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Camden’s Ariail honored with national award

Posted: December 24, 2012 11:15 a.m.
Updated: December 26, 2012 5:00 a.m.

One of the five cartoons Ariail submitted for the Berryman Award.

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Syndicated cartoonist and Camden resident Robert Ariail has been named a recipient of the Berryman Award, a national honor recognizing excellence in editorial cartooning.

A cartoonist since 1981, Ariail said he was truly surprised after hearing he won the award.  

“You enter these things, but you don’t really expect to win,” Ariail said. “Considering some of the cartoonists who won it previously, I feel like I’m in pretty good company so I’m honored to be in this group.”

Recent winners include Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle; Matt Wuerker of Politico; and Mike Keefe, now retired from the Denver Post, all previous winners of the Pulitzer Prize.

The award, named after cartoonists Clifford K. and James T. Berryman, was established in 1989 by Florence Berryman, former art critic of The Washington Star.

Ariail, a two-time Pulitzer finalist, said while the Berrymans didn’t necessarily influence his work, they were both “outstanding cartoonists” during their time.

The National Press Foundation, which presents the award each year, considered five of Arial’s illustrations as part of the decision process.

The cartoons Ariail entered covered a variety of social and political topics, including the European debt crisis, Greece and the European Union, the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, spending scandals involving the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), and uprisings in Syria involving President Bashar al-Assad.

“Most of them have a humorous tone, but the one with Assad is a dead serious cartoon,” Ariail said. “It gives a sense of the range though because not everything can be done in a humorous fashion. Some things are too serious.”

Referring to serious topics, he pointed to recent events in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 27 people, including 20 children, at a local elementary school.

“I decided not to even comment on it. I have commented on serious issues like this before, but this time I didn’t think I could add anything. I certainly didn’t want to hit the wrong note so I purposely decided not to do anything on it,” Ariail said. “Usually I don’t shy away from anything, but this was a conscious decision. I think the readers are not going to be shortchanged because I didn’t do a cartoon on this particular issue.”  

He explained that he has a number of objectives in mind whenever he creates a cartoon.

“I want to have something to say instead of just illustrating the news. I want to make some point. Hopefully I can make it humorous, find humor or some kind of satire in what’s going on. I also want to be timely,” he said. “If I can do those things, I think it’s a successful cartoon.”

Unlike the work of some cartoonists, Ariail said he aims to create a high quality drawing instead of a quick, simple sketch.  

“I always try to draw it the best I can so that it’s a well-rendered cartoon. I think it draws more eyes to it than a crudely rendered one. So I put a lot of time into the drawing, but it’s really the idea that’s paramount,” Ariail said. “If you draw it better, that helps communicate the idea, too. A lot of times people get turned off by some styles that are just kind of ‘chicken scratch’ looking.”

Ariail’s editorial cartooning career began in the early 1980s with the Columbia Record. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, he became the full-time cartoonist at The State newspaper in 1984.

Budget cuts in the newspaper industry led to him leaving The State in 2009, but soon after, he landed at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. His cartoons are currently circulated in over 600 newspapers, including the Chronicle-Independent.

“There’s a certain sense of validation that I can win a national award after having been laid off by The State newspaper,” Ariail said. “That was a tumultuous time for me, losing my job and not knowing if I should do something different or stay with it. I stayed with it and winning this award shows me that staying in the business was the right thing to do.”

According to the National Press Foundation (NPF), the Berryman Award is open to editorial cartoonists of newspapers and magazines in the U.S. for work that “exhibits power to influence public opinion, plus good drawing and striking effect.”

NPF President Bob Meyers said of all the nominees this year, Ariail most exemplified the high standards set for the award.  

“If you look at his stuff, he’s not afraid of people. He’s more than willing to upset apple carts. I think he’s a pretty commendable guy,” Meyers said.

According to the NPF, Ariail will receive a $2,500 prize and an engraved crystal vase at the National Press Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner, which is scheduled for Feb. 27, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

The award caps off a highly successful year for Ariail, who also received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, South Carolina’s highest honor for the arts, in February.

“2012 has been very good. I’ve been very fortunate this year,” he said.



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