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Playing With Fire: A Chat with Cartoonist Ed Hall

I realize anything involving President Trump tends to make people lose their minds, but I’m going to risk it anyway, because a few days ago I saw a really interesting cartoon, and I want to talk about it today.

The cartoon, which is about the California wildfires, was created by Ed Hall, an established political cartoonist whose work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines for many years. The notable thing about this one is that it’s based on a famous sports photo (click to enlarge):

I’m not interested in the cartoon’s message, at least for our purposes here. What interests me is this: As soon as I saw the cartoon, I recognized that it was based on Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer’s famous 1965 shot of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston during the first round of their second heavyweight title bout. (I used that same photo at the top of my Ali obituary two and a half years ago, and Leifer himself has it front and center on his home page.)

Editorial cartoonists base things on famous or familiar imagery all the time, of course. The Leifer photo, though, is famous and familiar to certain people (like boxing fans or, uh, athletics aesthetics obsessives), but lots of other people — maybe most people — probably wouldn’t get the reference. I was curious to know more about Hall’s thinking on that, and also about a few other creative issues raised by the cartoon, so I emailed him and asked if I could interview him. He readily agreed. Here’s how our conversation went (with some light edits for clarity and length):

Uni Watch: First, let’s get some basic info on you: How old are you, and where do you live?

Ed Hall [shown at right]: I live in Jacksonville, Florida, and I’m 56 years old.

UW: I know your work is syndicated, so which newspapers or websites might a cartoon like this one typically appear in?

EH: Any newspaper or website in North America. My work has appeared in The Washington Post, L.A. Times, New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek. I had one in Newsweek just this week, in fact.

UW: Are you a sports fan, and, more specifically, are you a boxing fan?

EH: I’m a huge college football fan. For boxing, I’d say I’m a mild fan. I go through phases — if there’s a notable person who comes up through the ranks. Remember that one guy, the Prince..?

UW: Prince Naseem.

EH: Yeah, I really liked him, just the show aspect of him. So if there’s a compelling figure like that, I’ll get drawn in. I like those kinda guys. Ali was like that, too.

UW: Is it common for you to base a cartoon on a famous photograph, or even on a non-famous photograph?

EH: Not common, but cartoonists do use famous photographs, movies, art history references all the time. We do that because we know people will recognize an iconic image, and it’s also kind of a nod — like, in this instance, it’s a real nod to Neil Leifer.

UW: How did you get the idea to base this particular cartoon on that photo?

EH: I was looking for something that personified power, and the first thing that popped into my mind was that image. So I thought it captured that feeling of dominance and power, standing over what I considered to be a weak political stance.

UW: So you specifically wanted to reference a familiar image.

EH: Oh, yeah. It’s funny we’re talking about this, because this is the second reference to iconic sports imagery that I’ve done recently, and both of them have gone viral, with over 50,000 shares. The first one was based on the 1968 Olympics where the [American track and field athletes] had made the Black Power salute — I used that to represent the three black female broadcast journalists who had been belittled by Trump [see cartoon at right; click to enlarge]. That one went viral, and one of the women bought the original art from me.

UW: In the Ali cartoon, aside from the body positions of the two principle figures, are there any particular details of the photo that you incorporated into your cartoon? Any hidden Easter eggs?

EH: No. The pose itself is an Easter egg, in a way, because I didn’t necessarily expect everyone to get the Ali/Liston reference, but a lot of people have mentioned it, so it’s like an added bonus.

UW: Yeah, that’s something that struck me about that photo — it’s iconic and familiar to some people, especially if you care about sports or boxing, but it’s not universally familiar, like if you were basing a cartoon on the Mona Lisa or something like that. It’s sort of in that middle ground where some people will get it and some people won’t.

EH: Right, exactly.

UW: It’s interesting that you have Smokey Bear standing in for Muhammad Ali, because Ali actually taunted Sonny Liston by calling him “the Big Bear,” so your cartoon sort of created a role reversal. Was that part of your intent, or were you even aware of that?

EH: No, I had no idea.

UW: About 10 years ago there was that legal controversy involving the Shepard Fairey poster for Barack Obama, which turned out to be based on an Associated Press photo, and the AP demanded compensation for the use of their photo. Are there any similar ethical or legal considerations when you base a cartoon on a photo like this, or is that just artistic license? Like, what if Neil Leifer saw your cartoon and said, “Hey, you’re using my work without permission!”

EH: It’s funny you should mention that, because after I posted the cartoon on Twitter, one of my Twitter followers brought that up to me, and I immediately contacted my syndicate and sent them an updated version that credits Leifer in the cartoon.

UW: Oh, like a little credit line?

EH: Yes, down by my signature. That version went out to publications through my syndicate. [Hall had posted the original version without the credit line on Twitter, and then it began circulating on social media, which is where I saw it. — PL]

UW: And when that was brought to your attention, did you think, “Oh, I should have done that”?

EH: Yes, so I immediately corrected it.

UW: What if Neil Leifer himself got in touch with you and said, “I don’t like you using my photo that way”? What’s your response to that as an artist?

EH: First of all, I don’t think that would happen. Secondly, I think because I’ve changed it somewhat — it’s not Ali/Liston anymore — it’s more of an influence than, you know, a rip-off. And I’ve credited him, so I’ve acknowledged that influence. I think he’d be fine with it. [I tried to contact Leifer but haven’t heard back from him. I’ll post a follow-up if he responds. — PL]

We [political cartoonists] do this kind of thing all the time. We’ll use Schulz images, like Snoopy, and we always put “With apologies to Charles Schulz” or something like that.

UW: Right, but it’s tricky because, as we said, this photo is in that middle ground. It’s not universal like Snoopy, so people might not know or recognize it as an obvious homage. I’m not trying to put you on the spot — I just think it’s an interesting question.

EH: I think by adding that credit to the byline, I make it clear that it is an homage.

UW: Right — that changes the context from the version that I saw. But here’s another question: Again, not trying to put you on the spot, but what about the ethics regarding the people being depicted? What if Muhammad Ali was still alive, and what if he said, “I don’t like the message of this cartoon, and I don’t want you using my likeness to promote that message”? Or, “I love President Trump, and I don’t want you basically showing me punching him?”

EH: That’s an interesting question, too. I think I’d have to take it on an instance-by-instance basis, if that makes any sense, and basically talk to the person if they were upset about it.


And there you have it. One thing that didn’t occur to me until after the interview is that while the Leifer photo may indeed convey a sense of “dominance and power,” as Hall put it, the blow that sent Liston to the canvas was actually the infamous “phantom punch” — an unimpressive-looking slide right that most observers (myself included) don’t think could have knocked Liston down, much less knocked him out. Many people still believe Liston threw the fight. So the photo’s portrait of dominance is somewhat deceptive, which just adds another wrinkle of interest to the cartoon.

Now, like I said up at the top, I know anything involving Trump tends to make people lose their minds. But if you look closely, you’ll see that Hall and I didn’t talk about Trump in our interview. We also didn’t talk about climate change, wildfires, forest management, rakes, Finland, Russia, or the recent elections, because none of that has anything to do with Uni Watch. Instead, we talked about the cartoon being based on an important sports photo, which is right in Uni Watch’s wheelhouse. Let’s please stick to that topic today, shall we? Thanks.

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Oh, for fuck’s sake: Remember that crummy NFL centennial logo that we’ll all soon be sick of seeing? It will apparently be joined by a cringe-inducing made-up marketing term that we’ll all soon be sick of hearing.

That word is — wait for it — Fantennial. According to a trademark application that was filed by the NFL last week, the league plans to use that word in a variety of promotional and merchandising contexts next season. (They’ve also applied for the same trademark in Europe.)

Man, that’s gonna be insufferable. “Fantennial” — how do these people even say these things out loud with a straight face? We’re close to hitting peak newspeak here. Ay-yi-yi.

(My thanks to attorney Josh Gerben, who tweeted about the trademark application yesterday, and to Michael Hayden for bringing that tweet to my attention.)

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Sale reminders: There some bargains to be had over the next few days if you shop wisely:

• Our flex-fit Uni Watch alternate cap, originally priced at $29.99, is only $19.99 from now through the end of Monday. Order yours here.

• As you may have noticed, Ebbets Field Flannels is running a site-wide sale. From now through at least next Monday, you can get 25% off of anything on their site by using the checkout code CYBER18. That effectively reduces the price of our Uni Watch classic cap from $49 to $36.75.

• You can get 15% off of our StripeRite socks — and off of everything else on the American Trench website — by using the checkout code BFCM. This discount is available from today through next Monday. (Regarding, the socks, we’ve now sold out of the green design, which means the three-packs are no longer available either. But the blue and black designs are still available.)

You can see all of our other Uni Watch products, including a few that you may have forgotten about, on this handy one-stop-shopping page. My thanks, as always, for your consideration of our products.

• • • • •

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Contest reminder: In case you missed it late last week,’s hockey editor has asked me to have a design contest for the potential new NHL franchise in Seattle. Here’s the skinny:

• Your entry must include a team name, a primary logo, full home and road uniforms (jerseys, pants, socks, helmets), and an inaugural-season logo that can be worn as a patch. If you like, you can also include secondary logos, an alternate uniform, and a center ice design, but those aren’t required.

• You can draw upon Seattle’s rich hockey history or start from scratch. Up to you!

• Your designs can be created in any digital or analog medium (Illustrator, Photoshop, crayon, whatever) and can be submitted in any standard digital format (JPG, PDF, TIFF, etc.). You can also create a video presentation, upload it to YouTube, and submit the YouTube link as your entry.

• The files you submit should be named after yourself (PaulLukas.jpg, for example). If you’re submitting multiple files, please either number them (PaulLukas1.jpg, PaulLukas2.jpg, etc.) or use some other designation (PaulLukas-homeuni.jpg, PaulLukas-logo.jpg, etc.). Files that don’t follow this format will not be considered.

• In keeping with longstanding Uni Watch chromatic policy, entries with even a hint of purple will not be considered.

• Email your entry to Uni Watch HQ (note that this address is just for contest submissions — please don’t use the usual Uni Watch email address). If you have more than one concept, feel free to enter as many times as you like.

• Deadline: Monday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m. ET.

The best entries will be showcased in one of my upcoming ESPN columns. Good luck!

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• • • • •

The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: If you order merch from the newly renamed Amarillo Sod Poodles, it will come in a live cargo box, complete with a “LIVE ANIMALS” warning stamp (from Borchert Field). … Speaking of the Sod Poodles: A local firm had already trademarked “sod poodles” before the Amarillo team name was finalized, which could lead to a legal battle (from Jason Hillyer). … Holy cow indeed: Check out White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray wearing a fez (from our own Phil Hecken). … Here’s some rare color footage from the 1940 World Series between the Reds and Tigers (from @POTUSBallMarker).

NFL News The Cowboys unveiled a new Lego sculpture of former TE Jason Witten at their practice facility (from Ignacio Salazar) … Former Broncos QB Chris Simms told Dan Patrick in a recent interview that, “it would sway me between a choice” if a school was outfitted under Nike versus another brand, such as Reebok or Adidas (from Griffin Smith). … The Broncos have a new social media avatar (from Blake Cripps).

College Football News: Virginia Tech will wear (matte) maroon/maroon/white for this Friday’s matchup against archrival Virginia (from Andrew Cosentino). … Colorado will go black/white/black for their season finale at Cal on Saturday (from our own Phil Hecken). … Ohio State University Archives recently received a 1930s jersey worn by legendary Buckeye athlete and athletic director Tippy Dye (from Mark Krugman).

Pro Basketball News: The Raptors will wear their white uniforms for their next four games: two at home and two on the road (from Al Perfetto). … The Pistons will debut their City alternates on Friday against the Rockets (from our own Phil Hecken). … Also from Phil: The Celtics will debut their City unis against the Knicks tonight. … Warriors PG Stephen Curry tattooed his autograph on his tattoo artist’s leg (from Mike Chamernik).

College/High School Hoops News: Creighton men’s debuted new grey uniforms last night against Georgia State (from John M. Bishop). … Ole Miss men’s will debut new powder blue uniforms on December 1. … Tennessee men’s will be wearing these throwback beauties for tonight’s game against Louisville (from Ryan Chung). … Chicago Vocational High School wore uniforms with the Chicago skyline on them. Of course, no Chi-Town skyline is complete without the Willis Sears Tower (from Michael Alper).

Soccer News: The following three entries are courtesy of Josh Hinton: The first teaser of Real Madrid’s new third kit has leaked. … France F Antoine Griezmann wore boots with both the French and Uruguayan flags painted on them for last night’s friendly against Uruguay. Turns out he’s a really big Uruguay fan. … New boots for Senegal MF Sadio Mane. … We’ve seen lots of North American Big Four teams re-imagined as soccer clubs, but here’s a unique twist: Rock bands reimagined into soccer clubs! Great find Jason Torban. … The Columbus Eagles of the WPSL have a new logo (from Ed Zelaski).

Grab Bag Longtime reader/contributor Jim Vilk is clearing out his basement and getting rid of some stuff, including an extensive collection of electric football players. … Federal authorities have come up with a novel approach to dealing with an outlaw bike club: seize their logo (NYT link) via a racketeering charge. … What do sneakerheads wear for Thanksgiving? Here’s the answer (NYT link).

• • • • •

If you’re traveling today for Thanksgiving, be safe. See you back here tomorrow. — Paul

Comments (55)

    Love the actual artwork of the cartoon, but as someone who works in the environmental field and has spent years being educated in those matters, I must say the conversation about climate change is incredibly inaccurate and based almost entirely around politics, not actual understanding of science. It is depressing to me because grandstanding on this subject, by people who really don’t know anything about it, stifles informed and rational discussion on realistic policy initiatives that could be implemented.

    And immediately, we’ve got a comment on a topic that was explicitly asked to not be broached today. Why can’t we just comment on the topic at hand, which is that for a sports homage this one recreates the original photo rather nicely.

    An off-topic find on eBay: link which reaches new lows in advertising clutter. On the back, we see a line of advertising, then what looks like the player’s name, then another line of advertising in contrasting colors, then the player’s number (with little bits of advertising inside the digits!), then another line of advertising preceded by a logo, then one more line of advertising.

    So the two relevant pieces of information are sandwiched among five lines of ads.


    Oops, I mean four lines of ads and one more ad-related element inside something else. Hard to keep track, with all this advertising assaulting us in every possible way.

    “Holy cow indeed: Check out longtime Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray wearing Grand Poobah-like headgear (from our own Phil Hecken).”

    That picture was probably taken when Caray was with the White Sox. The hat says “White Sox” and the background looks like Comiskey Park

    Yep. The link (which I simply RT’ed) didn’t ID the photo, but Caray was definitely with the Sox then (he was a broadcaster with them from 71-81). In 1982 he began a LONG tenure with the Cubs (82-97), so the ticker item is correct in that he was a longtime Cubs broadcaster, but he was with the Sox at the time of the photo.

    Funny how Harry’s 26 years with the Cardinals – and 11 years with the White Sox – is a topic not broached by Cubs fans, while Joe Buck is reviled for his St. Louis association.

    Great work by Ed Hall. Smokey looks like he’s been hitting the gym. Looking jacked up and more trim around the waistline than usual!

    Correction: Harry Caray was not wearing a Grand Poobah hat. In the Flintstones the Grand Poobah was the head of the Water Buffalo Lodge. He and the lodge members wore a furry blue hat with horns resembling a buffalo. Harry Caray is wearing a fez which is reminiscent of the Shriners and also the fictional Sons of the Desert lodge in the famous Laurel and Hardy movie of 1933.

    Loved the Ali shoutout. Got it right away. Is that the “What’s my name, fool” pose, or was that something else?

    Also, Ticker cleanup, Chris Simms was a NBC Sports broadcaster during that Dan Patrick interview…sure he was a Broncos QB back in the day, but in context, he’s talking retrospectively.

    “Get up and fight, sucker!” is what Ali said in this fight (supposedly — there’s a lot of mythmaking involved).

    Simms reference updated.

    Prairie Dog to Sod Poodle…..

    Seems like many, multiple, random, google-synonym-generator rounds before they landed on that one!

    I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and while you do see the occasional prarie dog, not once in 44 years have I,or anyone I know, called them sod poodles.

    It’s funny, many of your takes here are things that never would have occurred to me! Notably, that someone might not make the connection to the Ali photo…I picked up on it immediately, just one of those compositions that I figured was an ingrained part of the visual lexicon. Among my peers I imagine it is, but I’d be interested to know how many folks in the public at large would recognize it.
    Also, the idea of crediting the original photographer has never occurred to me, even though I’d consider it UNTHINKABLE to not credit another artist for aping an iconic composition (as in your Schulz example). No idea why that is!

    For those who don’t know: Rob, who just posted this comment, is a professional cartoonist/illustrator, so his feedback is particularly interesting.

    My linguistics-loving brain is currently fawning over the term “visual lexicon.” How have I never come across it? Thank you for this comment, Robert!


    Funny in my head thinking of other candidates that when i think of an image, it’s from film/video and not just a still. (Like Jordan or Secretariat)

    That said, my first thought was of Bobby Orr “flying” after scoring that Stanley Cup goal.

    Dan Patrick is currently an employee of NBC. That interview looks like it’s from his NBC Sports Network show ‘The Dan Patrick Show’.

    I initially read the new NFL marketing term as Fartennial. Did a double take on that one…

    I grew up playing hockey in the arena in Maine where that famous Ali-Liston picture was taken. I’ve probably spent more time in that old barn than any other building (excluding places I’ve lived or worked).

    Absolutely no offense to the beautiful state of Maine, but it’s not exactly the first place I think of for a Heavyweight title fight to take place.

    interesting that when a high school uses a logo as a knockoff it’s a “bad” thing but when Ed Hall does it with a famous photo it is “Cool”.

    got it

    1) There is a huge difference between artistically interpreting a photo and literally copying/pasting a logo.

    2) I explored the ethics of this issue in today’s interview. Perhaps you missed that part.

    3) I did not describe the cartoon as “cool.”

    Think harder.

    FWIW, from my Media Law class as a Journalism major, the cartoon would almost certainly be protected by the First Amendment as satire/parody and while it was a nice gesture to give credit to Neil Leifer for the original photograph, it was probably unnecessary.

    Same thing I was thinking, also learned from a media law class as a journalism major. I remember because my group had to argue in favor of Falwell as mock attorneys in the Hustler v. Falwell case. Needless to say, our group got destroyed in three minutes due to the free expression clause. Turns out I did remember something from school!

    “Satirical works may be subject to the fair use guidelines of copyright law or to analogous rules regulating trademarks that can substantially limit the amount of copyrighted material allowed to be used in another work. Parody, a subset of satire, has substantially greater latitude in this regard since parodies often *must appropriate the entirety of a work* to be effective.” [Emphasis mine]


    Is it just me, or is the bit of striping under the ‘D’ in the Bronco’s new avatar closer to the bright orange used in the “Orange Crush” era? Or maybe my monitor is just on an angle.

    As impressive as that Lego statue of Jason Witten is, this wouldn’t be Uni Watch if somebody didn’t point out that they neglected to make sure the color of the pants was different from the color of the helmet.

    Or maybe they just couldn’t find Legos in that strange greenish-gray color that may literally not exist in any other context than the Cowboys’ pants?

    This will be the only time in history that you will see the Cowboys uniform with all colors matching: the same color of grey, same shade of blue. Enjoy it while you can!

    Great to see the FC_Bands work referenced. I’ve been following their Twitter feed since the Summer – I would have thought they came into your purview previously. They had an exhibit of their work at a Soho clothing store earlier this Fall. Very creative I think.

    The ole miss blue jerseys almost had me til I saw the script M on the front. The M just seems odd and not to fit good for the powder blue. Nice to see a powder blue on a court though I say A for effort and eh on execution

    “Now, like I said up at the top, I know anything involving Trump tends to make people lose their minds. But if you look closely, you’ll see that Hall and I didn’t talk about Trump in our interview. We also didn’t talk about climate change, wildfires, forest management, rakes, Finland, Russia, or the recent elections, because none of that has anything to do with Uni Watch. Instead, we talked about the cartoon being based on an important sports photo, which is right in Uni Watch’s wheelhouse. Let’s please stick to that topic today, shall we? Thanks.”
    OK, so why post this and then weasel out of it with this statement? I don’t recall anything like this when Obama was prez. You did this because you, as a card-carrying SJW, dislike Trump. For example, the photo a while back of Trump in a Yankees cap, with snarky comment. Why that photo? I won’t even go into your other routine posts about Native Americans and the uses of their names in high schools, etc. Or your oh-so PC use of “Washington” when mentioning the Skins. So let us, by all means, not get “political”, shall we? Otherwise some less-enlightened folks might think you’re a garden-variety hypocrite. Btw, what, exactly, is “the topic”?

    I don’t recall anything like this when Obama was prez.

    I don’t remember any cartoons when Obama was prez being based on sports photos in that middle zone between universally recognizable and sort of recognizable, which was the whole point of today’s post. But if there had been (or if this same cartoon had shown Jerry Brown instead of Trump, with Smokey saying, “It’s forest management, you idiot!”), I would have conducted the same type of interview.

    Like I said up top, I’m not interested in the cartoon’s content. I’m interested in the avenue that the cartoonist took to *communicate* that content. I’m sorry you’re so blinded by partisanship that you can’t see that. It’s pretty obvious if you read the interview.

    Btw, what, exactly, is “the topic”?

    The topic is all the stuff discussed in the interview. Not so hard to understand.

    Regarding an allegedly snarky comment about Trump in a Yankees cap: I honestly do not know what you’re referring to. Can you please point me toward the post in question?

    Also, since you invoked “SJW”: I am genuinely puzzled — not sarcastically, not ironically — by the rise of “social justice warrior” as an insult. Wasn’t our country literally founded by social justice warriors? Weren’t many of our greatest national heroes (Lincoln, King, Tubman, Anthony, Milk, etc.) social justice warriors? Wouldn’t most of us, if we witnessed a social INjustice, try to set it right? If you want to apply that label to me, I’ll happily wear it, or at least try to live up to it. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t anyone?

    If anyone in the NYC area is interested in more iconic Ali photos, plus other topics, there is an exhibit of John Shearer’s Life magazine photos at the Neuberger Museum of Art. My good friend printed and mounted the images for the show for John and I helped on a few pieces.


    LOL…you guys are easy on the Trumpster compared to W. You harbor a little more hate than that cartoon. Up your game geezuz.

    This is the rake my firefighter friends directed me. It’s a bulldozer with an attachment on it, not some person with a leaf rake.


    Easy to get chuckles when the violence is aimed at Trump. Funny you’re asking people to stick to the subject. This is a sports uniform blog and you bring up climate change.

Comments are closed.