Whether it’s plumbing, building homes, or farming, many people go into ‘the family business.’
If my family had one, it would be the Canadian Armed Forces. Both my parents grew up in career military families. My mother’s three brothers served, as did my father’s three brothers. My Dad had a decorated career in the Air Force and retired after 31 years. With two separate tours overseas, I spent ten years of my youth living in the former West Germany.
Many think it must be a difficult way to live, and I would argue the opposite. It was a privilege to grow up in Europe. Given the choice, I would have stayed longer, and I know my parents would have, too.
Base brats have a connection one can only understand through shared experience. When meeting somebody who also grew up in the military, it’s common to compare postings. Were we ever in the same place, do we know any of the same people, do our parents know each other? You’d be surprised how often the answer is ‘yes’ to all three.
My oldest and closest friend, Darrel, the guy I often talk about when I write about my cabin trips, was a base brat in Germany when I was. He’s five years older than I am, so we weren’t friends then, but our families were. The connection goes back even further. While stationed in France in the fifties, Darrel’s mother and my father hung out together as teenagers.
Eventually, our families ended up on the same base outside of Red Deer in the late eighties, when Darrel and I became friends.
Like a lot of base brats, I thought about a military career. I spent five years in the Reserves, two of them full-time, teaching basic training at the Air Reserve Training School at CFB Penhold.
Shonna was a Reservist for three years, which is where we met. Truth be told, I might have joined the Regular Force if it hadn’t been for her because I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, but I knew the military life.
Thirty-three years later, Shonna and I have just celebrated our 28th anniversary, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than draw and colour for a living. In hindsight, I made the right call.
But I always try to put extra effort into my Remembrance Day cartoons for obvious reasons. It gets more challenging to develop something new each year, trying to avoid images or phrasing that don’t sound trite, overused or cliché.
Some years, my cartoons are better than others, but I’m pleased with what I came up with this time, the image at the top of this post. The effort I put into the artwork is evident, and the sentiment is sincere.
On occasion, I focus less on veterans of the wars and more on those who currently serve. And throughout the year, I take every opportunity to draw cartoons intended to shame our political leadership into less talk and more action.
From decades-long procurement problems and endless red tape tying up much-needed equipment replacement to an enlistment shortfall that gets worse each year, the Canadian Armed Forces has its issues. Stains and scandals are public record, and for those, they’re held to account.
But our failing as a nation is that we don’t insist on providing them with the continued support they need. You can’t deny them training and equipment when times are easy then expect them to be ready and able when the inevitable hard times arrive.
There’s an old saying that nobody loves a soldier until the enemy is at the gate. These days, the enemy is as likely to be a threat on our own soil as it is from another nation.
Just this year, the military was tasked with emergency deployments when wildfires threatened several communities. They’ve rendered such assistance in countless natural disasters across Canada over the years. Given our changing climate, Canada will require more of their aid in the future.
Just as we might not think much about the nursing or doctor shortages in our hospitals until we need them ourselves, how often do we realize the value of a robust and well-equipped military?
Politicians on all sides talk a good game about supporting our men and women in uniform when it buys them votes, only to slash budgets when they no longer benefit from the optics. The men and women who serve have surrendered their right to openly complain about the government, something the rest of us take for granted.
So, it’s left to us to advocate on their behalf. Because when we fail to give them the support they need, we inevitably fail ourselves and our communities. If we only think of them for a couple of minutes on one day each year, or when we fix a poppy to our lapels for a couple of weeks, it’s only lip service.
Yes, think of those who have fallen in service of our country. Remember them and their sacrifice, so that history isn’t allowed to repeat.
I’ve been a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist for more than two decades, and my work appears in daily and weekly newspapers across Canada. But longer than that, I’ve also been the local cartoonist for the Rocky Mountain Outlook since it first launched in 2001. The Outlook is the weekly community newspaper for Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore, Exshaw, the MD of Bighorn and Stoney Nakoda.
So, in addition to the five or six syndicated cartoons I send to several publications each week, I draw one local cartoon.
I’m unable to enter the National Newspaper Awards because I don’t work for a daily newspaper, and therefore can’t be sponsored by one. In an age where very few newspapers have their own cartoonist, it’s a rule that doesn’t make much sense anymore, if it ever did. But, each year, the Outlook submits my cartoons to the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards. My work recently won First and Third place in the Local Cartoon category in the Outlook’s publication class. In order, here are those cartoons.
While having coffee with my editor last week, he pointed out something I hadn’t considered. The accountant, Donna, had been there since day one but retired earlier this year. One of the reporters, Cathy Ellis, has also been there since the very beginning, but she once took a year off.
I’m in no way responsible for assembling the Outlook each week. I don’t put in the long investigative journalism hours that make it a consistent award-winning community newspaper. I don’t sell the ads or design the layout. I don’t do any of the back-end that keeps it going in an increasingly challenging industry. I only spend a few hours each week drawing one cartoon for the editorial page.
And yet, it appears that I’m the only person who has been a part of every issue of the Rocky Mountain Outlook for the past 22 years, having never missed a week. While my name and work might be familiar to many locals, most don’t know who I am.
Wait, am I the phantom of the Outlook? Damn, that could have been a good cartoon for the 20th anniversary, too. But here’s the one I drew for that a couple of years ago. The signature comment refers to one of the founders and first editor of the Outlook, without whom I might never have become a full-time artist. She encouraged me to self-syndicate at a time when I didn’t even know what that meant.
I enjoy the Outlook cartoon because it’s almost always about local issues, which often means you must live here to understand them.
A former Canmore mayor once joked he was disappointed I hadn’t drawn a cartoon of him. I told him that was probably a good thing, but if it had been that important to him, he should have embezzled some money or participated in some other scandal. On the other side of that, a reporter once told me that a former Banff mayor was thoroughly irritated when I drew a caricature of him in a cartoon. So, be careful what you wish for.
I’ve drawn more than a few controversial cartoons over the years, more than one prompting angry calls or emails to my editor or publisher. But contrary to what many think, the cartoon spot is not my private domain, and I can’t draw whatever I want. No cartoon appears on the page without my editor’s approval.
Each week, usually on a Monday, I email or call and ask what they’re working on. The Outlook publishes on Thursdays, so I’ve got to have my contribution in by Wednesday morning at the latest.
Ideally, the cartoon goes with the editorial beneath it, but when that doesn’t work, it often comments on a prominent story in that issue. Sometimes, it’s general or seasonal, on holidays like Halloween or Christmas, or a recurring reminder about bear and elk safety in the spring and fall. Annual local events like Melissa’s Road Race in Banff or the Canmore Folk Fest are always good topics.
This week, my editor is on vacation, so the interim editor told me the editorial would be about the large number of Canadian Community Newspaper Awards and Alberta Weekly Newspaper Awards the Outlook won recently. My initial response was that I couldn’t very well draw a cartoon about awards I won. Talk about self-serving.
But on reconsideration, I decided to have fun with it, and took a shot at myself. And I’ll find any excuse to draw a bear. Here’s this week’s Rocky Mountain Outlook cartoon.
Canmore sits in a narrow valley framed on both sides by tall peaks. There are mountains everywhere you look.
As I write this, however, the smoke here is so thick that I can’t see any.
The Bow Valley becomes a bottleneck; the wind usually comes from the west, bringing the warm Chinooks in winter. So if the B.C. interior is on fire, we often get their smoke. Some summers, it’s a light haze with a faint campfire smell. But when it’s bad, we can’t open our windows. That’s tough to take when it’s 30 degrees Celsius, often at the peak of forest fire season.
This smoke has come from the north and east.
Alberta has fire activity each year, often in the northern part of the province, but in dry conditions, fires can pop up anywhere.
My wife grew up in a little town called Fox Creek. We usually have to tell people where it is, a 2.5-hour drive northwest of Edmonton. But the town has made headlines this month for the large fire that forced its evacuation almost two weeks ago.
Several towns and communities in northern Alberta have been evacuated as forest fire season started like a bomb this year and way too early. Shonna’s father and stepmother have evacuated, as have family and friends.
Until you’ve been told to pack quickly and get out of your home, you can’t understand the stress of it.
Ten years ago, we evacuated our condo for a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) flood and rain event. It caused a lot of damage to Canmore, Exshaw, High River and Calgary, among other municipalities. We were fortunate to return to our home as we left it after only three days. Unfortunately, I have friends who weren’t so lucky; they were out for weeks and months.
Before 2013, if you suggested an evacuation-level threat around here, most people would have assumed fire.
Even with that small level of experience, I can’t imagine the stress these recent fire evacuees are enduring. Two weeks out of your home, watching the fires on the news as they get closer, often from hours away in shelters or homes in unfamiliar communities, not knowing when or if you’ll be able to return.
Firefighters from all over Canada and the U.S. have arrived to help, Canadian Armed Forces members have been deployed, and volunteers and homeowners are working in challenging situations to save homes, towns and livelihoods.
From the B.C. Wildfire Service, “Most wildfires in B.C. are started by lightning strikes. When lightning strikes an object it can release enough heat to ignite a tree or other fuels.”
“The most important thing about human-caused wildfires is that they are preventable. The easiest way to fight a wildfire is to prevent it from starting. Humans start wildfires in several ways, either by accident or intentionally. For example: open burning, vehicle and engine use, industrial activity, fireworks, sky-lanterns, outdoor flame lighting, discarding burning items (cigarettes), arson.”
Wildfires are destructive enough. But what bothers me most is how so many use these disasters to further their agendas, political or otherwise.
One of the big reasons I left social media was the overabundance of speculation and conspiracy theories that pollute every situation.
While these fires are raging, Alberta is in a provincial election. It’s part of my job to draw editorial cartoons on these issues, so I must follow this emotionally charged right vs. left conflict.
Some supporters of BOTH political parties accuse the other of deliberately starting these fires to win votes. People in the energy sector are accusing environmentalists of starting fires to destroy the oil patch. Climate change activists use the fires to trumpet their agendas, and deniers share cherry-picked links to debunk them.
Political candidates are falling all over themselves to look serious, compassionate and concerned in front of any camera they can find while accusing their opponents of grandstanding and opportunism for the same behaviour.
Meanwhile, everybody else shares these links, videos, and photos so they can feel like they’re important or part of the story.
Clearly, we learned nothing from the pandemic.
Amid all this noise, people out of their homes haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, they’re unable to work, their kids are out of school, and whatever problems they already had are compounded. They’re scared, vulnerable, and feeling helpless. Their world is falling apart, and they can do nothing about it.
Rather than provide solace, online armchair quarterbacking and political theories only add to their stress.
Everybody knows life is more important than possessions. But it provides no comfort to tell a senior who worked their whole lives for the things that symbolize their safety and security that they can always replace it. Unless you’re physically helping them rebuild their homes and replace their furniture, dishes, clothing, vehicles, electronics, and memories, telling them ‘it’s just stuff’ accomplishes one thing.
It proves you’re an asshole.
If your dinner on the stove suddenly ignites, you don’t grab your phone and record a TikTok video. You don’t check for appliance recalls or dissect the political leanings of the CEO of the company that made the frying pan. You don’t share a Facebook post that the timing of this kitchen fire seems awfully suspicious since you usually don’t eat dinner until later. You don’t start a Tweet thread that PETA has been sabotaging chicken feed at the hatchery to make poultry catch fire more easily.
Keeping a blog is handy when I write a year-end wrap-up because I don’t have to remember what happened. So here are some of the standouts from this year.
While on a cabin trip last year, my buddy Darrel suggested my work might lend itself well to vinyl stickers people put on vehicle windows. So, I designed a few, sourced a production company, and realized he was onto something.
The ten designs have done well with regular re-orders at the Calgary Zoo, Discovery Wildlife Park, and Stonewaters in Canmore. They were also popular at Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets. This week, I reordered a bunch and added two new designs. In the upcoming year, I’ll be working to get these into more stores.
The NFT boom goes bust
Earlier this year, I thought there might be a market selling NFTs of some of my paintings. I read a lot of information, entertained offers from online galleries, and eventually signed with one. They were professional and good to work with, but then the entire crypto art market fell apart.
Thankfully, I lost no money on the experiment. I never bought any cryptocurrency or paid for my own NFT minting. The time I lost was an educational experience, and I have no regrets. You will never have any success without risk. Kevin Kelly once said, “If you’re not falling down occasionally, you’re just coasting.”
Will NFTs come back into favour? I doubt it.
Cartoon Commendation I don’t usually enter editorial cartoon contests, but I made an exception this year for the World Press Freedom Competition. I’d already drawn the cartoon above that fit the theme, and the top three prizes included a financial award. Though I hadn’t expected much, I won 2nd place and the prize money paid for most of my new guitar.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook is our local weekly paper. I’ve been their cartoonist since it began in 2001, and I’ve never missed an issue. National awards matter to weekly papers as they lend credibility to the publication, especially when soliciting advertisers who pay for it. The Outlook enters my work into the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards each year.The CCNAs didn’t happen last year because of the pandemic, so they awarded two years at once this time. For Best Local Cartoon, I won First, Second and Third for 2020 and Second and Third for 2021 in their circulation category.
Given there are fewer local papers each year and even fewer local cartoonists, I wonder if the multiple awards say more about the lack of competition than the quality of my work. Regardless, the recognition is still welcome.The problem with local cartoons is that you kind of have to live here to understand most of them. So the ones I’ve shared here are a random selection of local and national topics. Between the five or six syndicated editorial cartoons I create each week, plus the local cartoon for The Outlook, I drew 313 editorial cartoons this year.Calgary Expo and the Mountain Made Markets
I know artists who do the gift and market circuit all year long. For some, it’s their entire living, and they do well. Others try it for a few years, don’t make any money, and move on to something else. It can be a real grind.
More than once, I’ve considered getting a bigger vehicle, a tent and the display and booth hardware I would need to do the fair and market circuit in the warmer months and the holiday shows in November and December.
But with daily editorial cartoon deadlines, long days away and travelling each week are next to impossible. I enjoy working in my office every day and have no desire to spend a lot of my time driving and staying in hotels.
The one big show I look forward to each year is the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April, five long days, including a full day for setup. So when the full event reemerged from its two-year pandemic hiatus, I was excited to return.
Not only was 2022 my best year of sales to date, but it was also great fun. I’m already looking forward to the 2023 event, though I’m tempering my expectations with a possible looming recession. Then again, I didn’t think this year would be good, and I was happily proven wrong.
There were several Mountain Made Markets this year, with weekend events every month from May to December. Held indoors at the Canmore Civic Centre, it’s an easy setup close to home, so it’s worth my time.
Each market was profitable, and I enjoyed introducing new people to my work, meeting subscribers in person and visiting with customers, vendors and friends. Significant changes are coming for that event this year. Whether good or bad remains to be seen, but I hope to do more of them in 2023.
If you’ve ever bought a face mask, magnet, coaster, or calendar from me, those come from Pacific Music & Art, just a handful of the many items they sell. I often hear from people who’ve bought a trivet in Banff, a coffee mug in Alaska, or an art card in Washington.
Licensing allows me to spend my time painting and still reach new markets and audiences. I signed a few new deals this year with Art Licensing International agency, a company that has represented my work for several years. Agencies might have many more contacts, but they take a big chunk of the royalties, so it’s a double-edged sword. I prefer to find most licenses on my own.
Sometimes companies cold call me. When Diamond Art Club contacted me about licensing my work, I had barely heard of diamond art kits.
Though there was a lead time of many months, the Otter kit finally launched this summer and sold out in days. Producing these kits involves more than simply printing the image on an item, so it took a few months for them to restock that first piece, but it’s again available on their site.
More diamond art kit designs are coming in 2023, but I’m not allowed to share which ones yet.
I signed a new contract last week for ten of my images with an overseas company for another product, but that, too, will be something I can’t share until the middle of next year. Licensing usually involves quite a bit of time between signing contracts and actual production, so it’s work now that pays later.
Come to think of it, that’s a good way of looking at commercial art in general. Every piece I paint is an investment in future revenue.
As I wrote about my latest commission earlier this week, here’s the link if you’d like to see and read about the pet portraits I painted this year.
Every year, I begin with great plans and expectations, but things go off the rails or new opportunities show up, and the whole year becomes a series of course corrections. All I can do for delayed projects important to me is try again.
I tend to slip into a fall melancholy or winter depression most years. When it happens, I often throw my efforts into a personal project, usually painting a portrait of a screen character. I’ve painted several portraits of people, and many result in great stories to go with them. Here’s the John Dutton character painting I did last year.I realized earlier this month that I wouldn’t get to one this year, even though I had already chosen someone to paint. While disappointed, not having the time was likely due to the work I put into the markets, something I hadn’t done in previous years. However, my latest commission of Luna almost felt like a personal piece because I so enjoyed that painting.
I still had down days this fall, especially with our brutally cold November and December. But September and October were beautiful and right before the weather turned, I had a great cabin trip with my buddy, Darrel.
So the seasonal depression wasn’t as dark as it has been in recent years, and for that, I’m grateful.
On a sunny June day in Calgary, a woman ran a red light and wrote off Shonna’s car. While we had no immediately apparent injuries, we’ve been sharing one vehicle ever since and likely will until sometime in the middle of next year. Unfortunately, everything we can find, used or new, is overpriced, and we’ve heard many stories of fraudulent car dealers adding extra fees and playing bait-and-switch games. As if the near criminal behaviour of our own insurance company wasn’t bad enough.
But we bought Pedego Element e-bikes and love them. Canmore is easier to get around by bike than car, and it has become a necessity since they brought in paid parking. So we were both disappointed when winter arrived with a vengeance in November, and we had to put them away. While we had planned to get studded tires and ride the bikes all winter, as many around here do, 20″ studded fat tires are just one more item on the long list of global supply problems.
We had a wonderful vacation in August, glamping and kayaking for a week off northern Vancouver Island, a 25th-anniversary trip we had postponed at the beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the best adventures we’ve ever had.
I bought a silent acoustic guitar this year and began to play music again. It’s always within arm’s reach of my desk, and I’ve been playing it almost every day, sometimes for ten minutes, but most often for an hour or more. With regular practice, I’m a better musician now than I’ve ever been, and it’s a lot of fun, especially bringing it on a couple of cabin trips.Best of all, there is no chance I will ever play guitar for a living. It’s a purely creative escape with no responsibility to pay my bills.
Including the two commissions, I completed nine full-resolution production pieces this year. I wanted to paint more.
Best I can figure, preparing for and attending the additional Mountain Made Markets this year ate up a lot of time and energy, especially on weekends when I do a lot of my painting. I still had to create the same number of editorial cartoons each week but sacrificed painting time. That’s valuable information to have when considering future markets and shows. While those might give me more opportunities to sell the work, they steal from time creating it.
I’ve put together another video to share this year’s painted work. Most of these are finished paintings, with a few works in progress.
Hundreds of new people subscribed to A Wilder View in 2022. My sincere thanks to you who’ve been with me for years and those who just joined the ride. Whatever challenges you face in the coming year, I hope the occasional funny-looking animal in your inbox gives you a smile and makes life a little bit easier, if only for a moment or two.
One of the questions I get from people is, “what’s your medium?”
When I answer that it’s digital, I can expect a few different reactions because many people don’t understand it or think it’s something else.
Many people hear digital and think I’m just messing around with photos on the computer, especially because my work is highly detailed and often has a photorealistic quality. I explain that it’s all brushwork on a digital drawing display, like a cross between a TV monitor and a drafting table. Even though I take my own reference whenever I can, no photos are ever part of the paintings.
For most people, that’s enough of an explanation.
When I tell a traditional artist, somebody who paints with acrylic, oil or watercolour, that I’m working digitally, I often get disdain and condescension. A lot of traditional artists don’t like digital. It might be that they can’t do it, don’t understand it, or feel threatened that it will replace their work medium. Or they don’t like the idea that anybody creates anything on a computer and calls it art.
It used to bother me, and I’d feel insecure about defending my medium, but these days, I dismiss it and move on. I started creating art on a computer in 1998 with one of the first drawing tablets Wacom ever made. I’ve been making my full-time living as an artist for almost twenty years and arguing art mediums is wasted time and energy.
I can’t imagine any photographers or moviemakers still arguing film vs. digital these days. But when digital cameras first came out, those communities had plenty of heated discussions. It seems rather foolish as the camera doesn’t create the art; the photographer does.
It strikes me ironic that artists who are all about free expression, exploring creativity and pushing boundaries are often the first to tell another creative, “you have to stop because that’s not the way it’s done.”
Judge a piece of art by how it makes you feel. If you get nothing from my work, it’s simply not for you. Move on to another artist whose creations push your buttons.
Fortunately, anybody under 30 has grown up with digital art, so they have no stigma. They’ve seen it in movies and video games their whole life. They’ve been doodling on their tablets and phones for years. So when those people ask me about the work, they usually want to learn how to do it.
And I’m always happy to share what I know because so many generous artists gave me their time and knowledge when I was coming up.
While creating a Christmas-themed editorial cartoon this week, I decided to share the different stages of how I draw a cartoon. This isn’t a tutorial, as I don’t want to bore all of you who aren’t aspiring digital artists. Instead, it’s simply a window into the creation.
I put rough perspective guides on a layer in Photoshop for this cartoon.
On another layer, I’ll sketch out whatever I’m drawing and keep refining over and over until I get what you see here. It’s the same principle as sketching and drawing on paper, without all the mess of smudging and erasing.
Then I’ll drop the opacity of the sketch layer, so it’s very faint and create cleaner black lines on the layer above. I call this an Ink layer, even though there’s no ink involved.
I’ll delete the sketch, create a new layer beneath the ink layer and fill in sections of flat colour on different layers. This helps me establish a base colour for separate pieces and select certain painting sections easily.
On top of the flat layer, I create a layer for light and shading. The initial sketching and the painting layer are where I have the most fun.
Finally, I’ll create a painted background, add talk bubbles, my text and signature, and save different formats to send to my newspaper clients across Canada.
Years ago, I recorded a whole DVD on this process through PhotoshopCAFE. It’s no longer available, but this is the basic idea.
The painting process I use for my whimsical wildlife and portraits of people is more complicated because each painting takes many hours to complete and involves a lot of fine detail. But the tools are the same. Many artists have asked me about my painting brushes over the years, and they’re surprised that they’re not complicated. Just like in traditional art, it isn’t the brush; it’s the person wielding it.
As in any profession, creative or otherwise, skills only come from years of working on your craft, and there are no shortcuts.
I created a time lapse video of a Christmas reindeer a few years ago. It shows the Wacom display on which I work and a painting from start to finish in two minutes. Watch ‘til the end for a little digital magic.
As this is likely my last post before the 25th, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. I’ll have something else for you before New Year’s Eve.
Near as I can tell, it was the seven years working in the tourism industry in Banff that exorcised the spirit of Christmas from this here cartoonist and painter of whimsical wildlife.
When you work in a hotel, restaurant, bar, retail store or other service industry in one of the busiest tourist towns in the world, you don’t get time off during the holidays. Tourism is a lifestyle agreement many around here have signed at some point.
But too often, tourists who don’t get their picture-perfect Canadian Rockies Christmas tend to get cranky and take it out on the staff. Year after year that takes a toll.
After playing Christmas all day for the tourists, it always felt like more work to come home to your overpriced apartment and play Christmas there as well. So, we gave it up a long time ago with no regrets.
Shonna and I have not had a tree or decorations in more than twenty years. Aside from a few extra blankets on the couch, our home looks the same on December 25th as on July 25th. We don’t exchange gifts, and we don’t make a big meal.
We still attend Shonna’s office Christmas party, and that’s usually fun, as she works with nice people.
Some years, we are obligated to travel to see family because Christmas and guilt go hand in hand. Every year while living in Banff, we would have to explain to a couple of family members that we had to work on Christmas (just like the year before), so we wouldn’t be coming home.
I welcomed the excuse not to travel. In the darkest month, with the best chance for the worst weather and most treacherous driving, while we’re all under peak stress, everybody hits the road at the same time. And if the highways close for a winter whiteout, and the RCMP tell you to stay home, well, that’s just too bad. Find a way; otherwise, you’ve ruined Christmas for everybody.
Even before the pandemic, ‘tis the season when we’re all contagious. So, we get together with as many people as possible, cram ourselves into crowded spaces, shake hands, hug and kiss and then eat a bunch of finger food.
Why can’t we do this in July when we can camp or hang out on a beach? Those lucky Australians.
Despite my irredeemable inner Scrooge, I have no desire to ruin anybody else’s Christmas. If somebody says Merry Christmas to me, I’ll return the greeting. If they choose another festive Hello-Ho-Ho, I’ll return that too, unlike some who lose their minds and shriek, “IT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAMMIT, NOT HAPPY HOLIDAYS!”
I have a return greeting for those people, too. Two words, no hints; you’ll only need one guess.
But here’s where it gets weird.
I like drawing holiday season and Christmas cartoons.
I enjoy drawing Santa Claus, reindeer, ornaments, ribbons, and bows on presents. I don’t know if it’s the bright colour schemes, warm subjects on cool backgrounds, snow on trees, or mythical critters. It’s just strange.
True, there’s always a cynical tone to these cartoons, making fun of the season and my issues with it, but that’s a pillar of the editorial cartoonist profession all year long. I usually come up with far too many ideas this time of year, more than I can draw in December.
But the themes are evergreen. An idea that didn’t get used last year might still work next year. The politicians and issues change, but I can put a seasonal twist on most things, and many cartoons are variations of ones I’ve drawn before, without apology.
Traditional imagery is just that. People don’t want a new twist on Santa Claus. Nobody is deciding stockings on the mantle are passé this year, so let’s hang Levi’s from the dishwasher.
However, what will change is that, hopefully, I’ll be a better artist than I was the year before, as I’m always trying to improve my skills. If I can manage that, that’s all the gift I need.
Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, it’s a tough time of year for many people. Try to be a bit nicer to anyone who must work through the season. It’s not the grocery clerk’s fault that you had to circle three times for parking or that the eggnog is sold out. Nor are they to blame that everything is expensive this year. They’re paying more, too, just like you.
Give some money or groceries to the food bank, drop some cash in the Salvation Army kettle, or donate some clothes or blankets to a shelter. Giving to those less fortunate feels good.
If you’re travelling, please don’t drink and drive. Go a little slower and allow more time to get there. As someone who had a vehicle destroyed this year by somebody else’s carelessness, even if you don’t get hurt, insurance will not make you whole, and the experience seriously inconveniences your life. We’re still looking for a replacement vehicle. It can happen to you, and it will ruin your Christmas, and anyone else’s who gets caught in the chaos.
Advice I can give, but I’m bad at following; try to go a little easier on yourself. You don’t need to be perfect, and neither does anybody else. The golden rule is timeless.
I hope you enjoyed this small selection of cartoons from Christmas past and present, and with tongue firmly in cheek…Bah Humbug!
In a recent issue of A Wilder View, I let subscribers know I had restocked 2023 calendars. As expected, most people ordered one or two, and I was happy to send them by regular mail.
One person ordered six. From a creator’s point of view, that’s great. Clearly, most of those will be gifts, which means more people will come to know my artwork.
To send one calendar via Canada Post qualifies as an oversized envelope under 500 grams, around $4. For two calendars, it’s still under that threshold weight, and it costs around $6.
But once you get above that weight, it becomes a small parcel and the cost jumps.
Our techy world allows me to do much of this at home. I package items, measure, and weigh them, then enter that information into the Canada Post website. I can pay for the shipping and print the label before I drop the item at the post office.
There are several benefits to this process. First, I can estimate a shipping cost and inform the customer of the charge without delay. Second, I can avoid a lineup since there’s usually a bin in which to drop prepaid items. Finally, I avoid surprises at the post office if something costs more than expected.
For the subscriber who ordered six calendars, one might assume the most efficient delivery would be together in one parcel. But when I measured, weighed and entered the data into the Canada Post site, the total came to over $24 at the most economical rate. That rate even includes a small business program discount.
More than $6 of that $24 was a fuel surcharge, an amount you don’t see until the final total.
After conferring with my understanding and patient customer, I sent six calendars in three different business-sized envelopes so that each one didn’t exceed 500 grams and qualified for regular mail.
It’s a ridiculous solution to a preposterous problem, but it saved my customer some money.
In my online store, one print sells for $28.99. Eliminating the time taken to paint the image, the cost of producing that product stems from a professional print of the image, a backer board, an artist bio, and a cellophane sleeve, plus shipping materials if sold in the online store.
Shipping just one print in a flat mailer to Calgary, about an hour’s drive from my house, now costs over $20. Before the pandemic, it was $12. As a consumer, it’s hard to justify paying almost as much to send something as it does to buy it. It only becomes worth it for customers if they want to buy two or more prints. While plenty of people do just that, sometimes they just want one.
You might have seen a recent news article where Canadian businesses are now allowed to charge a fee for paying by credit card. Small businesses must take credit cards to remain competitive, but more cards, especially cards with rewards points, charge merchants a percentage for each transaction. It can be anywhere from 2% to 5%.
When a telecommunications provider, chain grocery store, or other large corporation that boasts record profits every quarter adds this fee, it is a money grab. These companies have been working hard for years to get people to use credit cards, and it’s included in their pricing.
Small businesses are reluctant to add that extra fee to a credit card payment. Even justified, an added fee will turn people off. So, most will absorb the cost and try to factor it into the price of an item without making it noticeably more expensive.
The best we can do is suggest somebody pay by e-transfer as there’s no cost to the consumer or vendor. Debit is also preferred as the transaction fee is significantly less. Or better yet, how about cash, if you even carry that around anymore?
Online payment processing services like PayPal or Stripe have fees and take a percentage of each sale. 2.9% plus a transaction fee. That doesn’t seem like much until you factor that into larger transactions. For example, I was recently commissioned to paint someone’s pet, work I love to do. Of the 50% deposit, I gave $30 to PayPal. I’ll give another $30 for the final payment when the work is complete.
I tried an Etsy store for my vinyl stickers last year to see what would happen. After several sales, however, I shut it down. Their fees were death by a thousand cuts. I can’t even remember all of them, but every listing and sale was nickel and dimed until the result wasn’t worth my time.
On top of that, Etsy gives preferred placement and listing to people who offer free shipping on their items. They hammer that message into vendors. Their justification is that people are so used to buying on Amazon that they want free shipping on everything.
To expect a self-employed small business owner and independent artist to compete with Amazon’s pricing is ludicrous. The only reason they can do that is their sales volume gives them preferred credit card and shipping rates. Any company listing an item on Amazon accepts a much smaller profit margin per item to have a spot on the site.
It’s also no secret that Amazon employees are overworked and underpaid. The self-employed can relate.
I can’t tell you how many people scoff when a self-employed artist refers to what they do as work. Some figure it’s simply a matter of drawing something, slapping it on a website, and counting the bags of money.
Sadly, many young artists who love what they create believe selling it will be easy. Share some images on Instagram; before you know it, you’re moving out of Mom and Dad’s house into that mansion on the coast.
It’s the ‘If you build it, (they) will come’ business plan. There’s a reason that movie had ‘Dreams’ in the title.
I’ll have a booth at another Mountain Made Market at the Canmore Civic Centre this weekend. It’s a two-day event, and I always enjoy introducing my artwork to new people and reconnecting with familiar faces.
Several people will no doubt tell me they want to consider a purchase and ask if I have an online store. At this point, I’ll explain the inflated shipping costs, let them know that my best prices are always at these markets, and do what I can to try to make the sale on the spot.
Otherwise, they’ll take a business card, put it into a bag, purse, or wallet, and I never hear from these folks again. We’re busy people; it’s just what we do. And sometimes we take a card to be polite, rather than say, “no thanks, not for me.”
But hopefully, some will like one or more of my whimsical critters in a small or large print, magnet, coaster, sticker, calendar or another item and decide to pick up something for themselves or for a gift.
Then they’ll probably pay by credit card, which is fine and welcome because I’ll take that fee out of my profit to make the sale. That’s just part of the cost of creating art for a living.
Which, despite what some might think, is definitely work.
I often must explain to people that editorial cartoons aren’t always meant to be funny. Ideally, a satirical cartoon should make you laugh, think, or hopefully do both. But there are several occasions where it’s an illustrated comment with no humorous intent.
In the case of tragedies like 9/11 and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, or whenever a person of historical significance dies, there’s no call for funny on the editorial page.
You likely don’t need me to tell you that Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. After more than 70 years on the throne, her impact on the world is impossible to deny. For most of us, she has always been ‘The Queen’ and the end of her reign is a historical moment of great significance.
When she got COVID earlier in February, I drew this cartoon, just in case it was time. While it might seem morbid to some, I can assure you that every media outlet in the world has had content and plans laid out far in advance for her inevitable passing. Long before this year, the Queen herself had a hand in the planning of the events of the past two weeks. I felt I’d rather take the time to do the work I wanted, rather than scramble at the last minute just to get it done by deadline.
When I awoke on Thursday the 8th, Shonna and I were heading to Red Deer for the day to take my parents out to lunch. From the news I read about the Queen’s family being called to her side, it seemed clear how the day would unfold. As such, I sent the cartoon to my newspapers, with a note advising that, should she die, this was my contribution.
A few hours later, we were walking to our car with my parents to go to the restaurant when I got the alert on my phone.
The above image appeared in several Canadian daily newspapers the following day.
Canadians will no doubt have a necessary conversation in the coming weeks about this country’s relationship with the monarchy and how it will look in the future. But I drew this second cartoon last week reminding readers that it would be crass to dig into that before her interment. I’m not a monarchist, but one need not be to understand simple respect for the recently deceased and empathy for her family and those who grieve her passing.
And finally, I drew one more cartoon this week for her funeral on the 19th.
While I don’t enjoy or look forward to drawing them, these types of editorial cartoons are still part of the job.
After two-plus years of wearing a mask, staying home, the shots, booster, and trying my best to avoid the plague of the 21st century, that sumbitch finally got me.
I’ve always had a sound immune system and rarely get sick. I can go two or three years at the best of times without a cold or flu. I imagine much of that has to do with no kids and working from home, so I don’t get exposed to every virus making the rounds.
But when I get sick, it’s a knock me on my ass, man-cold. I become Cameron at the beginning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Shonna and I had a frightening, stressful experience on June 11th in Calgary, a story for another time. Still, I’m guessing the flood of adrenaline from that and the subsequent let-down effect scuttled my immune system and opened me up for attack.
I got a tickle in my throat last Saturday, and the test returned negative. When I woke Sunday morning feeling congested, I took another test and sure enough, it was positive. I felt OK and hoped my adventure with COVID would be like Shonna’s earlier this year.
She had the sniffles for two days, worked from home and felt fine, said it was the easiest cold she’s ever had.
Shonna and I can’t keep our distance in our modest home, but I slept on the couch since I still get up earlier than she does most days, and she slept in that week. Thankfully, it’s a very comfortable couch.
Still, I expected I would get it from her then, and we both isolated, just in case. But I never caught it, or I have been operating under the false assumption that I probably got it and was one of those lucky ones who didn’t have any symptoms.
When I tested positive last Sunday, I thought, “OK, I’ll have what she had!”
Cocky cartoonist. It even inspired this cartoon.
I warned a few people I’d seen days before that I’d tested positive and settled in for what I assumed would be a mild cold. Instead, by Sunday evening, I felt like absolute dogshit.
Runny nose, congestion, headache, muscle and joint aches, chills, etc. I’ve managed to work every day and get my cartoons out, even worked several hours on a painting, but there weren’t any long workdays. I didn’t have the energy.
The literature on this version of COVID, which I suspect was a variation of Omicron, is that it’s mild compared to the ones that came before. Upon further investigation, what medical professionals mean by ‘mild’ is that you’re unlikely to require a hospital visit. But the mild experience can be anywhere from one sneeze to “didn’t I see you on The Walking Dead?!”
I slept on the couch again last week, and it looks like Shonna avoided it, or her previous infection of hopefully the same variant is protecting her. We both know you can get it again.
Wait…when she’s sick, I sleep on the couch. When I’m sick, I sleep on the couch. This is bullshit!
Over-the-counter cold meds helped, plenty leftover from Shonna’s experience because she barely touched them. I drink plenty of water at the best of times, but I must have been downing 3 litres a day last week, especially if you factor in all the tea and soup.
As I publish this on the 9th day after my positive test, I feel pretty good. From what I’ve read, you can test positive for up to 90 days afterward, even though you’re no longer contagious. It’s an antibody thing. But I’ll take a test tomorrow anyway.
An unfortunate side effect is that my sense of smell has been altered. This happened to me after a bad cold years ago, and the problem lasted for months. Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat performance. It has something to do with the inflammation traumatizing nerves in smell receptors and is relatively common. As smell is a big part of taste, certain foods are unappetizing right now, and there’s an underlying constant weird smell to everything.
I have plans to go away for a guy’s weekend later this week. The friend I’m going with isn’t concerned, mainly because he’s pretty sure he recently had it himself, and I’ll be past the ten days when I see him. While I could have done without this infection, I am grateful that this bout with the plague didn’t cancel this trip we’ve booked for months.
Bottom line, this felt like a nasty cold or flu. Survivable, sure, but not an experience I care to repeat anytime soon. Regardless of where you sit on the vaccine argument (and no, I don’t care to discuss it), I’m glad I got mine. Because given how bad this felt, especially for the first three days, I don’t want to know how much worse it could have been.
In November of last year, I finished this painting of Kevin Costner as John Dutton from the top-rated Paramount show Yellowstone. Like many of the portraits I paint, it was a personal project, something I did for my own enjoyment. You can read about that piece here.
I don’t attach any expectations to these portraits, but sometimes they either reach the people I’ve painted or attract some attention after the fact that I couldn’t have anticipated. But I learned long ago that if you try to make stuff like that happen, it rarely works. All I can do is complete the painting, put it out there and move on to the next one.
I have a couple of favourite unexpected results, like when Emilio Estevez wanted to buy the original canvas of a painting I did of his father, Martin Sheen. That was almost ten years ago, so I won’t rehash it again. However, if you’re not familiar with that story, you can read about it here. The print signed by both of them hangs in my office.
Another was when I painted Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was in command of the International Space Station. He saw the painting online and sent me an appreciative tweet from space, which was a special moment.
This week, the Calgary Stampede announced that Kevin Costner would be this year’s parade marshal. I’m a fan, or I wouldn’t have painted the portrait in the first place. But I’m not big on crowds, and it’s unlikely I’ll attend the parade or Stampede. Still, the event is a big deal for Calgary. After the last two years, here’s hoping an unrestricted Stampede is a welcome economic boost for the city and surrounding communities, mine included.
As the Calgary Herald has been running my syndicated cartoons regularly for almost 20 years, I emailed the editor and suggested the painting as a cartoon for the announcement, with the caption you see below. He liked the idea, and it appeared in Wednesday’s edition.
As it also made national news, and Yellowstone is a wildly popular show, I sent it out to my other papers this morning, in case there’s more interest in it. For context outside of Calgary, I added “Calgary Stampede:” before the caption for those other papers.
I’ve done portraits for cartoons before, but most often, it’s for memorials, and they’re never as detailed as I would like. It took more than 20 hours to paint this portrait, so it’s not something I would have done specifically for this purpose. There wouldn’t be a decent return on the investment, and I couldn’t get it done on a tight deadline anyway. To have had the painting done and ready to use for this announcement was a nice moment of serendipity.
Newsprint is unfortunately a muddy medium. Publications use different colour profiles and printers, so a cartoon that might look bright and crisp in one paper might look too bright or dark and desaturated in another. I can do nothing about that, so I adjust the image to find the middle ground for all papers. I put a lot of time into getting the colour right in my work, so I’m most often disappointed when I see it in newsprint, but I’ve had to make peace with that.
The Costner portrait file is 30” X 40” with a lot of detailed brushwork. To shrink it down and prepare it for newsprint, I had to boost the contrast, oversharpen it, and make other Photoshop adjustments to mitigate a poor result. So while I was happy to see it printed in the Calgary Herald (digital edition above), I couldn’t help but see all the flaws in the reproduction, even though I know that most people won’t notice or care.