Cartoonist struggles to portray Tech tragedies

Column by Chris Graham

Nobody at USA Today could figure out why the bird was in the cartoon.
Jim McCloskey realized something when he heard that.

“It was so poignant and meant so much to so many people here that were affected by it, but those that maybe were vicariously aware of it didn’t have any idea what the bird symbolized,” said McCloskey, an editorial cartoonist at The News Leader in Staunton, whose cartoon image of the Hokie Bird in mourning over the tragic deaths of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech last month has gotten attention nationwide.

And so it was that the cartoon didn’t appear in USA Today the day after the shootings, according to McCloskey, who talked about the cartoon for a story in the upcoming Summer 2007 edition of The New Dominion print magazine.

The News Leader is selling prints of the cartoon and donating proceeds from the sale to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund – a fund set up by Virginia Tech to collect money to go toward expenses incurred by victims and victims’ families and to go toward the creation of a memorial to those who lost their lives.

The cartoon eventually ran in USA Today – which like The News Leader is owned by Gannett – and also in several papers to whom McCloskey syndicates his work, including The Roanoke Times, where it caught the attention of sports columnist Aaron McFarling.

The image “knocked me flat,” McFarling wrote in a column that ran two days after the April 16 shootings.

“Hearing from people is not always the measure of a good cartoon – because it has to come from you, it’s not whether someone else tells you that it’s positive or negative,” McCloskey said.
“Those doubts that you have as a cartoonist – does this measure up with the situation? And for people to take the time to let you know how much they appreciated it was gratifying,” McCloskey said.

(Originally published 05-17-07)

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