Apr. 18, 2000

Syndicated Political Cartoonist Ted Rall, General Studies Graduate, Discusses Life as a Comic Strip Creator

By Abigail Beshkin

Turn to the back page of this week's Week in Review section of the New York Times, and you'll find Ted Rall's world, stuffed-shirt politicians jawing about the safety net and welfare in the booming high-tech economy. These are the characters whom Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and 1991 School of General Studies graduate, loves to mock.

Rall returned to GS last Thursday for an intimate roundtable on his life as a cartoonist and the eclectic career path that led him to where he is today -- a Pulitzer Prize finalist whose work appears regularly in major newspaper across the country.

Rall started Columbia Engineering in 1981, but was asked to leave in 1984 for academic reasons. For the next six years, he did stints at trader/trainee at Bear Stearns brokerage firm, a loan officer a telemarketer and a taxi driver. "I went to work on Wall Street because that's the only place that someone with a dubious academic record like mine would be welcome," he joked. He returned to GS in 1990, graduating from GS in 1991, with honors in history.

"I'm super, super grateful to GS," he said. "GS really offers something that is very rare in our society, which is a second chance, an opportunity for people who messed up once to go back once they're a little older and a little wiser, and get a second chance to redeem themselves and finish their education."

He said this idea of a "second chance" is something he's explored not only in his own academic career, but in his cartoons.

"I always think about that politically, especially about the penal system, something I do a lot of cartoons about," he said. "It always strikes me how we throw people away so readily. It's like people are disposable, or we think they are; so, I really appreciated that aspect of GS."

He cartooned throughout his year at GS, signing on with the San Francisco Chronicle Syndicate the year he graduated. He moved to the Universal Press Syndicate in 1996 and his work now appears in more than 100 publications across the country, including the New York Times , the Los Angeles Times , the Toronto Star and the San-Jose Mercury News.

Rall has written two highly-acclaimed graphic novels, and in 1995 he received the 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Cartoons. In 1996 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and in 1997 he was the New York Times' most reprinted cartoonist. He also has a twice-weekly radio call-in show on KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles.

He said that his Columbia degree has helped him immensely in his cartooning, though he did not study art and in fact only indulged his cartooning passion at the Spectator and a now-defunct free weekly paper.

"There's no direct link between drawing cartoons and a college degree," he said. "Cartooning is not about art, it's about politics and history and having a sense of what the world ought to be like, and what it is."