4 cartoonists on how their Eric Garner images came together

December 4, 2014

In the hours after the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, news organizations responded quickly on social media with editorial cartoons.

Poynter got in touch with several of the cartoonists behind those images via email to see how they took shape:

Dan Wasserman, “I Can’t Breathe”

Credit: Dan Wasserman, The Boston Globe

Credit: Dan Wasserman, The Boston Globe

“I was finishing up a completely different cartoon on the hacking of Sony when the news of the non-indictment broke. I went back and watched the video of Garner being choked to death by the police, and the cartoon idea grew out of that horror.”

“…I think that, for certain galvanizing events, cartoonists seek out a simple, distilling image or phrase. Here you have a sense of great injustice together with the agonizing plea by Garner (“I can’t breathe.”) No big surprise that several cartoonists melded those elements in similar ways.

Bill Bramhall, “Justice System and Eric Garner”

Credit: Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News

Credit: Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News

“In the Garner case, it’s a no brainer to link his last words with another icon, an expiring lady justice. My guess is that by the end of today even more editorial cartoonists will have done a similar one.

As for my ‘process’, I’m not sure I have one. The best ideas come to me unbidden, without my having to hunt for them, which was the case yesterday afternoon. I try to pare any cartoon down to as few words as possible. My ideal, rarely achieved, is no words at all.”

Mike Luckovich, “Justice for All?”

Credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“When the World Trade Center fell, numerous cartoonists incorporated the Statue of Liberty in their cartoons, because she’s the main symbol of freedom in this country and she was in the harbor bearing silent witness to the tragedy.

I’ve used lady justice in two cartoons in the space of a week. The first time was when the cop who shot Michael Brown wasn’t indicted. I questioned yesterday whether I should use her again so soon. I had another sketch that didn’t use her, but my editors liked this one better.”

“…Yesterday, I was scrambling to come up with an idea on anything. There isn’t much going on this week. The hardest part of this job for me is when there aren’t new topics, so when news broke about Eric Garner’s killer walking, I focused on that.”

Matt Davies, “Oh Say, Can You See”

Credit: Matt Davies, Newsday

Credit: Matt Davies, Newsday

“I was working up a cartoon on police body cameras when the grand jury’s Eric Garner decision came in. My initial thought was to show how useless that camera footage is if prosecutors, DAs and grand juries are apparently unswayed by it. I sketched up a couple of concepts of how to deliver that thought – one of which depicted lady justice – and that was the one my editor chose to publish. As far as using lady justice, or any other iconic image, I love the visual nature of cartooning, but don’t enjoy using those images in the way everybody imagines them. I like to twist things and want people to be caught by surprise a little when they see my cartoons…In this case the jury also being blindfolded. Hopefully it makes the message that bit more powerful.”