Fischetti Competition honors the best of a different breed

By The Columbia Chronicle

The spectacle at the White House with Monicagate and President Clinton has certainly given newspaper cartoonists more material than they could ever dream of. Appropriately, this year’s winners of the Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition were spoofs on the presidential crisis.

Jack Higgins of the Chicago Sun-Times won first place honors and Tim Menees of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette took second place. They will be honored at a luncheon on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at the Pump Room. Chicago native Jonathan Alter, a senior editor at Newsweek and correspondent for NBC News, will keynote the event sponsored by Columbia College. The luncheon not only honors the year’s top editorial cartoonists, but it also supports the Endowment Scholarship Fund for support of outstanding Columbia journalism students.

Higgins, a Pulitzer Prize winner, will receive $3,000 for his cartoon showing the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss,” which Higgins dubbed the “Clinton Memorial.” Menees will receive $1,500 for his cartoon of President Clinton approaching “Air Force One” with a Playboy bunny logo on the tail of the plane. The awardees were chosen from 300 cartoons.

Higgins said the best editorial cartoons come from the gut. “If people just laugh at a cartoon, it’s mind-candy; if it makes them angry, it forces them to think,” he says. Menees agrees with the idea that editorial cartoonists need to illustrate controversies. “Our responsibility as satirists is to hit the powerful, not the weak,” says Menees.

The 17th annual competition memorializes John Fischetti, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Daily News and the New York Herald Tribune. Those who knew Fischetti say that he was a great mentor. “John was terrific; he opened doors for a lot of people. He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world,” says Higgins.

But Fischetti is not just remembered for his remarkable talent as a cartoonist. Former Columbia College President Mike Alexandroff said Fischetti was an exemplary human being. Others say his cartoons signified who he was as a person. “He was a lively, wonderful and warm guy. He believed in people and his cartoons showed it,” says former journalism chair Nat Lehrman.

Both Higgins and Menees say winning the award is a great honor. “In some ways, winning the Fischetti Award means more to me than winning the Pulitzer because having known John Fischetti makes the award more personal,” says Higgins. Menees says “I’m honored to be named with Jack Higgins, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, and of course Fischetti — someone we all admire; [he’s] one of the great ones.”

The winning cartoons and other leading entries will be featured in two exhibits free to the public: Oct. 30-Nov. 18 at Borders Books and Music, 830 N. Michigan Ave., and Nov. 2-25 in the Hokin Annex, 623 S. Wabash. Other popular cartoon entries included issues on Viagra, gun control, school violence and international politics.

In addition to honoring this year’s winners, the awards luncheon benefits outstanding Columbia journalism students in need of financial support as well. Students who wish to apply for the award should call the journalism office for details.

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