On Oct. 17, 2018, almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a cover story about Jacksonville-born and –based political cartoonist Ed Hall, who had recently undergone treatment for colon and liver cancer. So I felt a twinge of déjà vu when I found myself on the phone with Hall last week, again discussing cancer treatment. He had recently experienced a recurrence and went in to get it sorted—successfully, I might add. Of course, we’ve been in touch in the interim. Hall is Folio Weekly’s resident editorial cartoonist; his work appears religiously on our Table of Contents page. This post-op conversation gave us the chance to dispense with the usual week-to-week concerns, take stock of the past 12 months and discuss his upcoming solo exhibition, To the Point: Editorial Cartoons by Ed Hall.
As the artist was still recovering his strength when we spoke, the first subject of discussion was “the return of the big C.” This time the cancer was detected in Hall’s liver, and its appearance reminded him of his mission.
“I think they got it all out. I hope,” he deadpans. “The timing is kind of weird. My cancer was [first] diagnosed literally right after 2016 election. I was in hospital December 2016. I think Trump’s victory steeled me to what I really wanted to do, which is expose him for what he really is. I saw early on that he was a threat to democracy. It’s obvious that he’s not a truth-teller. He’s betrayed his wives, his family, his business associates, every city he had a rally in, he hasn’t paid them, and he’s betraying the American public. He’s using the office for financial gain.”
He feels a renewed vigor as he overcomes the illness once again. Hall notes that he hasn’t slowed down his working pace, nor has he missed a deadline. Such diligence in speaking truth to power is starting to yield results. You see, with impeachment looming, we seem poised to win. By we, I mean thoughtful people of varying “official” political affiliations. Hall is a lifelong Republican, and—spoiler alert!—I’m a lifelong Democrat. What unites us is, first of all, a commitment to civil discourse; and second, a distaste for the venality and incompetence of the Trump administration. Hall does credit Donald Trump with energizing journalism in a perverse way, though.
“Journalism was in trouble before Trump,” he says. “If anything, Trump’s war on the media has made people more aware of the role of a free and open press, and how important it is to democracy. I think he’s making journalism better in a weird way. I still believe America is a nation of good people. I have conservative friends. I’m willing to listen to them, and I hope they listen to me.”
If journalism isn’t facing a crisis of legitimacy, it is being pushed to its technical limits: “Trump being in office has sped up the news cycle. It’s like a firehose constantly coming at you. There’s something to deal with every hour.” As a result, editorial cartoonists are increasingly in competition with memesmiths, who can turn around digital images with incredible speed.
“Yeah, memes are fast,” Hall says. “It’s causing editorial cartoonists to act quicker on our feet, draw faster, use technology. I use a combination of analog and digital. Especially the last six months, I’ve been trying to find a balance between the quick sketch style and cartoon-y style. I’ll sketch a lot, then scan the rough sketches and work digitally from there.”
Hall’s upcoming exhibition, To the Point, features these newer works in addition to archival cartoons from as far back as 2012. More than 100 are on display. Spanning nearly a decade, the subject matters range from national politics to pop culture to news media. The gallery context isn’t an obvious one for art of this nature. After all, are editorial cartoons fine or applied art?
“I think they’re both,” he answers. “They can reach a wider audience than any single piece of fine art. With the exception of Banksy, not much fine art gets outside the gallery.”
Hall’s cartoons certainly do get around. His work has been picked up by national outlets like CNN and international media like France24. Will there be Trump?
“It’s not going to be a Trump-bashing show,” he says before pausing and reflecting. “I mean, there will be some Trump in there. But I chose a lot of evergreen subjects.”