Comic journalism frequently encapsulates commentary on culture and power in ways that prolix essays and lengthy opinion editorials cannot. These cartoons aren't simply sketches penciled in by some disgruntled cartoonist hunched over a drawing desk; they often act like vehicles of protest and provocation in social contexts where words may seem inadequate. One of these political cartoons is making rounds on social media after the Sunday church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Titled "Only In America," it was created in 2014 by the award-winning cartoonist Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Three years later, Rogers' cartoon on gun violence is back again.
"The goal is get the dialogue started. ... At the same time, it's also very sad because it shows we still have to make an argument for gun control, after all these mass shootings"
Rogers didn't expect his cartoon to get re-circulated on social media right after the devastating Sutherland Springs incident which claimed the lives of 26 people, according to authorities. On Instagram, a user named @agirlhasnopresident re-shared Rogers' cartoon a day after the Texas incident and it received a ton of social engagement. "I didn't expect it to get recirculated like that, no," Rogers says.
The cartoonist sketched "Only In America" three years ago after six people were killed near the University of California during a shooting rampage. Its relevance is seemingly unending, though, considering that in 2017 alone, over 270 mass shootings have taken place in America.
Rogers explains that seeing his cartoon get shared again and again is both encouraging and dismaying. "I draw to get people to talk about issues," Rogers says.
The fact that people are sharing the cartoon again and again, that's the goal. The goal is get the dialogue started. ... At the same time, it's also very sad because it shows we still have to make an argument for gun control, after all these mass shootings. I've been doing this for 30 years. I've done a lot of gun control cartoons — in fact, I just filed one for tomorrow.
The cartoon has drawn ample amounts of agreement and disagreement from all corners of the vast internet. The first panel of Rogers' cartoon points to the Ford Pinto fuel tank recall in 1978 when several tanks caught fire and gained a rather damaging reputation for burning drivers. The second panel is about the Tylenol recall in 1982 which took place after seven people died as a result of reportedly taking cyanide-laced Tylenol. In the third and final panel of Rogers' cartoon, there is no recall for any product but rather a simple sketch of a gun with the caption, "Still going strong after 32,000 deaths per year for decades."
"It just happened to hit a nerve and it's gotten reprinted a lot," Rogers says. "I think it's just a sad statement about the country that we live in, that this is happening over and over again." He elaborates on the panels of the cartoon and says, "When a product is proven to kill people, even if it's only three people ... [a company] will recall it." In both cases of Ford Pinto fuel tanks and Tylenol, Roger says, those company "pulled everything off the market."
Guns aren't being pulled off the market because "they're doing exactly what they're designed to do, and that's to kill people," Rogers says. But more importantly, he points to the "enormous influence of the gun lobby" that hinder efforts against "sensible gun laws."
The remarkable recirculation of Rogers' cartoon is similar to The Onion headline that resurfaces almost every time there is a mass shooting in America. You've probably read it, too. The headline titled "'No Way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens" was, just like Rogers' cartoon, shared in 2014. It's been shared over and over again ever since.
Rogers has also commented, through his art, on the NFL take-a-knee protests and the horrific shooting in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of more than 50 people. In a caption for an October cartoon on the Vegas shooting, Rogers wrote:
The tragic massacre in Las Vegas, the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history, will undoubtedly boost gun sales and have no effect on Congress. I am so sick of the horrific and dangerous obsession Americans have with guns.
Even with three decades of comic journalism on intense and oft-unpredictable politics, the sting of covering gun violence and its subsequent bloodshed in America doesn't seem to lessen for the veteran cartoonist.
"You just want to explode and you can't," Rogers says. "How can we not see this needs to change?"