Happy 20th Anniversary!
Friday July 7 2017
In the early Summer 1997, I was a GO bus commuter living in Toronto and starting out my new job in the city where I was born.
Hamilton and its daily newspaper was drawing me back, and it all began with a big giant bonfire and a black smoke plume that drifted off in the skies for as far as the eye could see. The festive atmosphere inspired the above cartoon and the resulting angry reader feedback quickly thrust me into the new gig that would bring much much more hate mail. Knowing the lasting effects of the Plastimet fire, and increasing numbers of firefighters dying prematurely in the following years, I don’t think I would’ve been as frivolous in my depiction. Yet it illustrates a popular sentiment at the time, and something that a photo or story can’t do on its own. It also presents how attitudes and opinions change over time, and in the time I’ve been a cartoonist, there has been plenty of that as I look back at my own work and wince and scratch my head.
I had been getting my illustrations printed in the Spec for a couple of years, but it was a brash young editor by the name of Kirk LaPointe who put out the call for a staff editorial cartoonist – a position the Spectator had abandoned when the great cartoonist Blaine had taken to retirement 5 years before. I don’t know what competition I was up against, but I recall doubting I was ever going to be the one who’d get chosen, and was probably the reason I showed up at the interview with Mr. LaPointe wearing shorts.
To the point of being hired at the Spectator my only experience working for another company had been in retail, mostly to grocery stores, wrapping up meat for customers, and destined to become a life long butcher. I joke that the pursuit of becoming a butcher happened in a metaphorical sense by becoming a satirist, carving up public figures on a daily basis.
Yet, even 20 years ago, the thought of a newspaper hiring an editorial cartoonist seemed pretty crazy. There were many many of them around in 1997, compared to now, and almost all had decades of tenure at their respective newspapers when I and a few others of my age came on the scene. Over the past 2 decades many of the greats, like Sue Dewar, Roy Peterson, Norm Muffit, Bob Krieger, Cam Cardow, Anthony Jenkins, Dale Cummings, Mike Graston, and Thomas (TAB) Boldt, to name a few colleagues just in Canada, have either retired, moved on to other jobs, or died.
A lot of changes have happened in 20 years. A lot. When I was escorted to my work area in 1997, I was given a table to sit at in a back corner of the editorial page cave. I could use Blaine’s old drafting table, but at the time he had been saying over the previous 5 years since retirement that he was going to drop by sometime to take it home (I think it hung around for another 5 years.) It probably took another month after being hired before I got a phone, and probably 2 more years until I got my first computer to use in the office. In the time between, and you can see the change in my style as evidence, technology in the form of Photoshop, has completely changed the look of my drawings. The Internet and social media has changed the way I deliver my editorial cartoons. This website mackaycartoons.net, has been archiving my cartoons since the year 2000.
And, oh yeah, in 20 years I moved back to Hamilton, got married, bought a house, became a father to 3 girls, built lasting friendships, got syndicated, became a President (Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists), hosted a convention (of the ACEC), got Wikipediaed, a “shop” owner, and published a book. Who knows what the next 20 years hold but I owe much of my present day success to the one and only The Hamilton Spectator.
On July 7th 1997 I became editorial cartoonist at the Hamilton Spectator. In that time, more than 4500 cartoons have been created in the past 20 years. Above is a slide show of 20 cartoons one for each year.
Friday November 4, 2016
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday November 4, 2016
It’s almost over
Hillary Clinton’s mirthless slog toward the presidency is entering its final full week. Donald Trump, meanwhile, enters the final eight days of the campaign upbeat, having seen his chances of winning double over the weekend after news Friday afternoon that the FBI is reviewing additional emails in its investigation of Clinton’s private email server.
The candidates’ contrasting moods have changed — but those moods belie the reality of a race that still favors the Democratic nominee.
Trump now has a roughly 20 percent chance of winning the White House next Tuesday, almost double what it was days earlier after a month of poor debate performances and increasingly unfocused, angry speeches. Surveys taken over the weekend show that the FBI’s decision is bringing some disaffected Republican voters home to Trump but that a majority of voters are unlikely to change their minds in light of the latest “October surprise.”
“I’d characterize it more as Trump consolidating some of the available anti-Clinton vote as opposed to Clinton’s support eroding,” said GOP strategist Bruce Haynes. “Now the question is do people interpret this news in a way that raises enough doubts about Clinton’s judgment to cut into her number. Because it’s not enough for Trump’s number to move up. Hers has to go down.” (Source: Politico)
Nice work, but to be brutally honest…
I spend quite a bit of time reviewing work from people who want to see their artistic skills put to print. Often, they’re those with a knack for drawing and have proven themselves to be good artists. Some of them actually aspire to draw editorial cartoons and have banked up a number of examples over a period of time proving a genuine passion. The portfolios they let me peek into may or may not be good, but at least they have an idea of what editorial cartooning is about.
Others, however, approach me on how to get their work printed after proving themselves not only to have little experience in editorial cartooning, but really not having much exposure to newspapers in general. Oh, yes their email attachments of landscape paintings and charcoal renderings of celebrities from 10 years ago indicates a firm interest in art, but how does it relate to editorial cartooning?
My response to many is often in the same tone as the one I sent recently below. It received no reply, no thanks for my time, just crickets – which is standard. But rather than let it vaporize into the emailsphere I thought I share it here, and maybe others will take something from it:
Dear aspiring editorial cartoonist,
It’s great that you’re trying your hand at editorial cartooning. Satire is a wonderful way of blending one’s artistic skill with a rant about something and getting a response that provokes laughter, scorn, or a bit of both.
I see by your attached samples that you are someone who has taken quite a bit of time illustrating. The landscape paintings, and illustrations of fruit baskets and pencil sketches prove that you’re someone with an artistic passion. If you’re like me, you’ll know that with every successful creation are 1 to 10 others that were abandoned or crumpled up and sent to the bin. Like painting, editorial cartooning requires a lot of practice and crumpled up pieces of paper. You should see my attempt at painting – lots of unfinished canvasses and others with the quality of paint-by-numbers pieces.
In terms of editorial cartooning, I think, based on the one editorial cartoon sent, that if you really want to get mass print publicity, you need to practice more, loosen up your rigid lines, perfect your lettering, establish a style, and explore technology that allows cartoonists to quickly colour their work beyond using pencil crayons. What editors want to see are bodies of work by prospective freelancers that confirms consistency and experienced quality.
I would also suggest using websites like Pinterest.com, Deviantart.com, and toonpool.com to peruse the works of others and places to post your own work for easy upload, display, and comparison. Share your work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I looked at your website and each of your email attachments, but the tendency I’ve come to realize is that many editors don’t bother taking the few moments to examine website content or attachments. The aforementioned sites are way more convenient and are also a great way to invite constructive criticism, but it means embracing online activity which I know can be repulsive for some.
As for being bounced around the newsroom from person to person trying to get attention, it’s the unfortunate nature of this industry beast. The people you’ve already emailed to are higher up editors with their fingers on many buttons – illustration is not really one of the buttons. The Entertainment & Life editor also controls many buttons, and one of them is deciding on the odd commission piece that appears in their section. Again, as I stated in my previous email to you, there’s not much of a budget for paying illustrators, which has turned off a lot of artists, hence the tendency for editors is to avoid humiliating artists by paying little and choosing to run stock photos/illustrations instead. Also, the turn around time for completing work is so short that it’s too much of a challenge for too little in return, and that’s not only from the view of the artist, but the editor as well.
I wish I could give you more positive advice. As a guy with no buttons to press except readers’ reaction, I’d love to see more illustrations in the paper, and more women drawing editorial cartoons. All I can offer are suggestions for anyone aspiring to get their work published is to practice, promote and persist at getting attention.
Are we really Charlie?
By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – January 8, 2015
This morning, after a day of reading the news and world reaction to the bloody attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, my emotions as a fellow editorial cartoonist continue to be mixed with sadness, anger, and worry. France is a nation that prides itself in its history and tradition of advancing modern democratic principles. For people to be assassinated for merely expressing themselves under the basic protections enshrined in constitutions and typified in similar charters throughout the western world is jarring and worrisome to everyone in the field of producing satire.
Charlie Hebdo delivers a very different breed of satire than what audiences in the mainstream media are served up, especially here in North America. In general, the boundaries that cartoonists work with are far broader in Europe than they are here. In some respects, cartoonists working in the developing world may be forbidden to criticize their politicians, but are given more liberty to go after religion and other sacred cows that would cause tremendous outrage here in North America. At the gutsy Charlie Hebdo magazine, among many of the social targets sought after are any kind of radicalized, conservative, or orthodox religion. Many of the cartoons are illustrative of and perfectly represent the same radical oral messages everyday normal people have in everyday water cooler conversations in any western civilization, yet they’ll never make it to print.
While I worry about what happens next in a France full of tensions between free expressionist defenders and an agitated community of Muslim community and immigrants, I can’t help but think of the chilling effect this particular incident will have on worldwide satire in general. While the silver lining in this tragedy is a refresher course on the value and importance of free expression and the fraternal declaration of “Je suis Charlie”, I worry about the sustainability of my craft.
Here at the Hamilton Spectator, I’m proud to be part of a line of great editorial cartoonists, and I love what I do. However, the hard truth about mainstream media in North America is that we are NOT Charlie. While some argue that running free expressionist cartoons of any degree of offence is a representation of a mature civilized state, we have to remember that society is and always will be made up of a mix of progressive and barbaric people. Freedom of expression therefore needs to be delicately balanced, and I can only hope that eventually the barbarians get crushed. Only then, can we boldly declare, “Je suis Charlie”.
Brian Gable on the importance of free expression
Globe & Mail Gallery of cartoons in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo