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The Rall World
Cynical, But No Slacker, Cartoonist Ted Rall Makes Waves
by Tim Yohannan
When Ted Rall recently received a large advance for a book, he made an excursion to the bank just to
look at his balance and ogle the unprecedented comma that appeared in it.
Rall, a resident of West 87th Street, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in cartooning last year, but
fame and dubious fortune have failed to take their toll on him. He peppers his speech with words like "cool"
and "fart," likes to play music really loudly, and he has a rancid sense of humor that has won him enemies
among Republicans And Deadheads alike.
But while Rall's irreverence and uncivil humor may project an apathetic attitude, he's hardly a
slacker. A syndicated political cartoonist whose work appears in close to 100 papers across the country, Rall chums out
four panels and a column every week, writes as many as 10 pages a day for a yet-to-be-published book, answers
all his E-mail, and at 33, is the author of three books of cartoons.
Rall's most recent contribution to society is the book, "Real Americans Admit: ‘The Worst Thing I've Ever Done!’."
Collecting stories on airplanes and at dinner parties and from friends' friends, he ended up with 630 tales
of godlessness which were whittled down to the 24 that appear in the book. The cartoon subjects range from
homicide to selling bad acid, and for the sake of good sportsmanship, Rall included his own story. (Look for
the cartoon about the kids who bully a guy who won't join their lawnmowers union.)
"People who say they've never done anything bad are obviously out of their minds," he said. "I have no use
for anyone who's that un-self-aware. If you want to be canonized don't come to me with your lies."
Rall began drawing cartoons when he was a teenager in Ohio, and by the time he went off to college at Columbia
University, eight local newspapers were printing his work. It was when he saw Mike Peters, a cartoonist at
Dayton Daily News at work, that the grandness of the life of a cartoonist really dawned on him.
"He had an ink-stained office in the corner of the sports section with a drunk sportswriter passed out on
the couch," said Rall, who, as a promising young cartoonist, had been invited to the office by Peters.
"He was wearing hip-hugger jeans and this wild '70s shirt with this huge collar. I was like, 'Man, this is
the shit.' You don't have to be an accountant, you can have a fun job and make fun of the President all day."
At Columbia, however, his aspiring artistic designs were quelled by an ill-fated decision to study engineering.
"I showed up in New York City in 1981 and the punk rock scene was still going on downtown," he said. "I'm
clubbing every night and thinking would I rather sleep in this morning or go to my linear algebra class?"
In addition to being a serial class-skipper, Rall was a notorious prankster whose exploits included rewiring the
university's phone system, stealing a scepter from a prized campus statue, and publishing a parody of
The New York Post called The New York Lost, which regularly mocked Columbia’s president.
"It was completely out of control," he gloated.
Eventually Rall was expelled - officially for receiving a bad grade while on academic probation. It was 1984,
Wall Street was booming, and Rall went to work at Bear, Stearns and then at the Industrial Bank of Japan.
For Rall, who had always identified with left, progressive politics, the experience in the business world
consummated his disenchantment with capitalism. "It's totally driven by ego and inane men with too much money
and power on their hands," he said.
Emboldened by his Wall Street experiences, Rall began to draw again. For two years he and his then-girlfriend
(now his wife) doggedly posted his work in public places around the city. Rall collected a dozen clients on
his own, and eventually acquired a syndicate, Chronicle Features, which began placing his work in the New York Times,
The Des Moines Register, The Baltimore Sun and numerous other papers.
"He seems to have carved out a niche for himself," said Jules Feiffer, the political cartoonist at The Village Voice.
"It's hard to say how or why exactly, but you read him and you know he's good."
Rall claims he's developed a sixth sense about what constitutes crossing the proverbial line. Uncool: Kurt Cobain’s
death, rape. Cool: Bob Dole's age, Jerry Garcia’s death. However, he still manages to create abrasive cartoons
that generate buckets of hate mail or that the mainstream press refuses to run altogether.
In 1992, a local weekly published a cartoon he drew entitled, "12 Ways To Kill Your Parents." Shortly thereafter,
a kid killed both his parents and was arrested with a copy of the cartoon in his pocket.
"Did the cartoon plant the idea? I don't know and that disturbs me," Rall said. "I hate to resort to the R. Crumb
defense, but to a certain extent as a creative person, you're not responsible for what comes out of you. What comes
out of me is lots of gunfire and killing your parents. We all have these demons."
Philadelphia City Paper Interview
Mosh Gestapo Interview
Editor & Publisher Interview
Comics Journal Interview
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