As a pre-Internet, pre-personal computer, pre-cable TV, pre-cellphone person (heck, I liked Trimline phones, except for how they got hot after talking for an hour), I am still a bit astonished by the nature of our e-culture.
Sure, I use all of the aforementioned things, and think they are, by and large, a good thing (except for walking down stairs and texting). I am not an e-Luddite, either. I tweet, use a Mac laptop, Photoshop, Facebook, draw on an iPad and know many of the buttons on my Comcast remote, when I have my reading glasses on.
In the old days, if I drew a cartoon people liked, I would return to my office, see a pile of yellow “While You Were Out” phone messages, and know I had hit the button that day. Sometimes, I would see a cartoon of mine or two taped to someone’s refrigerator door: the ultimate compliment. My readers want to enjoy my cartoon while getting a glass of orange juice.
Now if I do a cartoon people like or dislike, it gets passed around on the Internet from The Sacramento Bee website or my Facebook page. A good day would be getting between 50 to 100 “likes” and a couple of dozen shares. Usually when I draw a cartoon, I have some vague sense of whether it will light up my readers. A dozen emails praising my perceptive nature or calling into question my parental heritage tell me I’m connecting. Some letters come in. We print them, or not. A few colleagues may say “nice one.” A good day.
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But on the Internet (which I do not call “Internets” or think of as a series of tubes, as the late GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska famously called it), you never know what’s going to get shot all over hell and gone. After all, it’s pretty easy to get on the Internet. One would-be cartoonist wrote me (I think he was from the ham radio era) and informed that his work was regularly reprinted (does the Internet print things?) on the “International World Wide Web.” Wow. How did you do that?
So imagine my surprise when a cartoon I did on Ebola went viral.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. A cartoon I did on Texas Gov. Rick Perry went viral last year, and I spent many days sorting out death threats on Twitter, watching my name appear on crawls on CNN noting Perry had called for my firing (Sen. Ted Cruz politely called for my resignation instead: true presidential diplomacy). On the CNN website, there were more than 10,000 comments on the story the last time I checked.
This was a rather frightening experience, in a way. Cartoonists want impact, but sometimes there’s a bit too much impact. I want to reach as many people as I can, but I don’t want to feel like I need to live in a bunker while armed Texans with pickups (I have one, too: a Ford F-150 crew cab, incidentally) threaten me and my kids, which they did. I think that’s illegal, but I didn’t have time to hire dozens of lawyers to write them strongly worded letters noting this point of law.
Just to illustrate the reach of this cartoon, on one Facebook page called “I (blanking) Love Science,” the Ebola cartoon (which I drew in an hour) got 172,000 “likes” and 50,000 shares. That’s, um, a lot. God knows how far the cartoon has gone since. In fact, a Facebook page called “God” posted it, and it got 5,000 “likes.”
So God actually does know.
To put this in perspective, however, there are about 500,000 readers of The Bee, given a pass-around factor of 2.5 readers per copy. That’s a lot, too. Throw in syndication, and I think my cartoons get to tens of millions of people.
So I am happy to go viral, even if it’s on a scary subject.
I just miss refrigerator doors.