Avian flu subject of editorial cartoon. Was it funny?

What might have appeared to be insensitive comedy still had merits because it brought attention to a serious problem.

Roy Graber Headshot
Cartoon Drawing
StockSnap | Pixabay

You know that the situation with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a big deal when the topic starts to make the editorial pages of newspapers in the United States.

It’s an even bigger deal when it is the subject of editorial cartoons.

Greg Kearney, whose cartoons can be seen in the Oil City News, based in Casper, Wyoming, created a cartoon centered around the spread of HPAI to cattle, and it would also appear, cats.

Kearney depicts two Holstein cattle standing next to one another. One says to the other, who has a bird on her back, “I hear that bird flu is going around.” The bird is sneezing, and the cow with the bird on her back has her eyes wide open and displaying some fear. A cat standing at their feet says, “Cover your beak when you sneeze.”

Did the cartoon serve its purpose?

Initially, I thought that cartoon was bad. Why make light of a serious situation? That’s just cruel.

But then I gave it more thought. And then I gave it a thumbs-up.

Prior to working for WATT Global Media, I was the managing editor of a daily newspaper. One of my duties, albeit a small one, was to select the editorial cartoon for our opinion page. I’ll admit there were days I didn’t put a lot of thought into that process.

We subscribed to a syndicated service with which there were about five or six cartoonists. Some I liked better than others. But early on, my criteria was a little sophomoric. Is it funny? Is the artistry good? If I answered yes to both questions, it probably made the cut.

Then one day, I got a talking-to by our publisher. He was unimpressed with one of my selections. The opinion expressed in that cartoon conflicted directly with an editorial he had written and we had published earlier in the week. But I didn't know that.

I didn’t dare tell him I seldom read any of his editorials because I found most of them boring. Besides, if the copy editor -- who was required to read it -- said it was printable, that was good enough for me.

What I did tell him was that I thought the cartoon he didn't like was funny, and that’s what a cartoon is all about. It shouldn’t matter if you disagree with the tone of the cartoon. He didn’t see it that way. After that conversation, I only mildly altered my selection process, based largely on the fact that I didn’t want to sit through another similar discussion.

Now that I’m a little older and wiser, I see we were both right. A good editorial cartoon should make you laugh or at least smile. A good editorial cartoon should display artistic talent. And a good editorial cartoon should make you think.

Kearney’s cartoon didn’t make me laugh, but the cat and his comment was kind of cute, so looking at it again, it did bring a momentary smile. Criteria met.

Did it display artistic talent? That’s all subjective, but I’ll say he drew that scene a lot better than I could have, or most people I know. Criteria met.

Did it make me think? Obviously, or I wouldn’t have sat down to write this blog post. If people didn’t know HPAI was infecting dairy cattle, they should by now. And when they see the cat, maybe they will gain awareness that in a New Mexico bovine HPAI case, at least one cat on the same farm also tested positive.

Kearney’s cartoon may not make many people laugh out loud, but it is inviting more people to participate in the dialogue about HPAI in dairy cattle, and that is a good thing. 

To learn more about HPAI cases in commercial poultry flocks in the United States, Mexico and Canada, see an interactive map on WATTPoultry.com. 

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation

Page 1 of 35
Next Page