By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday February 8, 2012
Longtime Spec cartoonist Blaine dead at 74
One of The Spectator’s most colourful and well-known personalities of recent decades has died.
Blaine, who was the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist for 30 years until his retirement in 1993, had been in poor health in recent years after heart surgery and a stroke and was living at Macassa Lodge. He died at Juravinski Hospital Sunday evening.
He was born in Glace Bay, N.S., with the name Blaine MacDonald. But as he gained profile in the world of cartooning, adopting a style that was strongly influenced by the great Toronto Star cartoonist Duncan Macpherson, he legally changed his name to Blaine.
Blaine was anything but bland. He had a black belt in karate, played guitar and sang, liked wearing cowboy boots and jewellery and was remembered for driving motorcycles and a Corvette Stingray monogrammed with a drawing of a butterfly on the hood.
The story goes that he once picked up an injured butterfly by the side of the road, nursed it back to health, and then used the experience of releasing it for inspiration to buy lottery tickets. He matched numbers to the letters of the song Butterflies are Free (B=2, U=21 etc.) and won $15,443 in Lottario.
But that wasn’t the only thing he won during his life. For his editorial cartooning, Blaine received National Newspaper Awards, a Reuben Award and a Salon of Cartoons Grand Prize. Blaine created a national profile for himself and the paper through the syndication of his work.
Roy Carless, a local cartoonist who died in 2009, once described Blaine as “probably the most brilliant caricaturist that I ever met. A lot of artists were jealous of him.”
Other Blaine admirers included Pierre Trudeau, who wrote to Blaine in May 1969, saying: “I am not sure whether it is more foolhardy for a politician to praise the work of a cartoonist, or to refuse to do so — particularly when the cartoonist holds a black belt in karate. In any case, I freely admit to enjoying your drawings, both the lifelike pencil portraits and the imaginative political caricatures. Keep that pencil sharpened. My fellow politicians and I will keep you well supplied with material.”
But actually it was Blaine who owed thanks to the former prime minister. Trudeau was one of the cartoonist’s favourite subjects and Blaine won a National Newspaper Award by depicting him putting his middle finger into a light socket with one hand and holding an illuminated light bulb with the other. The caption: Finger Power.
Blaine’s caricatures of Trudeau have a special meaning to The Spec’s current editorial cartoonist, Graeme MacKay. Years ago, as a Grade 10 student with a sketchbook tucked under his arm, MacKay went into The Spec’s newsroom to meet Blaine.
MacKay says he remembers the five-minute meeting with his hero in such detail that he can still play it like a short movie inside his head. It ends with Blaine grabbing a blue pencil and a piece of paper, and in a matter of seconds drawing a cartoon of Trudeau.
“I thought, ‘This guy is incredible,’” MacKay says. “I still have the drawing.”
Blaine’s wife, Ildiko Horvath, said Blaine was “a very hard worker. Sometimes he would get an idea and draw it and later on think of something else. He’d tear it up and start again and he would come home at 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock when he was finally finished.”
Former MP and cabinet minister Sheila Copps said: “He was an unbelievably talented artist, and a great motorcyclist. He gave me my first ride on a bike, home from my summer job at The Spec. His cartoons really captured the essence of the moment. Several of his cartoons about my time in politics are framed prized possessions.”
Former Mayor Bob Morrow said: “He had a following that would turn to see what he had drawn in the paper before turning to anything else. He was a very nice fellow and a great depicter of the events of the day.”
Jack MacDonald, who died in 2010, used to say he treasured the political cartoons that Blaine drew of him during his time as mayor. His favourite was published after an election win and pictured the new mayor crawling into bed with a big ceremonial chain around his neck and his wife, Jessie, remarking, “You can’t wear that thing to bed.”
MacDonald — who wrote a regular column for The Spec in the 1990s, working out of the same editorial page office as Blaine — once told a reporter: “If you knew him, you knew he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. If you crossed him, he would be very upset about it. But there was no malice in him. There was humour.”
MacKay says Blaine had a different sense of humour than political cartoonists today.
“His cartoons weren’t nasty,” he says. “He used more of a whimsical approach. It was kind of a Rich Little kind of humour compared to the more cutting, crass things you see on late-night television.”
Horvath said recent years had been difficult for Blaine. He couldn’t speak and suffered from partial paralysis. He had been admitted to the Juravinski Hospital because he was having trouble breathing. He died at about 8 p.m. after watching part of the Super Bowl on television.
“You know how some people can predict things? He always used to say that he wanted to live to 74,” she said. “And he did.”
As well as Horvath, Blaine is survived by a daughter, Tana, and son, Kirk. Visitation will take place Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Bay Gardens Funeral Home, 1010 Botanical Dr., Burlington. The funeral will be held there at 11 a.m. Friday. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)