RAHS student wins NYT cartoon contest

Roseville Area High School freshman Ellie McComb with her cartoon, “Dora vs. Trump,” which won The New York Times’ Learning Network editorial cartoon contest. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)
Roseville Area High School freshman Ellie McComb with her cartoon, “Dora vs. Trump,” which won The New York Times’ Learning Network editorial cartoon contest. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)
“Dora vs. Trump” (courtesy of Ellie McComb)
“Dora vs. Trump” (courtesy of Ellie McComb)

Roseville Area High School freshman Ellie McComb drew an editorial cartoon that took top honors in The New York Times' student cartoon contest, and her current events teacher Ira Sanders says it's quite an honor.

"It's a major coup to be in the Times," Sanders says on a recent afternoon after school, sitting in his classroom with McComb, while other students prep for quiz bowl.

McComb, a 15-year-old Roseville resident, is one of 33 students in Sanders' fourth-period current events/critical issues class.

She says she drew the winning cartoon that features Nickelodeon character Dora the Explorer and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for an assignment in Sanders' class.

Sanders, who has taught at RAHS for 10 years, explains he assigned the cartoons as part of his lesson on political cartooning, in which he breaks down "the tools cartoonists use," such as symbols, exaggeration, labeling, analogy and irony.

Students were to make use of at least three of those tools in creating a cartoon, Sanders says.

McComb says Trump's campaign rhetoric about immigration and Latinos came to mind — including his call to build a wall along the United States border with Mexico — and the concept formed from there.

"This one would work," she says she remembers thinking when she came up with the play between fictional Dora, an adventurous Latino American girl and Trump, the sometimes bellicose real estate mogul.

McComb's single-panel cartoon features a bright-eyed Dora asking, "Where should we go next?" to which Trump answers, "Back where you came from!!!"

Subscriber serendipity

Shortly after students turned in their cartoons, Sanders, a Times subscriber, says he picked up the newspaper one day and spotted a request for entries for the cartoon contest.

"Whoa, I just did this," Sanders says he remembers thinking about his classroom assignment.

The paper's Learning Network, which puts out daily plans for teaching and learning using the paper, held the contest.

Out of all the cartoons his students turned in, on topics ranging from Trump to abortion to school lunch, Sanders says he thought McComb's was the best.

He sent the cartoon to the Times via email and the two waited. He says, "She kept asking me, 'Did they email you back?'"

About four weeks later, teacher and student had their answer. "Elise McComb, 14, Roseville, Minn." was picked as one of five finalist winners for "Dora vs. Trump." (McComb says she prefers her shortened first name and had just celebrated a birthday so by the time the winners were named, she was 15.)

McComb's parents say they are proud of their daughter, and Sanders says the win was mentioned in the school's listserv email announcements, complete with congratulations from Principal Dr. Jenny Loeck.

McComb, who says she likes drawing and painting and music, says she's happy with the win, though it's unlikely to launch a career for her as a cartoonist. She says when she's older she'd like to be a music producer or the manager of a musician or band.

'His words are really big'

Sanders praises McComb's work. "There's a lot of maturity in this," he says motioning to the original copy, which McComb says her parents had framed.

"She captures Trump perfectly," he adds, mentioning his open mouth and slumped shoulders in the cartoon.

Further, Sanders says, the cartoon speaks to what could be — Dora's warmth and open arms — to how the current state of affairs actually are.

The folks who oversaw the contest for the Times felt the same way about the cartoon.

"Elise McComb's cartoon stood out as one of our five favorite winners because she expresses a clear opinion on Trump's immigration stance using humor, wit and an overall clever illustrations," says Michael Gonchar, deputy editor of The Learning Network.

"Dora represents a sweet and innocent girl, a popular children's cartoon character removed from our country's divisive immigration politics," he explains.

Gonchar adds, "And there's Donald Trump responding with a pent-up anger that feels very misplaced — emphasized by letters in all caps, a triple exclamation point and a spiky speech bubble. The cartoon is simple, yet evokes a gut reaction."

Asked how she came up with her portrayal of Trump's words in her cartoon, McComb says her approach was obvious.

"Lots of his words are really big."

To see more off the Times' editorial cartoon contest, visit www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/gu/editorial-cartoon-contest-2015.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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