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American Cartoonist Gary McCoy Receives Lots of Flak and an Email That Crosses the Line

03/20/2012

Photograph of and by Gary McCoy

On March 19, 2012, freelance editorial cartoonist Gary McCoy was interviewed over the telephone by Deputy Director Drew Rougier-Chapman of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI).  Prior to the interview, Drew and Robert "Bro" Russell, the Executive Director of CRNI, spoke at length with Gary after learning that Gary had received a threatening email.  Below is the interview of Gary McCoy. 

Drew – This is Drew Rougier-Chapman the Deputy Director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International.  I’m speaking over the phone with editorial cartoonist, comic strip cartoonist, and gag cartoonist Gary McCoy.  Gary, thanks for speaking with me today.

Gary – It’s my pleasure. 

Drew – It has come to our attention that you were recently threatened with an email.  But before I ask you about the email, could you tell our readers a little bit about your work and where one can see your work?

Gary – Sure.  Sure.  Starting in no particular order, I do a syndicated comic panel with my brother Glenn.  It’s called The Flying McCoys and we’re in papers throughout the world and I of course also do the editorial cartoons that are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and those also run national-wide and wherever papers may want to pick them up.  I do magazine and gag cartoons, Playboy and Parade Magazine and numerous other ones on a freelance basis.  And I do greeting cards for Recycled [Paper Greetings], American Greeting Cards, NobleWorks, Papyrus and some other companies.  I think that is it, in a nutshell.  I guess my specialty is editorial and gag cartoons.

Drew – It sounds like your specialty is a little of everything.

Gary – Yeah, a little bit.  But like they say, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  

Drew – Gary we have posted your recent cartoon [of March 3, 2012] that generated so much controversy.  But would you mind describing the cartoon and the point you were trying to make? 

 

 

Gary – Sure.  The cartoon had to do with the recent publicly funded contraception controversy that had broken out lately in the country and had to do with the Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke.  She had appeared kind of impromptu before a congressional panel.  She was there advocating for government paid contraceptives in insurance policies, although that has come to be a matter of contention lately.  She has said since that that wasn’t what she was doing.  Basically I have a two-panel cartoon.  She is a far left person.  She has had some affiliations come out recently that show her to be really not just a women’s rights advocate but she kind of pushes the whole reproductive rights issue in different areas.  So I did a cartoon of her saying, “Stay out of my uterus government” and having her hold a pro-choice sign and in the second panel she is saying “that is right after paying my free birth control.”  There is another visual in the second panel that didn’t help me with my adversaries, which I have her writing, “For a good time call” on the men’s room door. 

Drew – Your critics, and I’ll admit I'm one of them, thought your cartoon went too far in that second panel when you implied Ms. Fluke, and by extension anyone who uses contraceptives, is promiscuous.  Is that a fair criticism of your cartoon? 

Gary – I would disagree just on the point where you say “by extension all who use birth control.”  I understand there are myriad ways to interpret cartoons.  It is largely a subjective medium.  I do now admit I got caught up in the whole fervor of the issue.  When you do editorial cartoons, as you guys know, you work on the fly a lot, you work quickly, and you’re going with emotions that are riled up at the time.  It was an underhanded swipe at her because she was saying how much she spends on birth control, something like three thousand dollars in two years.  Different analyses of that issue came out to be that that’s a jacked up amount, that it doesn’t cost that amount.  You can get it for like nine dollars a month, I think, at Walmart.  So anyways, three thousand dollars seemed to be an exorbitant amount of money and that she didn’t really need to spend that much.  So it came into play that, why does she need to spend that much money on birth control? 

Drew – But to say “To call for a good time” isn’t really about the cost, that’s about …

Gary – Right, that is about her.  And that is a point where I admit I went too far.  I’m not going to try to cover it up.  I went too far in doing that.  It is done a lot.  Editorial cartoonists do that every day in some way.  I did it in a way that was inappropriate.  On a subject as passionate as women’s rights and how government funds should be spent on things like birth control and abortifacient drugs which are covered by government policies, you get caught up in it.  I took a more personal swipe than I should have.  I think I have a right to call her out for being a hypocrite with just the two balloons that are in the cartoon.  The men’s room door thing was me being sort of a reactionary at that time in my cartoon.  Obviously I don’t know the woman.  I can’t comment on her sexual endeavors or anything.  It was unfair.  But hey, it happens in editorial cartoons.  George Bush was portrayed as a Nazi I don’t know how many times, as a monkey, and having a bone through his nose, I have seen recently, and all kinds of crazy things.  That doesn’t excuse what I did.  Again, I’ll step up and say it was more or less me venting my frustration at this woman going before Congress saying that I as a taxpayer should have my money spent on drugs that go against my morals, some drugs that would abort a human life after it was conceived.  I went too far.  It is not like I put “SLUT” her on her back in a label.  But it was an innuendo.  It is saying “For a good time call.”  … Of course the implied message is there.  Again, I am coming out and saying I wouldn’t have included that if I were to do the cartoon [again].  But I don’t feel that I was portraying all women that way who use birth control.  The cartoon is about this woman.   

Drew – Regardless, we don’t believe anyone has the right to harm you or threaten you.  Your critics of course have every right to exercise their free speech and even call you names on your syndication’s website immediately below your work.  And I see many people have criticized you on the website, the Cagle website, some quite harshly.  But one of the emails you received – and this is the reason we are talking to you today – one of those emails really crossed the line.  In addition to using an expletive, the email threatens you with violence.  Have you contacted the police?

Gary – Yes, I have contacted the police. 

Drew – Unfortunately, this is not the first time you have been threatened with violence.  It is my understanding that you were threatened by someone who misinterpreted a phrase that you used in a previous cartoon, the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid,” as some sort of racial remark in a cartoon about Republican Colin Powell supporting  Democratic Senator Barack Obama in Barack Obama’s successful run for President.  Did I get that right?

 

Gar

 

Gary – Yes, you did.  I drew Colin Powell with his hand out holding a glass.  I think I had a hand coming from off-panel holding a Kool-Aid pitcher with a word balloon coming from off-panel saying “More?”  I think I have Colin Powell saying “Please” or “Yes” or something to that effect.  And he has already had a glass and he’s got Kool-Aid on his mouth.  Of course my reference was in regard to the Jonestown Massacre where everyone [literally] drank the Kool-Aid in the mass suicide. … It has almost become a part of American language.  … What I didn’t realize was that apparently many blacks like Kool-Aid and I wasn’t aware of that.  So by portraying Colin Powell with Kool-Aid simply in that manner made me some sort of racist.  I received an email from a guy at a college, Mercyhurst College, in Eerie, Pennsylvania, who sent me a message saying, “I don’t put up with that.  Take your Colin Powell, highly racial stereotype.  If I see you in Eerie you will get dealt with.”  He goes on, “I don’t allow shit like that.  The Kool-Aid joke is not right.”       

Drew – How did you respond to that threat of physical violence? 

Gary – I looked at his email address and saw that he was sending it from an educational facility with the 'edu' at the end of his email address.  It was from Mercyhurst.  I looked them up on the Internet.  I called their public safety office and told their officers there that one of their students was using their school’s mail server to send threatening emails because of a cartoon I did.  I told them what it was.  They were very interested and said they would handle it, which they did.  A few days later I received an apology from the guy. 

Drew – That’s great they were able to take care of it in such a manner.

Gary – Right.  But I’m sure the guy wasn’t happy about having to send me an apology.  I’m sure he had no choice in the matter.  It was probably that or face expulsion from the school or something. 

Drew – Well, we all have our own way of getting an education at school I guess.

Gary – Yeah, right.

Drew – Gary, I hope you’ll keep us informed if there are any more threats and if there is any way we can help you in the future. 

Gary – I sure will.  I’ll let you know.  Everything seems to have settled down a little bit.  … I don’t anticipate anything else, unless future cartoons create anything. … I’m not a favorite of those on the left and my cartoons [on occasion] raise their ire.

Drew – We don’t, as an organization, take a position on the positions that you take.  If you feel it would be a benefit to you for us to contact the local police or the FBI, you let us know. 

Gary – I sure will.  Thank you.

Drew – Thank you for your time Gary.  Be safe.