe some fresh eyes could chronicle the comics. What better organization to get the ball rolling than the National Cartoonist Society?


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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