Starting on morning two of the convention Jim and I were to attend a long list of panel discussions. They all sounded very interesting, but I had already warned Jim that when I’m in DC the attraction of the Library of Congress’ microfilm room is all but overwhelming to me. I promised to stay by his side in case he found himself in the uncomfortable position of having nobody to talk with between panels. Although Jim had received a warm welcome at the reception the previous night, we could both envision a situation in which he might be ignored by the attendees, the vast majority of whom are younger folk.
The first panel was preceded by a continental breakfast. I have never been a breakfast eater so I just swigged a few cups of coffee, a decision that would come to haunt me later. I had a chance to chat with Dave Astor, the editor of the syndicate page in Editor & Publisher. We both bemoaned the fact that the magazine has been reduced to a monthly. Dave told me that about 90% of what he writes for the magazine appears only on their website, and he confirmed my experience that the E&P website is extremely hard to navigate and thus much of his writing is devilishly hard to track down. Dave was accompanied by his vivacious and delightful daughter, Maggie, who contemplates a career in journalism.
The first panel, titled “The Future of Editorial Cartooning”, was emceed by Ted Rall, Milt Priggee and Clay Bennett. Rall, who has somehow garnered a reputation in some circles of being overly headstrong, turned out to be a great guy, very soft-spoken and amiable — not at all what Jim and I had expected from his ‘advance press’. Later in the convention he was elected as the new president of the AAEC, and he will undoubtedly do a great job of filling the big shoes of Rob Rogers in that role. Speaking of which another round of cheers for Rogers who was a whirlwind of energy at the convention, incessantly putting out fires and making sure that everyone was happy and comfortable.
The panel, which was actually more of a town hall meeting, was concerned with gathering ideas to better the lot of editorial cartoonists. As you probably know, political cartooning positions at newspapers are drying up at an alarming rate. The primary reason for this is that newspapers are tightening their belts and thus staff cartoonist positions are being dropped in favor of the more economical syndicated editorial cartoons. A lot of suggestions were tendered, few of them really addressing the heart of the matter. Walt Handelsman injected a heavy dose of reality when he advised the group that they should recognize the staff position was eventually going to be extinct and that cartoonists have little choice but to concentrate on freelancing. Paul Fell made a point, one that I’ve long been echoing, that editorial cartoonists lucky enough to have staff positions need to make themselves indispensible by concentrating a lot of effort on doing cartoons about local issues, a role that syndicated cartoons cannot fill. Jim Ivey poo-poos this idea, saying that newspaper editors hate local cartoons because they tend to generate letters and calls from readers. How sad that editors can’t seem to recognize that calls and letters mean that their readers are interested. Yes, they might be peeved, but they’re at least reading the darn paper!
At the end of the town hall meeting there was what was supposed to be a quick break before the next panel. This break, though, went on and on, and Jim was being waylaid over and over by conventioneers anxious to talk with him. I realized that Jim’s fear of being the boy in the glass bubble was completely unfounded. I took this as my cue to slip out and head off to my mistress, the Library of Congress.
It seems ridiculous that I’d pass up the opportunity to attend all these interesting panels, and it is. It was no easy decision to make. But let me explain what a day at the Library of Congress means to my Stripper’s Guide Index research. When I’m working through my local library I have to order microfilm with a process called inter-library loan. Every library has different rules about loaning microfilm (and many simply don’t), but all libraries severely limit the amount of microfilm that can be loaned at one time. The limit on the number of reels varies between a low of two or three and a high of ten to twelve. Most libraries fall near the lower end of that range. Each request typically takes a month or more to process. That means that in a year, if I’m lucky and everything goes smoothly, and if often doesn’t, I get to index about fifty reels of microfilm for a given newspaper. If each reel holds a month of newspapers that works out to indexing just four years of the newspaper per real-time year. Some newspaper microfilm has as little as one to two weeks per reel, though, so that figure can drop to even more dramatically low rates.
At that glacial pace a newspaper that needs to be indexed for a long period can take me many years to get through. For instance, I need to index the Brooklyn Eagle for their locally created features from about 1906 through about 1944. To accomplish that task using only inter-library loan would take a minimum of ten years. However, if I’m at the Library of Congress I can get through the entire process in a matter of a few days. When given the choice of attending a few panels or accomplishing literally years worth of work you can see why I might find the siren call of the LC very hard to resist.
So resist I did not, and spent the rest of the day at the LC. At the LC it’s very hard to take a break — if the researcher isn’t at their assigned desk they won’t deliver microfilm — so I was there until they closed at 9 PM without a break. By then I was famished (remember I had foolishly foregone the breakfast buffet), but I assumed in a metropolis like DC that getting a bit of supper would be no problem. I took the subway back to the hotel and then strolled around the block looking for a place to eat. In an entirely unexpected turn I discovered that all the restaurants were closed — for some bizarre reason they all shut down at 9 PM. A few bars were open, but that didn’t appeal to me, so I went back to the hotel, bought a ridiculously overpriced bag of chips at the small store they maintain and went up to the room resolved that I would be sure to take advantage of that buffet in coming days.
When I got back to the room Jim was full of stories about the convention happenings. He was concerned that I hadn’t gotten to eat all day, but I dismissed the problem. I’ve often fasted for three or four days at a time (an exercise of will that I like to engage in periodically) and thought nothing of it.
Jim suggested we make a trip down to the street to have a smoke before turning in, so we toddled on down and stood outside the hotel, both blissfully engaging in our filthy habit. One moment I was standing there chatting with Jim, and the next thing I knew I was face down on the pavement with a panicked Jim standing over me calling my name. I’d passed out cold and fallen like a sack of potatos onto the pavement. Waking up from my momentary nap on the sidewalk I found I couldn’t even stand, and sent Jim looking for a Coke to revive me. That done I finally managed to get back to my feet and was able to sway and stagger my way back to our room. Taking stock I found that my souvenirs of the fall included a skinned and bruised knee and shoulder, a sprained thumb, and a bloody welt on the side of my face. Needless to say, breakfasts became a required stop from then on in DC.
Enough for now, I’ll conclude tomorrow.