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.