Gerber: You can be cartoonist for a day

Gerber: You can be cartoonist for a day

January 15th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Ever wonder what's inside Clay Bennett's head?

Now's your chance to guess.

On Jan. 29, Clay, the Times Free Press' editorial cartoonist, will draw a cartoon - but leave off the caption. Readers will have the opportunity to supply that caption.

Yup, it's your chance to put words in Clay's mouth.

Clay's cartoons, which run on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, typically trigger plenty of debate and disagreement. His foes and fans are not shy about sharing their opinions about his work and about Clay himself.

So we hope readers will relish the chance to have their say.

The Times Free Press is fortunate to have Clay. Over a 30-year career, he's made a lot of people smile and just as many cringe. He's also racked up awards.

He was awarded journalism's highest honor in 2002 when he took home the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning while working at the Christian Science Monitor.

He's also received the National Journalism Award (2002), the John Fischetti Award (2001, 2005), the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award (2007) and the Overseas Press Club Award (2005, 2007).

In late 2011, he was awarded first place in the United Nations Political Cartoons competition by the United Nations Correspondents Association and the U.N. Society of Writers and Artists for a cartoon about the Mideast peace talks.

After living in Boston several years, he headed south to Chattanooga in 2007 - an Alabama native, he said he felt like he was coming home - and has been stirring it up ever since.

The Times Free Press is among a dwindling number of daily newspapers in the United States that have an editorial cartoonist on staff. What used to be a standard feature of newspapers is sadly becoming more rare; only 60-something daily papers now employ full-time cartoonists, out of about 1,400 daily newspapers in the country.

But Clay's cartoons add value - and an element of surprise - to the newspaper. A cartoonist's job is to inform, enrage, provoke and entertain - and Clay does all those things.

His work is syndicated and appears in 90 papers across the country.

We'll publish his non-captioned cartoon Jan. 29 in the Life section.

Clay will not be part of the team that decides on the winning captions.

"I'm viewed with such suspicion. Nobody would trust my judgment," he joked.

Two weeks later, we will reprint the cartoon along with the winning caption and the runners-up.

And I'm sure that'll stir up even more water cooler debate.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com.