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CalArts Student Cartoons Explore Pandemic Through Gen Z Lens

Commentary Through Cartoons
Commentary Through Cartoons

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CalArts Student Cartoons Explore Pandemic Through Gen Z Lens

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) students are creating editorial cartoons to comment on the COVID-19 crisis. The project is spearheaded by Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post, who is visiting CalArts this semester to teach “Commentary Through Cartoons.” When coronavirus closed schools across America in March, she revamped her class to focus on the crisis, and is now mentoring her students through the process of creating visual responses to the pandemic and its repercussions with one-on-one online meetings.

“Commentary Through Cartoons” is offered in CalArts’ Character Animation Program, of which Telnaes is an alum. “Political cartooning is a vital element of a free press in a democracy,” she commented. With that in mind, students in Telnaes’ class are learning to combine their artistic skills with journalistic research and social and political comment — and to deploy their messages in formats ranging from single and multi-panel cartoons, animation and motion graphics to graphic essays and live-sketching.

The current health crisis offers students the opportunity to respond to an unprecedented moment in world history. One student has already had a cartoon published by a major metropolitan daily. Erin McDermott submitted a cartoon to The Boston Globe that was published on March 4. The four-panel cartoon addresses the clean air quality in Los Angeles brought on by quarantine conditions and the danger of losing it to newly relaxed air quality controls.

“Ann has assigned us to watch/read the news for 30 minutes a day and to make sure we ‘second source’ and fact check our findings to make sure they are true,” McDermott told CalArts’ 24700 news site. Telnaes suggested that McDermott submit her cartoon to the Globe. “I did, and within an hour I was contacted by the editor of the Opinion section wanting to include my comic in their print edition. I was so thrilled. This was the first time I had my work published.”

Telnaes is dedicated to the continuation of editorial cartooning and seeks to inspire new talent to enter the field. She views the class at CalArts as a way to inspire and motivate a new and diverse generation to pursue the profession. Ten out of Telnaes’ 13 students are female and offer perspectives not commonly seen in the mostly male world of editorial cartoons. The cartoons created in Telnaes’ class offer a glimpse into the future of next-gen visual commentary.

Learn more about the CalArts School of Film/Video Character Animation BFA Program here.

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