Baylor University Poage Library

A Conversation with Bob Darden

by Erin Wolfe

Erin Wolfe: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became interested in editorial cartoons and when did you begin collecting?

Robert Darden: I've always dabbled in art. I loved Marvel Comics growing up and wanted to draw like either Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. I also started reading newspapers at a very young age and I remain a newspaper junkie. Naturally, I was drawn to the editorial cartoons. Growing up, I remember particularly enjoying the work of Herblock and Bill Mauldin. I was the editorial cartoonist for The Lariat for a couple of years at Baylor.

So it was natural that I would write my Master's thesis at the University of North Texas on Texas editorial cartoons and cartoonists. I chose The Dallas Morning News because it was the oldest newspaper in Texas and two of the main artists for many years -- Herc Ficklen and Bill McClanahan -- had recently retired. I also interviewed the daughter of the legendary Morning News cartoonist John Knott. All three either gave me original cartoons or traded their cartoons for mine. I used those to trade for originals with other cartoons. I interviewed Jack Hamm several times through the years and he was very generous with his cartoons as well.

EW: What do you find most fascinating about editorial cartoons?

RD: Studies show that the editorial cartoon is the second most read feature in the average newspaper (after the front page headline) and I loved, from the beginning, the cartoon's ability to visually convey complex ideas graphically, often in a humorous manner. Plus, if you love newspapers like I do, you know that the editorial cartoon is one of the most unique creations of the American newspaper, along with the daily comic strip and baseball box score. It is one of the things that separates the newspaper from all other information providers. The great editorial cartoonists are geniuses and treated as such, particularly in Europe.

EW: You know some of the cartoonists in your collection personally and you are an artist yourself. Discuss a little the unique relationship that exists between fellow cartoonists.

RD: All the cartoonists I've met and interviewed delight in seeing other cartoonists succeed. They're all avid fans of each other's work. They study each other's work. It is a very, very small club of like-minded individuals. They're invariably funny, generous, shy, and thoughtful. I've liked every one I've ever met.

EW: What would you say is the formula for a successful editorial cartoon?

RD: The great editorial cartoon distills a complex insight into a single striking graphic image. It may or may not be funny. But it is always, always thought-provoking.

EW: Who are some of your favorite cartoonists and why?

RD: I like them all, old and new. I am a fan. That said, Ben Sargent and Dan Foote have always been two of my absolute favorites.

EW: Discuss the unique role the editorial cartoon plays in the modern newspaper.

RD: No REAL newspaper should ever be without an editorial cartoon. Every REAL metropolitan daily of any size should have a cartoonist on the payroll. Without local editorial cartoonists, one of the true distinctives of a newspaper is lost ... and it makes it even harder for the newspaper to stay relevant in the face of the Internet and 24-hour television news. The editorial cartoon is part and parcel of what it means to be a newspaper.