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.
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.
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!
Early in this editorial cartoon profession, somebody once told me that editorial cartoons are supposed to make you laugh, think, and hopefully do both. I think it was Terry Mosher (Aislin).
I have repeated that line often. In interviews, blog posts, talks to school kids or simply as an explanation when somebody challenges me on the content of a cartoon.
As we’re all now attuned to our individual offensensitivity meters, convinced that if something makes us uncomfortable, it must be inappropriate; I’ll often get emails chastising me for drawing a cartoon, telling me, “that’s not funny.”
Cartoons aren’t always meant to be.
Several times a year, I’m required to draw cartoons for tragedies, recurring events, serious moments and on topics where any levity would indeed be inappropriate by any metric.
Nobody drew funny cartoons the day after 9/11. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a knee-slapper in any newspaper in Canada on Remembrance Day. And there’s nothing funny about what went on for decades in Canada’s Residential School System.
An editorial cartoon isn’t unbiased. I don’t consider myself a journalist. While I do try to consider all sides of an issue, my cartoons are my illustrated opinions. So when you see them on the editorial page, it means the editor shared my opinion or at least thought that many of their readers might.
I can’t just spout off and draw something about whatever might cross my mind. I must consider whether it’s fair comment, reasonably concluded, and if it might get myself or my client in trouble. The standards for your local newspaper are a lot higher than Facebook or Twitter.
When it comes to residential schools, the last thing an indigenous person needs is yet another colonial descendant analyzing their history, whitesplaining it and offering up his conclusions. So, I won’t.
But I still had to draw a cartoon because it’s my job.
I’ll admit that my more serious cartoons have a distinct look to them. Often a more painted illustration, rather than a crisp ink line cartoon, accompanied by some text. Sometimes I’ll use a quote, especially if the cartoon is about a notable person who has just died, some of their own words or song lyrics.
But I prefer to use my own words, a couple of lines to complement the artwork so that the entire piece is my own creation. And these always take a lot longer to draw.
I’ve drawn cartoons about this topic before and wanted to avoid the same imagery. I avoided using the recently revealed Survivor’s Flag, as it felt like I would be appropriating the artwork painstakingly created by those who directly experienced this dark history.
We all have our own ways of connecting to what I call ‘the other.’ For some, it’s through organized religion, or it might be an individual faith and relationship with their god, whatever that means to each person. For others, it might be the connection they feel when they volunteer, do charitable works, or anything that makes them feel that there’s more to the world around them than what they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
While I don’t believe in a god, heaven or hell, or practice any organized religion, I frequently feel connected to something I can’t define. I most often feel closest to that when I’m painting, and I’m grateful to that something else for granting me the ability and the means to create.
I feel it most when I’m painting my whimsical wildlife paintings. It’s what I imagine Maslow meant when he defined the peak experience.
When I first created my animal art, I called them Totems but stopped the practice a few years ago.
About the change in 2018, I wrote, “What (totem) meant to me was paying homage to the animal spirit meaning of the word. The personality and character I paint in these animals make them feel alive to me. I’ve had some unique and special experiences with animals in recent years and can’t help but feel a connection with them, so it’s for personal reasons that I decided on that name.”
But as I explained in the post, having read and learned more about the difficult conversations surrounding cultural appropriation, I didn’t want the work I enjoy most to be tainted by misunderstanding. I didn’t want to imply or claim any connection to native culture, so I no longer refer to my animal paintings as Totems.
And yet, it’s through this work and these animals where I feel the most tethered to that something I can’t explain.
When I had the opportunity to create this cartoon, I felt that the sincerest offering I could make to this difficult discussion was to combine all my skills into one image.
In much of First Nations culture, the eagle is a sacred image. In my most basic understanding, it represents the closest connection to the creator, and it’s a conveyor of messages and prayers.
To illustrate just how sacred the beliefs surrounding this animal spirit are, it is illegal in Canada and the U.S. for any non-indigenous person to own any eagle parts, including feathers. I’ve learned more about this from my visits to the Birds of Prey Centre in Coaldale, Alberta, where they rescue and rehabilitate eagles, among other species. It’s also where I took the photo reference for this eagle image.
Any eagle feathers dropped by the birds at their facility are collected and sent to Alberta Fish and Wildlife. After examination for conservation research and screening for disease, they’re distributed to different tribal councils.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about honouring the children who died in residential schools, healing for the survivors and promoting understanding and education about our history. So the eagle image seemed the best fit for what I wanted to say.
Whether it resonates with my editors or their readers is beyond my control. But hopefully, I did my job.
There’s an exhaustive list of images, references and tropes that cartoonists (over)use. I could attempt to list them all and it would still only be the tip of the iceberg. Oh, that’s one right there.
The Statue of Liberty or an eagle representing the US, a beaver for Canada, a bear for Russia, panda for China, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates greeting whichever notable figure just died, or somebody looking down from heaven. Variations of logos for the Olympics, companies, and events; broken records, road signs, going off a cliff or over a waterfall, weighing scales, talking animals…it’s a long list.
I’ve yet to meet any cartoonist who hasn’t used many of these, although most will be quick to criticize another for doing the same. I’ve been guilty of both of those, more than once. Sometimes it’s laziness, other times it’s trying to find a new angle on an old theme, and more often than not, it’s desperation.
But we’ve all used these tropes.
It’s a point of personal pride that I’ve never drawn a pearly gates cartoon, but that’s splitting hairs, because I’ve used almost all of the others. As you can see above, I released a cartoon this week that used one of the biggest clichés in cartooning. The Titanic has been drawn often, by many. I don’t think I’ve drawn the whole ship before, but I’ve certainly drawn sunken or sinking ships and alluded to the iceberg, which is the same thing.
The Titanic represents hubris, man’s ego coming back to bite him in the ass. It’s appropriate for politics, corporate greed, and blind ambition, unchecked by reality. Sooner or later, an iceberg comes along to challenge the unsinkable claim. PLENTY of cartoonists have drawn politicians standing on the bow as it sinks.
While I would normally avoid the Titanic imagery, and I’m sure other cartoonists who see it will roll their eyes at my audacity for bringing it out of mothballs, it was a popular cartoon this week. I heard from several editors who loved it, proving once again that we’re supposed to be pleasing our customers, not each other.
In my experience, most of us are bitter and cynical ‘hey you kids, get off my lawn’ types anyway, as insecure about our work as every other artist, something a few attempt to hide with false bravado and imagined authority that everybody else sees through.
It happens in every industry, especially creative ones. Artists will spend days debating details that nobody else cares about.
When I used to attend the Photoshop World conference each year in Las Vegas, several classes I attended were for photographers. Long before I took the volume of photos I do today, I learned a lot from those classes, because what makes one image better will ultimately make another image better.
Alan Hess is a skilled concert and event photographer, author, instructor and he takes photos of other genres as well. He’s also a friend, who helped me out with reference photos in the early days of animal work, and I wrote a guest piece years ago about digital painting on the iPad, for one of his books.
During one of his classes, Alan shared a photograph, then zoomed in to show that, seen up close, it was grainier than it looked at full size. I can’t remember the context of that lesson, but something he said has always stuck with me.
“You know who cares the most about noise in photographs? Photographers!”
It still makes me smile, because that kind of quibbling over inconsequential details exists in every field, especially creative ones. Artists will obsess (!!!) over the most ridiculous things in their work. We’re miserable about it. We’ll talk each other to death about details that nobody sees or cares about, and judge each other harshly for it, almost as much as we judge ourselves.
Plenty of freelance writers who imagine themselves Hemingway or the next Woodward or Bernstein will author listicle after listicle to pay the bills. You know the articles I’m talking about. 21 Uses for Old Underwear or 10 Reasons Your Editorial Cartoons Suck!
Then they’ll judge other writers for releasing yet another listicle.
We’re all hypocrites.
While it’s still worthwhile to try to be original and not fall back on tired or overused imagery, sometimes it is indeed that imagery that works best, because it resonates with people. There’s nothing to be gained by over-complicating a simple message.
And sometimes, it’s just an off day with a deadline.
I enjoyed drawing the Titanic in this cartoon. I could have spent a couple more hours nitpicking it. But that would be obsessing over details that nobody would see, and in a deadline-driven profession, time is money.
The downside of these tropes, however, is that when other cartoonists draw on them, eventually you’re going to use the same ones, sometimes on the same day. A well-known moment in editorial cartoon culture is that many cartoonists used the same image to depict the events on 9/11, the Statue of Liberty with tears in her eyes.
I was about two weeks away from trying to become a syndicated cartoonist when that happened, so I didn’t draw a 9/11 cartoon, though I certainly wouldn’t fault any of those artists. How original can you be with such a monumental event, with no time to let it all sink in before drawing a cartoon? The deadline was as immediate as the disaster.
They call this a Yahtzee when multiple cartoonists come up with the same idea. The fact that they even have a name for it, reveals that it’s not uncommon. While idea theft does happen, it’s more often just a bad luck coincidence. None of us wants to draw the same thing and the ones who do steal ideas are usually well known for it.
In my experience, this kind of thing happens a lot in holiday seasons, whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, the New Year, and especially Christmas. I drew this cartoon yesterday afternoon and sent it out first thing this morning.
Then I went to peruse the daily papers that publish my work to see if they’d printed any of mine. In the Edmonton Journal, I saw this cartoon by Malcolm Mayes, their staff cartoonist. I will admit to uttering a four-letter word or two. I don’t need to tell you that Rudolph is as common a Christmas image as Santa, the elves, the North Pole, a lump of coal, a stocking, a tree, lights, we don’t have all day. Malcolm and I won’t be the only ones to imagine the COVID-19 virus replacing Rudolph’s nose. It’s low-hanging fruit and if we hadn’t used it this week, somebody else would use it next week, or already has and I just haven’t seen it.
I’ve been sending out 7 cartoons a week, every week, for many years, as have all of my colleagues, especially the ones that are still managing to make a living in this profession, or part of one. With that volume of content, it’s the truly original ideas that are the exception, not the rule.
In the old days, before the internet, an editorial cartoonist with a daily staff job had all day to stew over an idea, come up with multiple angles, try to squeeze out another ounce of cleverness, and take hours to bring a cartoon to life. A very few still have that luxury, knowing that spot is reserved for them every day.
Back then, once the cartoons were published, they wouldn’t immediately see what their colleagues at other papers had drawn because it didn’t matter as much. These undesirable coincidences wouldn’t even get noticed.
But today, with instant connection, websites and social media, freelance cartoonists are often competing for the same open spaces, so it’s as much about the speed of delivery as it is about the idea. First past the post often wins the day.
What’s worse is that we’re not just competing with each other, we’re competing with viral memes and videos, too. I keep a long list of ideas for editorial cartoons and can’t tell you how often I’ll see a meme that necessitates me opening that Word file, finding the same idea and deleting it.
The holiday season will see a lot of cartoonists combining masks, sanitizer, and distancing, our now universal COVID clichés with all of the traditional Christmas ones we trot out every year, trying to be original, but ultimately failing. This dominating news story isn’t going away soon and having to find a way to draw something new about COVID-19 day after day after day after day…it’s exhausting.
I know this cliché cartoon coincidence will happen again and it will bother me as much as it did this morning, but will probably go unnoticed by most, except for other cartoonists.
It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I took a break from the blog, newsletter and Instagram. I realized this week, however, that it’s just a few days shy of two months, which feels like long enough. I’ve got a longer post coming shortly about the break, but I figured I’d ease into it today with a few updates.
I’ve completed two new paintings over the break, with a third that I’ll finish in a day or two. Here’s the first one…Gold. I took the reference for this painting over two years ago, while up at the cabin that friends and I rent near Caroline. As with many of my paintings, there’s often quite a bit of time between taking the reference photos and using them. I found this painting a little intimidating as I find horses especially challenging, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This was completed about a month ago.
As always, if you’d like to share my work, please do, with my thanks.
Here’s a closer look.
In recent weeks, many communities have made it mandatory to wear a mask. A month ago, I often felt like a conspicuous minority when wearing mine in the grocery store, but now it seems like anyone not wearing one is the outlier.
I’m at home most of the time, but Shonna has seen quite a few people wearing the masks featuring my artwork. I’ve had friends, family members, and newsletter followers send me pictures, too. From displays at stores to family outings in full mask regalia, I’ve enjoyed seeing those.
Many have said they get compliments on the masks (I have as well), and people are asking them where they can buy some. The initial pre-orders went well, the first two resulting in substantial orders, the third one quite a bit smaller, but a clear indication that those who follow my work got what they needed. Lately, I’m receiving more inquiries.
While I could do another order, I don’t think it’s necessary. You’d order masks from me; I’d place an order with Pacific Music and Art, they’d ship them to me, then I’d send them to you. At the beginning of this adventure, the printing and delivery pipeline was shaky, there were bugs to work out, and we were all still learning the ropes. In that climate, the pre-ordering worked well.
Now, Pacific Music and Art has a streamlined system for efficient ordering and delivery, both for individuals and retailers, and I’m advising people to buy directly from them. You’re still supporting my artwork because I get a royalty from each sale.
Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canmore has a nice selection of my masks, and I’d encourage Bow Valley residents to support that local business.
Shonna’s Mom and her husband came down for the day on the weekend. When they came over for dinner, they said they saw my masks in some stores in Banff.
A friend of mine (thanks, Fred!) sent me this photo of one of the large mask displays at the Calgary Zoo. They’ve got a few new designs, too. With all that in mind, I’d encourage you to support these and other retailers currently selling my work, rather than do another order myself right now.
Even though many of my newspapers still haven’t hired me back, I’ve been drawing the same number of cartoons each week. My clients are used to having a wide selection to choose from, so it didn’t seem fair to deprive them of that, especially since they’ve kept me in groceries this summer. While I draw them every day, cartoons are posted weekly on my site, either on Wednesdays, Fridays or both.
As you read this, I’ll have re-installed the Instagram app on my phone and iPad to start posting images again and see what’s been going on with my friends and fellow creatives. I’m not looking forward to being back on social media, but promotion is part of the business, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post, possibly in the next few days.
I hope you’ve all been well, as we adapt to…whatever this is becoming. With the US election powered up, the Canadian Parliament prorogued, the ongoing debate about masks, COVID cases up and down, and whatever other steaming piles of excrement 2020 has yet to serve up for our consumption, I’d ask that you ponder the following.
This is tough for everybody. Each of us is dealing with our unique challenges. Before sharing passive-aggressive memes, angry political rants, and self-righteous nastiness, please reconsider. Given how social media works, chances are you’re only sharing that stuff with people who agree with you anyway, preaching to the choir as it were.
Speaking from experience, you won’t make yourself less angry by feeding that insatiable beast. Consuming and sharing bad news every day will make you miserable.
Although I have syndicated clients across Canada and produce cartoons each day for them, I also draw one local cartoon each week for The Rocky Mountain Outlook, the paper of record for Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise and area.
I’ve been their cartoonist since they opened their doors in 2001 and I’ve never missed an issue. In the early days of The Rocky Mountain Outlook, one of the owners, also the Editor, encouraged me to self-syndicate, which meant draw my own cartoons and send them out to other papers in the hopes they publish them. At the time, I’d only drawn one cartoon each week for the Banff Crag & Canyon for a few years and was very new to the Outlook.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook was destined to fail. The cheap seats were full of people who said so.
I was thirty years old, and I had never envisioned a career as an artist. Not even a little. Carol Picard changed my life and it’s hard not to say Thank You every time I see her around town.
For the next five years, I drew cartoons on the side while working a full-time job to pay the bills. Early mornings before work, evenings after work and weekends, with very little money to show for it. I almost quit half a dozen times in those five years. Sometimes I drew five cartoons in a week and made $10 from the one weekly paper that ran one. That kind of thing went on for a couple of years, but it was great practice. I was finally able to become a full-time artist in 2006.
With a lot of experiments in between, eventually the editorial cartooning led to the other half of my business painting funny looking animals, which are licensed and sold in zoos, parks, retail stores and other venues across Canada and internationally. Having been a full-time professional artist for the past 13 years, I’m pretty sure I’m now unemployable in a real job.
Without The Rocky Mountain Outlook, none of that would have happened.
My editor, Tanya Foubert, delighted in calling me today to tell me that the Canadian Community Newspaper Awards were announced for 2019 and I won 1st and 2nd for Best Local Cartoon in our class. While we all know it’s not about the awards, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this feels pretty good. It’s the first win for me, although I think I got third one year.
I’ve never submitted to the National Newspaper Awards. Maybe once in the early 2000s. The Outlook submits to the CCNAs on my behalf. Since I have many clients for my cartoons, it’s always been more important to me to keep my editors and publishers supplied, happy (and paying me!) than it was to win an award.
But this one is different, because it’s the Outlook. It’s my local paper. I’ve known these people for almost twenty years. I know what the original owners went through to keep it afloat, against all odds. I know how hard the current staff and leadership work to hold to that original vision.
From the official announcement of the awards on News Media Canada’s site, the first highlight was, “The Rocky Mountain Outlook from Canmore/Kananaskis/Banff/Lake Louise in Alberta picked up the most wins (five), including first place for General Excellence.”
How could I not be happy to be a part of that?
Here are the cartoons that won. The first was about the contentious issue of Calgary’s failed bid for the 2026 Olympics. While not an official tally, half the community seemed to want it more than anything, the other half were opposed.
Second was our ongoing issue with parking in this area. My first cartoon for the Banff Crag and Canyon in 1998 was on paid parking. Everybody’s got an opinion and a solution, but nobody wants to pay for it, or stop driving whenever they want.
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As an editorial cartoonist, one of the topics I loathe is death cartoons.
I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but it all comes to mind again today with the death of David Bowie. You want the brutal truth, here it is. When somebody dies and I hear about it in the news, I weigh the depth of their publicity and decide whether or not I have to do a death cartoon, which for me, is often a memorial, more painterly than my other cartoon work. I’ll often include a quote, their name, and the birth/death dates.
Many cartoonists will draw the pearly gates, where there is a humorous or heartfelt exchange between St. Peter and the recently deceased. I loathe that concept and have never drawn a ‘pearly gates’ cartoon, at least as far as I can remember. For one, I’m an atheist, but otherwise, it’s just an overused vehicle that grates on my nerves.
That last statement makes me a hypocrite, by the way. I have recycled plenty of overused vehicles in my time as an editorial cartoonist, just not that one.
It seems incredibly callous that I must end up passing judgment on somebody’s life, whether their death is worth my effort. Does this person’s passing warrant the expense of my time and energy and will newspapers want to publish it? I have to ask myself that question. Then I must answer it.
Politicians, it comes down to their impact on society, the level of their station and historical significance. Celebrities, it’s whether or not they were beloved or famous enough. Religious leaders, artists, social activists, anybody who has contributed to our culture in some way or another merits weighing them on the decision scale.
Yes, it feels as dirty as it sounds. Sadly, it’s part of the job. In the case of Robin Williams, I deliberately chose not to draw a cartoon, even though he warranted one. It just hit me at a very low point in my own life and I didn’t feel like digging a deeper hole.
I woke this morning at my usual time of 5AM. I live in the Mountain Time Zone, but I have newspapers in the east so I need to get an early start every day, especially on Mondays. As I’ve done this for years, I even get up that early on weekends, because it turns out I’m a morning person and that’s when I do my best work.
My routine is to go into my office, turn on the computer and go downstairs to start the coffee. I come back up, check my email, scan the news headlines and hop into the shower. If there’s a breaking story, I’m thinking about cartoons.
The first email this morning was a CBC news alert about the death of David Bowie.
Yeah, that sucks. 69 is not old anymore and cancer, well… shit. David Bowie. What a shame.
No doubt I had to do a cartoon and even though it was unlikely to happen, I had to try to be original, which is a tall order at the best of times, but especially when doing a memorial cartoon. I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t using a quote, because that guy was a poet and everybody else would be quoting his lyrics or something profound that he said. Many would be using the same ones.
I showered quickly, got dressed, grabbed a coffee and starting looking for reference and ideas. The only thing I could think of was to do a portrait but it would have to be quick. I’m an obsessive nitpicker when I paint and I invest a lot of time in that work. But on a Monday morning when all of my papers are expecting cartoons before 10 and everybody and their dog is posting memes and my competitors will be doing the same thing I’m doing…yeah, I had to be fast.
I found a few reference pics, figured out what I was going to do, put down the broad strokes, got the features in the right place and then just painted, with upbeat music playing in the headphones to help me keep the necessary pace. The choices were made on the fly. Originally it was going to be Bowie when he was young, then as Ziggy Stardust, even as The Goblin King from Labrynth, then finally just a portrait of him as an older man, trying to capture his personality.
I used my own digital texture brushes, layer upon layer upon layer, threw down darks and lights, and just kept piling it on. Eventually, getting to a point where it was coming together quickly, after only about an hour and a half of painting. Finally, I wanted to add in some different colour and almost did the full Ziggy lightning bolt on his face, but opted for more of a suggestion of that persona, faded like an old tattoo, a remnant of his past but still a big part of who he is and what he’ll be remembered for.
The final piece ended up taking only a couple of hours, and yet still stretched my skills, that element of haste forcing me to cut corners, paint more loosely, and sacrifice the detail I normally enjoy and am known for in my painted work. I even abandoned my usual practice of using typed text, having to choose an appropriate font and instead just scrawled in the name and dates. It just seemed to work.
This piece ended up being a happy accident, brought about by the sad passing of a true visionary. I didn’t just have to do a death cartoon, I realized that I wanted to, a small tribute among so many today, paying respect to an artist whose impact on music and culture can’t be overstated. Few of us can claim that we have lived our lives so well.
I’ve drawn a lot of death cartoons and when I finish one, I usually feel a sense of relief, that it’s over and I can move on to something else, despite the fact that the responses are usually very positive.
With this one, however, I feel I’ve learned something, and become a better artist as a result.