Joel Pett, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning newspaper cartoonist at Kentucky’s Lexington-Herald Leader, recently told Whitman students that it was their task to resolve the mistakes of his generation, and that he is “just the guy who makes fun of the people trying to make the world better.”
At a Sept. 22 lecture, Pett used Maxey Auditorium as a forum for entertainingly and literally illustrating some of the world’s biggest problems. His predominantly visual lecture focused on global issues through a series of his previously published cartoons, impromptu drawing, and bizarre newspaper clippings. He railed against American egocentrism, hypocrisy, and political misdirection in an age where, Pett believes, we should be focusing on more important things. Among issues he raised: world hunger, population sustainability, destruction of the environment, and human rights.
“I don’t have any solutions for you,” Pett said, insisting rather that his job was to highlight these tough problems for everyone who sees his work, and to do it assertively. “People who express opinions for a living…right or wrong, are supposed to be forceful about it.” He gestured to the presidential caricature on the drawing pad behind him, “So I’m passionate and forceful about my opinions, right or wrong.”
Pett, who also attended political and social science classes, gave another lecture, spoke to faculty, staff, and students, and presented a workshop on creativity, shed light on the profession of political cartooning during his lecture.
“I draw cartoons for the Pio, so it was interesting to see how his style really represented the media of political cartoons,” said Kelly Douglas ’12. "He makes really difficult things easy to look at.”
Pett said the cartoons aren’t intended “to be funny."
"My whole job is to have one idea every day…usually something that I’m angry about," he said.
He then drew examples of and explained his repertoire of political cartooning “tools,” which include caricatures, symbols, and drawing implements. Pett’s most important tool, though—and one he returned to repeatedly during his lecture—was his passion for putting tough issues up front and center.
He intimated that it was probably that same passion that got him an invitation to Whitman.
“I actually responded to an ad in foreign policy magazine where they were advertising for a foreign policy expert to come,” he said in an interview after the lecture. “I wrote them a … letter where I admitted that I was not an expert but had a lot of passion. I guess nobody else answered the ad.”
Pett was raised in Nigeria and had lived in the Amazon, has been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London, the Boston Globe, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Times, and even MAD. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1999, and the Global Media Award in both 1995 and 2007.
“I’m not big on hope or faith, but I’m really patriotic. I love this country,” he said. “Where else could I get paid to draw my commander in chief as any sort of bodily fluid?”
- Dylan Plung ’11