From the Archives: The legacy of newspaper cartoonists
Even as news publications across the country divest themselves of cartoonists, the cartoon scene on The Observer continues on.
This semester, Ian Salzman (’20) launched Sorin Elementary, a tri-weekly comic strip about a Notre Dame student who time-travels to meet his past self. Salzman joins a storied lineage of Observer cartoonists who convey both humor and opinion through their craft.
In this week’s edition, From the Archives explores the legacy of cartoonists in The Observer.
Cartoon depicts couple celebrating “National Straight Day”
Oct. 5, 1990 | Susan Loveless | Researched by Ellie Neff
On Sept. 25, 1990, the co-chairs of “Gays and Lesbians of ND/SMC” proposed the student senate officially recognize “National Coming Out Day.” In response, Saint Mary’s student Susan Loveless wrote a letter to the editor calling for the establishment of “National Straight Day.”
The letter included a cartoon depicting a hand-holding couple wearing buttons that read “I’m Straight.” The students are frowning, presumably due to feelings of discrimination.
In her letter, Loveless contended heterosexual people wouldn’t “feel equal” to gay and lesbian students if the student senate approved the proposal. According to Loveless, non-heterosexuals were receiving “special rights” which infringed on the Constitution’s provision of equal rights for all Americans. Specific clauses were not cited in the letter.
Loveless acknowledges the idea of “National Straight Day” is absurd, but in her mind only as absurd as “National Coming Out Day.” “If [LGBTQ+ students] have confidence in who they are,” then they shouldn’t require the approval of others, she writes.
The letter and comic are reminiscent of the Straight Pride parade that took place in Boston on Aug. 31. According to the parade’s organizers, it was a time for “straight people [to] have their voices heard.” Critics of Straight Pride argue the movement frames those who identify as heterosexual as a minority, though LGBT-identifying Americans make up only roughly 4.5% of the U.S. population.
Cartoonist gives life at Notre Dame a musical twist
Feb. 23, 1971 | Neil J. Rosini | Researched by Sarah Kikel
The full-page comic strip “At Notre Dame,” written and illustrated by Neil J. Rosini (’73), presents a collection of panels describing a series of axioms about student life at Notre Dame. In the comic, admissions officer Frank A. Dmitt sings to a bewildered prospective student. Every line is intended to be sung to the tune of “Camelot” from the 1960 musical of the same name.
Dmitt begins his portrait of Notre Dame the way many do, with the weather: “just lovely in September” but “blue skies forgotten by November” and “spring may not arrive ’til May or June,” he sings.
He speaks highly of Notre Dame sports teams but complains about the quality of the dining hall (at the time there was only South Dining Hall, which he says served “virus and ptomaine”.) He also describes the dating struggles students faced at pre-coeducational Notre Dame, lamenting “some guys don’t even know a girl by name” (the University would open its doors to women only a year later.)
Dmitt then turns to academics. In the library, a student criticizes his friend for studying for a test six weeks in advance — meanwhile, several librarians attempt to capture someone swinging from a light fixture with a comically large net.
Finally, the starry-eyed officer belts out an Elvis-esque grand finale from a spot-lit stage: “Yet here is all you’d ever want in college: a school which you will learn to love and claim … a place where friends and friendship always flourish … Yes, Notre Dame.”
He finishes his song in a triumphant pose, standing in front of images of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and the football stadium, with footballs, flags and toilet paper scattered throughout the dazzling image.
Despite Dmitt’s grandeur and passion, the comic ends with the visiting student bolting out of the admissions office. Perhaps not everyone can handle the University’s quirks, the artist suggests.
Advocates for use of B.C.E and C.E. caricatured as “P.C. bandits”
Jan. 30, 1995 | Chris Kratovil | Researched by Marirose Osborne
In January of 1995, columnist Chris Kratovil (‘97) voiced his discontent with the use of the B.C.E. (“Before Common Era”) and C.E. (“Common Era”) date notation system. Traditionally, B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini, or “in the year of the Lord”) had been used in the West.
Kratovil traced the root of this issue to “political correctness” on campus. He claimed that one professor’s decision to require the use of B.C.E. and C.E. was “patently absurd, if not mildly offensive” for a Catholic university. He feared that what he saw as the “P.C.-ization of the calendar” could potentially snowball into threats against crucifixes and dorm chapels on campus.
In Kratovil’s eyes, the new dating system is “non-traditional and historically meaningless.” “I for one have always enjoyed the irony inherent in the fact that even the most vitriolic of atheists must at least subtly acknowledge the divine when they date a letter or refer to historical event,” he wrote.
The article was published alongside a cartoon that depicts two angry “P.C. bandits” with antennae who appear to have arrived in a spaceship from an alien planet. According to Kratovil, these bandits were trying to remove (or “steal”) Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
The article and accompanying comic were part of a much larger debate over the dating system that has been going for decades. Gradually, schools around the world have begun to make the switch to the more neutral B.C.E and C.E. system.
In 2010, The Observer ran a comic that satirized homophobic hate crimes. Though The Observer and the authors apologized soon after its publication, the comic caused profound and irreversible hurt on campus. Let it remain a reminder of the need for all — especially us writers, editors and artists — to conduct our work with integrity, and to always exercise empathy, sensitivity and care.