Clay Bennett has either tickled the funny bone or gotten the goat of most readers ever since becoming editorial cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor in 1998.
Today's cartoon, alas, will be his last for this newspaper.
Yesterday, the Monitor staff gathered to wish Clay well and to thank him as he leaves the paper to return to his southern roots. He has decided to live closer to his parents and to work at a city newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, in Tennessee.
Clay expressed his gratitude for a long and successful tenure at the Monitor.
"I will always owe the Monitor a tremendous debt of thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve as its editorial cartoonist," he told the paper. "I have really enjoyed my 10 years here and have always been extremely proud to be a part of this great newspaper."
The Monitor plans to continue running a political cartoon. It is committed to the journalistic tradition that a visual statement about something in the news can, in a glance, capture the essence of a theme – and sometimes two themes at once! Cartoons, by their humor, help stimulate thought and discussion over ideas.
In his previous jobs as a cartoonist, Clay worked at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Fayetteville Times in North Carolina, and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. At the Monitor, his cartoons served the editorial page well as an independent voice while meeting high journalistic and Monitor standards. He was also a beloved figure in the newsroom. Whether one agreed with his political outlook or not, Clay's gentle style of cartooning was pioneering among his peers in the use of color, computer graphics, and simple images.
His often-wordless cartoons would take a bite at people's behavior, but not the people. "Your cartoons don't only represent your political philosophy," he once told a reporter. "They should represent everything about you and be genuine, from inside you."
The Independent newspaper of London once said his work uses "everyday objects to signify weightier things. His figures are naive, his designs neutral and childlike, yet ingeniously telling."
While at the Monitor, his cartoons earned many of the highest professional awards.
Besides winning the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, he received the John Fischetti Award twice, the National Headliner Award three times, the Sigma Delta Chi Award, the National Journalism Award, the National Cartoonist Society Award, the Overseas Press Club Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.
In 2001, Editor & Publisher magazine named him "Editorial Cartoonist of the Year." In addition, he was recently president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Such a legacy of achievement while at the Monitor is greatly appreciated and will be remembered – along with all the cheers and jeers his cartoons have brought from readers.