Graeme_MacKay
September 23rd 1968  (Age 50)
Male
Hamilton

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Random Thots is brought to you by Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist at the Hamilton Spectator, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Website: mackaycartoons.net.

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill

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Thursday, January 03, 2008
Editorial Cartooning Q&A

When cleaning out my email folders I came across a number of correspondences with people who had sent me general questions over the years about editorial cartooning. I've done a lot of answering to those questions so instead of deleting them I'm posting them here just in case you were wondering. 

When were you born? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What are you doing now?
I was born (1968), raised and schooled in the Hamilton area. I attended The University of Ottawa tstudying Political Science and History. Since 1997 I've been the editorial cartoonist at the Hamilton Spectator. I'm married with 2 daughters. If you want to find out more about me go to my
bio page.

What were your favorite comics growing up?
Peanuts, The Far Side, Herman. Magazines - Mad magazine, Cracked, National Lampoon.

Tell us how you became interested in editorial cartoons.
Ever since I was a kid I've always held a fascination for news and people in government. In grade six I did caricatures of the well known despot from Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeni.

What other writing or comics have you worked on?
In University, I drew a politically themed cartoon strip called "
Alas & Alack", at the student newspaper, "The Fulcrum". Between 1999 and 2003, I co-created a strip called "Gridlock", which centered around 5 cab drivers plying their trade in Hamilton.

For readers not familiar with your work, can you tell us something about  editorial cartoons?
Editorial Cartooning is satirizing the news, society, and the people who are in positions of power. Combining caricature, an item in the news, an opinion on that particular item in the news, and throwing in humour makes for the right ingredients of an ideal editorial cartoon. It has been said of editiorial cartoonists that "our job is to come in after the battle is over and shoot the wounded."  A good compilation of reflections on
what defines an editorial cartoon are posted on the website of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists.

Tell us how you acquired your artistic skills.
Practice definitely works. Before becoming an editorial cartoonist, or a comic strip artist for that matter, one has to have a lot of experience drawing. With editorial cartooning, you have to have a keen interest in news. You have to have a sense of humour, and a degree of smarts to be able to defend your cartoon if people are offended.

What artists have inspired/influenced your artistic and writing styles?
Roy Peterson, Ranan Lurie, Michael Rameriz, Aislin, John Larter, Steve Bell, to name a few.

How often do you follow up with media in order to get ideas for your cartoons?
All the time. I read newspapers, watch tv news, listen to peoples opinions of the news from radio call in shows and letters to the editor. The Internet provides a vast array of information and blogs which keep me in tune with news events and how the media is interpreting them.

How do you choose your subjects?
My choice of subject matter is often based on what I assume is going to be the major news issue and talking point on the day the cartoon gets published. I tend to stay away from overtly opinionated cartoons and draw funny illustrations that I hope will appeal to a broad section of the readership.

What do you think about banking cartoons based on projecting coming events, issues, or events?
Projecting ahead is certainly one of the great strategies a cartoonist can use especially in the case of mass marketing and syndication. One of the few problems is finding the time to actually carry out the drawing of a cartoon which could be used several weeks down the road. (This on top of the time spent working on the breaking stories whose shelf life won't extend a day past the next day's publication date.) The other problem may be that a cartoon drawn with a longer shelf life could be taken over by events thereby affecting the message conveyed in your cartoon.
In the business cartoons which prove to have eternal shelf lives are often referred to as "evergreens". They hardly ever include actual personalities but rather relate to an issue that will never go away ie: taxes, gasoline prices, smog, medicare... usually social issues. Not only do cartoons relating to evergreen issues have potential to get printed on the editorial page during slow news days, they also find themselves accompanying Op-ed columns. A bounty of topics although not as fun to draw as poking fun at politicians. 
      The only time I actually use projection when I draw cartoons is during election day. If it's too close to call before the results are read I often have a cartoon ready for whatever scenario arises. Choosing which subjects to draw on can be a difficult matter, especially when you choose a news item which ends up disappearing as soon as the presses start rolling.

Are there any issues or restraints that limit the political cartoonist?
Obviously taste (2) (3) and legal restraints impose boundaries on where and where the poitical cartoonist can't go. It's probably not a good idea to offend an entire religion as the Danish cartoon controversy proved.

Do you have a daily schedule you go through?
Every day I meet with editorial writers at 9:30 to assess the important issues of the day. I formulate an idea by 12:00 and begin drawing after lunch. My deadline is 5:30 and I usually use all available time to fine tune or make minor changes to the days' work. The
right hand column on my bio page is more specific.

What techniques you use for your cartoons and like how you choose what to do to appeal to the readers?
The technique I've used for editorial cartooning in the past is often called pen and ink cross-hatching. It's defined as "two groups of parallel lines which are drawn close together across each other, especially at an angle of 90°, on parts of a picture to show differences of light and darkness". The time saving alternative to cross-hatching is by using different tones and shades of grey atop a line drawing scanned into my computer and edited with Photoshop. In recent years I've relied more on illustration software to shade my cartoons. Here's a few things computers enable me to do: reuse backgrounds, reuse tediously drawn things, symmetrical illustration, and other magical stuff.

Do you think the political cartoon industry is experiencing an changes? If so can you explain?
I think advancements in technology have changed the way cartoons look in recent years. Newspapers are no longer the black and white publications they were 10 or 15 years ago. Colour is now available on most editorial pages and cartoonists are using computer software such as Photoshop to produce their illustrations. Illustration software also allows cartoonists to create work with more details and in less time. Since the advent of the Internet editorial cartoons can be drawn within minutes of a breaking news event and be available to newspaper editors instantaneously. Before the Internet, colour cartoons had to be couriered by mail. Now animated editorial cartoons are viewed as the future direction for the industry.

What would you outline as the major devices used by political cartoonists to communicate messages and persuade audiences?
Cliches, metaphors, hyperbole, satire and caricature... not necessarily in that order of importance.

How important is 'Humour' as a persuasive device?
To me humour is obvious and necessary for almost every editorial cartoon. Whether it's in the gag, in the image, or both, humour is very important. Some cartoonists will tackle serious issues by provoking or conveying sadness, but that's not my cup o'tea.

Do you think political cartoons really can persuade audience opinion and thought?
I think so, particularily if it's an issue involving political figures embroiled in scandal. Editorial cartoons can be effective in adding mockery upon individuals and thereby tipping the balance towards a humiliating end result.

Aside from what might be recognised as the more common devices such as metaphor, caricature, irony etc are there any unorthodox/unusual devices you adopt that are more specific to you?
I occasionally draw cartoons resembling the style of the great 18th century British cartoonist James Gillray ie:
here, here, and here.  I also like to rant against ordinary things that only I seem to get upset about ie: icicle lights
and
coffee drinkers (2).

Do you feel the increasing shift of media journalism form newspapers to the internet has changed the devices employed by the political cartoonist and the way you attempt to communicate and persuade?
There has been opinion among some that the traditional stand alone editorial cartoon created by a local cartoonist will be replaced by cheap syndicated cartoons followed by animated cartoons viewed via the Internet. I do believe that news will be delivered more and more electronically in the years to come, but local stand alone cartoons will continue to be popular.

Through your cartoons do you attempt to persuade and challenge opinion, or just relate to and reinforce the existing opinions of your audience?
I think all editorial cartoonists try to do both. I tend to side a bit right of centre on some political issues so obviously I'll be challenging opinions on the left. I tend not to reinforce popular opinion. Other times I just like to throw in a thought on an issue from a bizarre perspective.

Given your vast experience in the field is there any further advice you would offer me regarding the communicative and persuassive devices employed by political cartoonists?
I'm not too crazy about cartoons which employ obvious gags on any given subject. I believe today's cartoonists tend to rely too much on the same
old cliches that have been used over and over, and I try not to utilize them. At the same time I'm conflicted because newspaper editors tend to like printing these cartoons... which means more money if you're syndicated.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an editorial cartoonist?
Your plan should be to aim for a daily paper but that takes time and a lot of luck to secure a job. If you pinpoint your efforts on a big paper and push your stuff enough with local cartoons you're very likely to convince editors to run your work when the full time guy is off thereby pushing the syndicated junk out of the way for good. Drawing local is the bread and butter of newspaper editorial cartooning and there is a demand for it. A few years ago a did a page giving advice on
how to break into the editorial cartooning business.

What's syndicated mean?
Syndication is the highest level of editorial cartooning in terms of success for the artist. Before one can join a syndicate, distributors will want to see how dedicated you are to cartooning with proof that you can create quality stuff on a consistent basis which will appeal to a broad audience of readers. It's very difficult to jump from being a freelancer to syndication without being employed full time with a big city paper.

What do you mean "syndicated junk"?
The destructive aspect of syndication is the fact that it devalues the work of the cartoonist. Newspapers are choosing to spend a $2 to $5 for nationally distributed work they receive each day in bulk rather than pay $200 to their in house cartoonist to do the same work. Consequently, local cartoonists bent on acheiving national fame by doing national issues are getting fired in order to print boring yet cheaper nationally syndicated junk. I see a huge shift back to cartoonists turning to local stuff so it's good to hear of your interest in local affairs.

How do I become a rich syndicated editorial cartoonist?
Signing up with a syndicate is probably the best solution in getting work shown far and wide, but it won't make you rich as I have learned. Here in Canada we have only one syndicate, Artizans, and they do a good job in getting my stuff published all over the place, but when many of these papers are only paying $5 - $10 a shot there isn't much of a financial reward at the end. The situation in the US is a bit more grim since the market is saturated with syndicates who sell cartoons in batches as opposed to single sales. Most syndicates in the U.S. sell cartoons like corn on the cob sold by the dozen.

I have sent editorial cartoons to several newspapers along with the self-addressed stamped envelope and postcard. I have only heard back from one newspaper during a three week period. What is the correct protocal here? I did e-mail one of the editors asking if they did recieve the cartoons with no reply. Should I call? Or should I just assume it's been sent to the trash can?
Speaking as someone who works from inside a newspaper with a view of my bosses glassed in office only 20 feet from where I work I can give you my observances -- Packages occasionally come in from cartoonists like yourself. They don't actually flood in, at least not at this 105,000 circulation newspaper, but once every 2 or 3 weeks my boss gets something. They usually don't get looked at unless the boss is having a slow day -- they're just added to the pile of stuff he gets from Journalism schools, letters from people who want writing jobs and various junk mail. This stuff gets cleared away quickly. What he does pay attention to are the ones who make follow up calls after sending work. Granted, those people don't have a great chance of getting stuff published, since I'm the hired cartoonist, but who knows what the boss is thinking. The key here is a personal touch to back up your package. Your fortunes will increase greatly by doing this. Hard to believe, but even those self stamped postcards serve too much of an effort for lazy editors to fill out and walk to an internal mail tray for posting. In calling you should be prepared to speak to some unfriendly editors, others, such as my own boss, are surprisingly friendly, and will listen to whatever you have to say. Just remember, their job often involves dealing with the public including the nutbars and people who'll complain daily about everything. Don't let nasty editors intimidate you from continuing your self promotion campaign.

Your thoughts on the online comic community?
People who wanted links to their site from Gridlock's were kind and polite. As for the "community", and this might hurt, I saw it as a group of cliquey high school geeks made up of a few talented aspiring cartoonists and a lot of other doodling wannabes who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night than to post messages on online comic bulletin boards.

Being non-american, do you feel somewhat removed from many of the more mainstream print comics?
I would think if there was any sort of "removal" felt by online cartoonists it would be in terms of money. I would hope most online cartoonists would agree that online cartoons and print cartoons are comparing apples to oranges. The big difference between online comics and mainstream is the fact that there are more freedoms for the online cartoonist who is not restricted by boundaries set out by the syndicates. The more eyes that look at your work before it gets seen by the public, the less edgy and interesting a cartoon becomes. On the other hand, it prevents a comic from stepping over that fine line of wit to tastelessness.

Does anything set you apart, being a Canadian comic artist, from other American print comics?
Canadians and Americans are virtually the same when it comes to print comics because our societies are so similar and integrated. Compare a North American with, say, a Turkish comic strip artist and then you have an intriguing discussion.

How, if at all, does being "Canadian" factor into the creative process?
I'd think being Canadian, after being assumed American, plays well with the world outside the US. Big deal. To Americans, the vast majority who'll support a Canadian cartoon by reading it, the nationality behind a strip doesn't do any good, if anything, it'll cause an American to yawn.

Have you ever attended any Canadian or American Comic or Art Conventions?
I've gone to several Editorial Cartoonist conventions on both sides of the border ie: Washington D.C, Denver, Halifax.

Do you believe that popular cultures preoccupation with the Anime-style of art has diluted the overall quality of comics both online and in print, or improved it?
It's just me, but I hate the anime-style of cartoons - so personally, Anime turns me off from reading a comic in that style. At the same time, I understand its popularity and it's all part of the natural evolution of comic style. Comics all looked the same in the 1930's, and since then have changed reflecting society's trends and ways of thinking. To an old guy like me Anime is off-putting, to younger people, it's progess.

What movies, cartoons and TV shows are your favorites?
I like historical movies, like Masters and Commander, Gladiator, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan. As for humour, I like the many mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, ie: Best in Show. Also, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Annie Hall, even American Pie. I like a number of shoot 'em up films, Casino, The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas. I don't watch big network tv. I do watch a lot of shows from TLC, PBS, and Showcase. Six Feet Under was a series I had been following. I'm a big fan of the show "The Office"

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you bring with you?
If I was syrupy I'd say my wife and daughters, and a copy of the Holy Bible. But to be practical, it would be two dairy cows and a sharp knife. The cows would have to be male and female so that veal could be a potential dinner in the future. I'd have to figure out how to create fire without matches so I could eat the meat. The surrounding water would have to be fresh so the cows could drink it and so I could drink the cow's milk while waiting for my veal dinner to arrive.

What books do you read?
I don't have the attention span nor intelligence to read books. There used to be a time when I read political and historical biographies. Now I read a lot of newspapers and news on the net to get cartoon material. That's not to say I don't read books to my daughters. In the past week I've read Cat in the Hat, Good-night Moon, Rainbow Fish, Barnyard Dance, Richard Scary's Trip to the Airport, just to name a few.

You have a really big website. Why do you bother? I like to think I've got one of the best editorial cartoon sites on the Internet. My intention is to make my cartoons as accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy my editorial cartoons. I like to think that my cartoons are chronicles of issues and personalities of our times. I'm encouraged in knowing that teachers and students are using my cartoons to educate and entertain themselves in the study of current affairs. Another important function of my website is for personal organization. My archives allows me to call up past cartoons licketty split, and that's a lot better than trudging through cardboard boxes to find old work.

How can somebody contact you? Email. [Via Graeme MacKay's website]: http://www.mackaycartoons.net

Posted at 11:04 pm by Graeme_MacKay

 

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