Professor takes top prize for satirical cartoon caption

July 29, 2015 | News, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Lindsay Mahaney

In a recent competition, a University of Toledo professor of geography and planning stood out with his environmental commentary.

Dr. David Nemeth won the May edition of Inside Higher Ed’s cartoon captioning competition. The contest, which is held monthly, requires participants to come up with a creative caption for a cartoon provided by the magazine.

Nemeth cartoon“The thing about this publication is that it’s online; everybody knows about it that’s in academia, especially professors and administrators,” Nemeth said. “It’s got over a million people that tune in. You figure there’s only one winner per month, and these professors and administrators that enter this contest come from all over: Berkeley and Harvard, for example. So to see Toledo win is really cool.”

The cartoon Nemeth wrote for depicted a large slug at a podium at what appeared to be a university graduation ceremony. When Nemeth saw the image, he said he immediately thought of Chernobyl — a nuclear accident in Ukraine in 1986 that caused environmental damages and animal mutations. His caption read: “And who might have imagined that I, a humble slug from Chernobyl, would someday achieve this honor …”

“When I saw this image, I was almost immediately thinking that slug was a mutation from that tragedy and yet the mutation had given it intellect and a sense of humility,” he said. “So the students are facing the tragedy that ironically comes from where they’re going. They’re all going on to be scientists and bio-theorists, and they could be contributing to the problem of more potential Chernobyls.”

Nemeth also has used cartoons and other unique literary works as methods of teaching throughout his career.

“For us as teachers, we have a challenge of articulating the human comedy we have here, the absurd world we live in,” he said. “The challenge or the opportunity to teach — using cartoons, folklore, proverbs from the Bible — in a pithy way something that’s really profound or hard to articulate in a few words and use it as a chance to teach critical teaching. You can do that in a classroom by having students write captions.”

In addition to having the caption and cartoon published in the magazine for a month, Nemeth received a signed copy of the comic by artist Matthew Henry Hall and a cash award for his efforts.