While Charleston saw more than its fair share of tragedy in 2015, the year also included moments of humor and celebration. For every racially charged shooting or record-breaking rainfall, we found laughs in mayoral candidates convinced we couldn’t say their name, pictures of rubbery Lizard Man costumes passing as news from Bishopville, and the latest earworm insult from Donald Trump. And to the credit of Charlestonians, we often came out of our darker hours a stronger community.
As an editorial cartoonist, I often have to mine punchlines from catastrophe, resulting in cartoons that are — much like 2015 itself — equal parts tragedy and comedy. So as we reflect on the faces and events of 2015 in cartoon form, you just might find yourself smiling ever so slightly.
Gov. Nikki Haley is known for cutting arts-related line items from the budget, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the traditional reading by the state’s poet laureate was cut from Haley’s second inaugural ceremony. The governor claimed Marjory Wentworth’s inauguration poem was excised for the sake of time, but given its two-minute duration, some questioned the true motivation for the cut. Was it the poem’s allusions to slavery and the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds? Or was it just another symptom of Haley’s anti-arts Tea Party roots? Either way, it sparked my own attempt at poetry with this Suessian rhyme about the importance of arts in terms of industry, technology, and personal expression. Consider my poetic license henceforth revoked.
The Citadel has a long history of upperclass cadets putting freshmen — a.k.a. “knobs” — through the paces with boot camp-style discipline. However, the military college made headlines early in the year when 85 allegations surfaced that such activity had crossed the line into hazing. Of the 85, an internal probe classified 19 cases as hazing, and several upperclassmen faced their own disciplinary actions. The Citadel would bookend the year with more controversy when photos of knobs dressed in white and wearing pillowcases on their heads — resembling, some said, KKK members — made their way online at the end of the year.
In 2014, the City of Charleston lifted the requirement to carry permits to solicit charitable donations. As a result, panhandlers became staples at highly trafficked intersections throughout Charleston in 2015. With this uptick in begging, tensions started to mount between panhandlers and the community. Some regarded the beggars with suspicion, questioning their claims of homelessness or financial dire straits. Others saw the panhandlers as a threat to Charleston’s shining reputation as a top tourist city. Citing safety concerns, the city would eventually make it illegal to pass anything to or from a car while in the traffic lane, putting the kibosh to roadside handouts.
High-profile incidents of police violence against black men — like Ferguson, Mo.’s Michael Brown and Baltimore, Md.’s Freddie Gray — became increasingly commonplace in 2014 and 2015. North Charleston saw its own incident when Officer Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Scott following a traffic stop for a broken brake light. Whereas police brutality elsewhere often ended in controversial rulings and race riots, North Charleston deviated from the script thanks to cellphone video of the shooting that contradicted Slager’s report and showed the unarmed Scott being shot multiple times from behind. While Scott’s family urged citizen’s to keep the peace, Mayor Keith Summey ordered body cameras for every officer. As for Slager, he was fired from the police department and charged with murder, proving that while justice may be blind, video evidence can certainly help.
One of this year’s biggest running news stories — and sources of comedic relief — concerned the roster of candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. When the conservative love-fest S.C. Freedom Summit rolled through the Upstate in May, it was clear the GOP’s lineup was already overflowing with governors, senators, also-rans from previous elections, and a bevy of political outsiders.
When Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners at the historic Emanuel AME Church, he allegedly sought to ignite a race war. Instead, he sparked an open discussion about the state’s underlying racial tension and institutional racism. Charlestonians of all races banded together in the spirit of unification and mourning, despite Roof’s attempt at the contrary.
When photos surfaced that showed the Confederate flag was also a favorite of Dylann Roof’s, it seemed to topple the long-standing debate of “heritage vs. hate,” and calls to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds were finally answered. The same week as the Confederate flag’s lowering, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional, causing many to raise a rainbow flag in support of the LGBT community. For state Republicans who had previously defended the Confederate Flag as heritage and denounced “untraditional” marriage as heretical, it was time to wave the proverbial white flag of surrender — or at least for a while. (By the end of the year, state Rep. Chris Corley would pre-file a bill to put the Confederate flag’s Statehouse return before voters in 2016.)
Just as several Republicans vying for the presidential nomination started to stump across South Carolina, new sightings of Bishopville’s Lizard Man made headlines. With the abundance of GOP candidates coming out of the woodwork, the timing seemed right that the Lizard Man would return to announce his own candidacy. Given the frontrunner status of political outsiders — especially Donald Trump, who was winning over voters with his no-holds barred candor and attacks on debate moderators and candidates alike — it seemed like the Lizard Man would also be a hit in the polls. Get ready for your bowl of hamster bisque.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, not everyone chose to raise rainbow flags in support. One such detractor was Morehead, Ky. county clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage certificates, claiming it a sin. Rather than resign her post, and with no state legislation in session to impeach her, she became a vocal and religious opponent of the LGBT community, citing “God’s authority” as justification to deny others their legal rights. A bigoted internet meme generator for some and an ironic civil rights folk hero to others, she spent five days in jail for contempt of court and received a mix of protest and fanfare upon her release, complete with guest-appearances by supporters Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to the soundtrack of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” As an early Christmas present to Davis, newly elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order in December to remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. For South Carolinians, it was a nice change of pace having another state steal the late-night punchlines.
October kicked off with record-breaking rains for days on end caused by moisture from Hurricane Joaquin and conflicting weather systems. The historic rainfall flooded downtown and overwhelmed storm drains across the area, turning streets into canals, damaging thousands of Charleston homes and businesses, and washing away bridges and roads around the state. After the “1,000-year” floodwater receded, I imagined we could all use a light laugh.
Despite initial promises to run clean campaigns in their bid to replace Joe Riley, both John Tecklenburg and Leon Stavrinakis began to snipe at each other in interviews and attack ads, and it was political theater as usual. The irony, of course, was that voter turn-out was abysmal, meaning the candidates were largely playing to empty seats.
Mass shootings were tragically frequent in 2015, and the end of the year saw at least three in the span of a week. First, Charleston-born Robert Dear, Jr. attacked a Planned Parenthood in Colorado on Nov. 27, killing three, injuring nine, and proclaiming himself “a warrior for the babies.” Then, on Dec. 2, homegrown extremists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik targeted a holiday party in California, killing 14 and injuring 22. The same day, another shooter would kill one and injure three in Savannah, Ga. While the rash of shootings would stir debate over why Dear and Roof were labelled “gunmen” instead of “terrorists” like Farook and Malik, requests for increased gun control were shouted down by calls for “thoughts and prayers” for those lost in the killings. Of course, based on the frequency of mass shootings in 2015, this means we’re forever stuck in a loop of avoiding meaningful gun control because we’re too busy thinking and praying … and trying to avoid getting shot.