Cerra is Schulz award finalist

Tim Paluch

A plastic dinosaur and a red toy airplane rest on top of the computer in front of him. To his right, a half dozen or so empty cans of soda. A drawing of Slobodon Milosevic standing on a pile of skulls and another of a battered child huddled in the corner of a room decorate the wall around his desk. This is the home of “Poison Ink,” the modest workspace where Carmen Cerra continues to prove the fountain pen is mightier than the sword, at least in the land of social and political commentary.Cerra, senior in pre-journalism and mass communication, is the Iowa State Daily’s editorial cartoonist, a position he has held since June 1997. On Feb. 22, he learned he had been named a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award finalist for the Charles Schulz award in College Cartooning.For Cerra, the award showed him he was getting better.”It confirms to me that I am improving because I entered for this award two years ago and I didn’t even make honorable mention,” he said. “And two years later I am one of the finalists.”The award wasn’t the first for Cerra, who earlier this year received the College Media Advisers first place award for editorial cartoon writing.He also won the Don Briggs Annual Award for Constructive Critic of the Year for 1998-1999.Cerra, 27, has been at Iowa State since 1992, and received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical and pre-medical illustration, which he said is “a good fall-back plan.”Although he had never drawn a cartoon before, Cerra wrote a letter to the editor in the Daily during 1996, asking for a job as the newspaper’s cartoonist.”I didn’t hear anything back from them, and then two weeks after I sent in my letter, they had their notice of new job openings and one of them was editorial cartoonist,” he said. “I applied and got the job.”Mark Witherspoon, adjunct instructor of journalism and mass communication and the Daily’s faculty adviser, said Cerra is among the best college cartoonists he’s seen.”To be a successful editorial cartoonist, you need to have a combination of artistic ability, social consciousness and a sense of humor,” he said. “Carmen has all that.”Witherspoon said he is amazed at the poignant commentary Cerra expresses each day with his cartoons.”He’s always been a great artist,” he said. “But what is improving is his social commentary; he just nails issues on the head. How you can, in one cartoon grab the essence of an issue and get people to think about it, that’s amazing.”Cerra said until a job offer comes his way, he will continue taking classes and working for the Daily.”I will stay here until someone says they will pay me to draw cartoons or newspaper illustrations,” he said.