Cartoons mean to draw attention to issues

I usually instantly can tell by the number of voicemails blinking on my office telephone whether we’ve published something that has triggered readers to dial up the newsroom.

Among those things that trigger a big response are the editorial cartoons that appear on the Opinion page every day.

After receiving some reaction in recent weeks to a two different cartoons, I thought it would be a logical topic to discuss today.

Most cartoons we publish come from syndicated sources. Regular readers to the Tribune Chronicle know that also about once a week we carry an editorial cartoon provided by local artist Rick Muccio. In this day and age, there are few newspapers our size that still have the benefit of a local editorial cartoonist that can shed light on local topics.

A few weeks ago, the Tribune Chronicle ran a local cartoon from Muccio that focused on the recent rise in crime and violence in Warren. Sadly, a shooting had occurred on a playground where beautiful new community basketball courts had recently been installed for kids to play.

The cartoon depicted the basketball court in one frame, and a gun in the other frame. “Good shot, bad shot,” was the title.

What was missed by many who responded to me by phone, email and social media, was the message in the corner of the cartoon.

“A good shot at life … doesn’t involve guns.”

Of course, our cartoonist and the Tribune Chronicle were not making light of this terrible situation. Rather, we knew this was a compelling and important topic that deserves the community’s attention in order to rectify it.

A syndicated cartoon that published a few weeks later also drew some ire from readers. Now, I don’t have the benefit of discussing the meaning behind the syndicated cartoons with the artists like I do with the local cartoons; still, I try to approach them with an open mind. Again, they aren’t always intended to be funny (albeit some do elicit a chuckle from me when I peruse the options each day). Rather, they are intended to provoke thought and draw attention to issues that deserve consideration — good or bad.

The ongoing and growing opioid crisis that is affecting Trumbull County, Ohio and all of the United States is one of these topics.

There is nothing funny at all about this epidemic that is claiming, according to a report released by a drug commission convened by President Donald Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the lives of about 142 Americans each day. That’s a death toll equal to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks every three weeks.

And this epidemic is affecting people in all walks of life. It’s a Midwest problem and a rural country problem, as well as an inner-city problem. It’s been known to affect multiple family members, including parents who overdose while their children stand by helplessly.

A few weeks ago, the Tribune Chronicle selected and published a syndicated editorial cartoon depicting an image from “The Andy Griffith Show.” The artist showed Andy and his young son, Opie, cooking heroin together.

For certain, my telephone rang that day. Readers questioned the reasoning and demanded answers. One reader even said he hoped Ron Howard — the actor who had played Opie as a child — would sue us for running the cartoon.

Now, I don’t believe for one second that the cartoonist drew these images with the sole purpose of besmirching the reputation of characters counted by many as among the most wholesome ever on TV.

Rather, it was to draw attention to an addiction problem that is spiraling out of control so quickly that it truly is happening everywhere, and sadly, even in homes where we would never suspect — homes of our neighbors and homes occupied by folks like Andy and Opie that we view as wholesome.