Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The 9/11 cartoon that never was

I drew this cartoon in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of September 11th. But after I submitted it to the Mirror, I thought better of it and submitted another instead.

Amazingly, even a decade after the event, I thought memories and feelings were still too raw for me to make the rather harsh observation in the cartoon. And that observation is that, even with all the time that has passed and all that has happened since, flowing from that tragic, horrific day - the wars, the deaths of thousands more innocent people - none of the parties involved have learned anything.

Today, with the drum beat of war once again growing over Iran, that is exactly what we should be reflecting on.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Some timeless advice

This great video posted on the page for the upcoming Damn Cartoons! event coming up in Washington, DC features some timeless advice from editorial cartoonist Ding Darling:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A dying artform?

Liz França, Brazil, first prize winner 2012 Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF).
Vancouver-based writer and cartoonist Geoff Olsen examines the present state of editorial cartooning in a well-written piece in the August issue of Common Ground.

Great article, well worth reading not only by cartoonists but by anyone concerned with the effects of media concentration on freedom of speech. I met and chatted with Geoff at the Montreal convention of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists last month. Editorial cartooning's uncertain future was the focus of many a dinner table and late night hospitality suite conversation as cartoonists try to find their way through a shifting media and economic landscape.

Most telling quote: "Although editors vary in temperament, editorial cartooning seems to be endured rather than encouraged by management. Perhaps one problem is that the political sentiments of the average Canadian caricaturist lie somewhere between Stéphane Dion and Jane Fonda, while the editorial position of many Canadian newspapers ranges somewhere between Barbara Amiel and Genghis Khan."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Falling in love with colour

From the time I started cartooning at the age of 15 I drew all my cartoons in black ink on white paper. And I continued to draw them that way for decades.

I came up with ideas, sketched them out and drew them in black and white. The cartoons were then printed in black and white. There was a brief period where I tried using grayscale (or halftone as it was known back then) for shading and a longer period when I crosshatched, but overall it was all line drawing in black and white. Aside from a brief unpublished experiment using poster paints I never even tried to work in color. No watercolours or pastels or even coloured pencils for me.

Then about five years ago, I got an email from Mirror editor Al Sutherland telling me the paper was going to start using colour everywhere inside, as opposed to just the cover and a few inner pages. He gave me the choice of continuing in black and white or making the jump to full colour. I agonized over it for a few hours (I had a deadline the same day, of course) and finally decided to make the leap. I figured I could always go back to black and white if it didn't work out.

It wasn't an easy transition. Basically I didn't think in colour, I thought in terms of black and white line drawings. So most of the time I just did line drawings and dropped in colour, the way most Sunday funnies are done. The colour was really just a filler, something to make the drawing a little prettier.

It took me years to realize I could use colour to take the cartoon further, to make the punchline (if there was one) more effective. And eventually, only in the last year or so, I started to plan my cartoons with colour foremost in my mind, sometimes deciding the colour scheme first before I had even sketched out an idea. This was a real revelation. And, to tell the truth, my biggest regret about the Mirror closing (even more than the loss of a regular paycheck) was that my experiments with colour were at an end, or at least on hold until I can find another outlet for my cartoons.

Anyway, here are a few favourite examples of my colour cartoons from the Mirror...

Friday, July 20, 2012

"How do I draw a cartoon about THAT?"

It's a question editorial cartoonists ask themselves whenever something tragic occurs in the news. It could be a major natural disaster, it could be the death of a prominent personality. Or, as has happened not once but twice this week, it could be a mass shooting like those that took place in Toronto and Colorado.

How do you approach it? You can't be funny about it, obviously, but the story is so big you can't ignore it either. It's your job to interpret current events visually. And normally your job is to be provocative (to a certain extent, you're expressing an opinion after all), glib and funny. But you can't do that when lives have been lost, families torn apart or destroyed. In such cases you need to be especially sensitive to the feelings not only of those directly touched by the event but to the thousands who identify and grieve along with them.

In the cartoon above, Yahoo! Quebec's Fleg reacted to last night's Dark Knight Rises Colorado movie theater shooting with a reference to the Caped Crusader himself. Batman mourns the dead from an isolated mountaintop. The cartoon is sombre while making an appropriate pop culture reference. It expresses a sadness and bewilderment that most of us feel but doesn't otherwise express an opinion.

Freelancer Michael De Adder's Toronto Star cartoon on Monday's block party shooting goes further in its view of that tragic event. It comments on the sad fact that an inner city toddler in Toronto is almost as likely to get hit by a bullet as they are to fall off their trike. In other words, childhood isn't supposed to be like this, kids should be able to run and play in their neighbourhoods safe from the danger of flying slugs.

 Unfortunately, as is often the case when feelings are high, the cartoon was completely mis-read by a lot of people who might otherwise agree with the sentiment. In some cases, readers thought De Adder was trying to be funny about the story, which he obviously is not. But sometimes irony, or the lack thereof, lies in the eye of the beholder. Other readers took exception to his use of the word "they," interpreting it to mean African-Canadians, whereas De Adder meant the "they" to refer to children. In fact, as he explains in his blog, his initial version of the cartoon had the word "children" in it but he changed it because he thought, with a child pictured, the word "children" would be redundant.

My Montreal Mirror cartoon on last year's Tucson shooting went much further than either of the above, specifically assigning blame, in this case to Sarah Palin, who along with an array of Tea Party-supporting conservatives I felt had created an atmosphere that led directly to the attack. I'm not sure the editor of a mainstream daily would have let me get away with such a strong, direct statement. But, working for an alt weekly, I had much more latitude.

Even so, every time something truly awful happens as a cartoonist you have to figure out a way to deal with it that is somehow meaningful, relevant, respectful and true to your world view. It's never a simple or an easy task.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cartoon Hero: Ron Cobb

One of the first editorial cartoons that stuck with me as a kid was the one above, by Ron Cobb. I saw it in the L.A. Free Press, which my eldest brother (by 10 years) had a subscription to. Not only did I like the actual drawing, but the dark sense of humour behind it appealed to me as well. I was only 13 and hadn't seen Dr. Strangelove yet, so I didn't know you could make a comment about something like nuclear annihilation and be funny about it.

Every week after that, whenever a new copy of the Freep plopped through the mail slot, I grabbed it and sought out the Cobb cartoon. At the time I had no idea who this guy, or even what his first name, was (he was just "R. Cobb" the way that Robert Crumb was "R. Crumb" in the underground comix I also probably should not have been reading). But the combination of clean drawing style and dark irony had me hooked.

This was at a time when I was also being exposed to the work of Jules Feiffer, thanks to another one of my brother's subscriptions, this to the Village Voice. But Feiffer's sensibility as a cartoonist was of another era, primarily the late 50s, with his focus on neurosis and self-analysis (much like Woody Allen). Cobb's outlook was more contemporary, more hooked-in to the 60s "movement" mentality and the counterculture. Plus he could draw really cool machines (which I never could and still can't do).

Sometime in the early 70s I lost track of Cobb and didn't hear of him again, thinking he had either crashed and burned like all my other 60s idols or just vanished into a commune or something. Imagine my delight when I ultimately found out he was connected with some of my favourite movies. Unable to make a decent living as an editorial cartoonist, Cobb had turned that dark sensibility and talent for churning out pictures of great machines into a gig as a production designer on such films as Dark Star, Star Wars and Alien. He also contributed designs to The Abyss, Total Recall and Back To The Future. More than almost any other designer, Cobb helped shape the look of science fiction movies from the 1970s right into the 90s.

What a cool guy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The cartoonist on the radio...

Sounds ridiculous, right? Like mime on the radio. But here's why I bring it up...

A couple of days ago I had a Twitter exchange with Montreal media blogger Steve Faguy. Steve was teasing me about tweeting that I had applied for a radio job, telling me "You'd be the first radio cartoonist." I reminded him I'd already been the resident "radio cartoonist" for many years on CBC Montreal, where I was the comic foil for the funniest broadcaster in the country.

I worked opposite morning show host Dave Bronstetter for a decade.What I did on-air at the CBC went way beyond my traffic reporter job description. Bronstetter is a true wit who tested my ability to ad lib to the utmost every single morning, much to the chagrin of a string of CBC producers and much to the delight of our audience.

I grabbed the papers every day and concocted a daily, unscripted running commentary on whatever was happening in the news and pop culture. I wrote, produced and performed What Happened, a weekly comedy takeoff on the news that was syndicated across the country. What Happened then spawned an online animated cartoon and a book. I was also simultaneously (no, not while I was reporting the traffic) drawing editorial cartoons for, respectively, alt weeklies Hour, then the Mirror.

So, yeah, Steve, I was a radio cartoonist.

But how did I get there? I've always been a writer. I've always been a cartoonist. I became a broadcaster by accident. A happy accident. The whole story was reported last fall on the CBC's 75th anniversary blog.

I drew a caricature of Morningside host Peter Gzowski (above) while listening to the show one day. (The crosshatch style, so different from how I draw today, was inspired by David Levine). I mailed it in on a whim, the CBC bought the art and started using it to promote the program. Eventually I met Gzowski while I was doing a book tour that saw me do a lot of media interviews, largely radio spots. Surprisingly, I discovered I was pretty good in front of a live microphone.

Now fast forward a bit. A year after I served on the jury of the Salon de la Caricature (and that's another story I'll get to some day), I got a call from the Salon's founder, the eminent Robert LaPalme, asking me to attend a news conference where the current prize winners were to be announced. I got there, looked over the prize-winning cartoons and did a string of interviews (as a cartoon "authority"), including one with a well-known CBC writer-broadcaster. After the interview she shut off her tape recorder and said "You should be in radio." I said "How do you do that?" and she gave me a phone number. Two weeks later I was working as a current affairs researcher for CBC Radio. Then I started working on-air doing traffic on the afternoon show. And, after many more twists and turns, ultimately wound up opposite Bronstetter on Daybreak.

Nowadays would anyone take a chance hiring a young person to work in radio whose main credentials were that they could write a bit (I freelanced for small magazines) and draw funny pictures? Probably not, which is a pity. Some of the best broadcasters I've ever met never "studied" broadcasting, they fell into it. Gzowski had been an editor at Maclean's.

Anyway, there I was, a cartoonist on the radio. And, later, radio cartoonist.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Time to make the donuts...

When I worked at the Mirror, I had to make one deadline a week. One. My editorial cartoon for the alt weekly had to be emailed before 5pm Monday. After that, Miller time.

Of course, I was drawing a cartoon that was going to appear Thursday, a three-day lead, which meant I had to pick something that would still be topical and, hopefully, make sense by the time the paper hit the stands. That was the real challenge. But still, just one deadline. A week.

Halifax-based freelancer Michael De Adder, though has the opposite problem. He has to do six cartoons in ONE DAY.

The nationally-renowned, award-winning cartoonist tells us what his Fridays are like in his blog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are cartoonists artists? Not to the Canada Council.

It's one of those questions that makes cartoonists, and especially editorial cartoonists, squirm. Granted, most would agree that what they practice is an artform with a long and established history. But to call themselves "artists?" That makes them uncomfortable. Because it seems pretentious. And because it weights what they do with the heavy mantle of "IMPORTANCE." Whereas, really, they just draw funny pictures.

But if that's what they think then they're wrong. Because they are artists and what they produce is art, goddammit. Highly topical, highly opinionated - and, yes, usually funny - art.

I've had the same discussion with standup comics. These are people who, like cartoonists, work intensely at developing creative skills that they apply to connecting with, entertaining and informing an audience. They can and will talk about what they do deep into the night amongst themselves, analyzing every turn of phrase, every gesture, every pause - even mic technique, ferchrissake - referring to Carlin, Pryor, Wright, the whole pantheon of comic geniuses to make their points. But call them artists? No, uh-uh, nope, they're entertainers, performers. Not artists.

Bullshit. They're artists. Just like cartoonists.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists, which held its biennial convention two weeks ago in Montreal, has launched an online petition that calls on the Canada Council to end its ban on supporting cartoonists and publishers of cartoon books.

I bet you didn't know the Council had this blind spot, did you? Except it's not really a blind spot. No, it's a form of discrimination. The Council supports virtually every other school of creative art in the country. Publishers, specifically, get funding for every kind of book imaginable (including graphic novels), but not a cent of public money for books of cartoons. Even though there is hardly a major museum or educational institution in Canada that does not have cartoons, especially editorial cartoons, somewhere in its collection.

Worse, new publishers in particular are effectively penalized for publishing cartoon books. Here's how it works: Before a new publisher can be considered a candidate for Council support, they must independently publish a dozen titles on their own dime. Fine, BUT...if one of those books is a collection of cartoons, it does not count towards their qualification because the Canada Council does not consider it a "real" book. How is that not snobbism of the highest order? How is that not discrimination?

Historians and (believe it or not) even some politicians are constantly telling cartoonists how important their work is; history on the run, lynchpin of democracy, blahblahblah. At the Montreal convention at least two academics and three politicians (including former PM Paul Martin) did just that. It's the sort of thing that makes cartoonists roll their eyes at each other. But inside they know it's true. It's just not cool to say so out loud. Because the idea is to take the work seriously, yes, but not to take themselves too seriously. Anybody who takes themselves too seriously, after all, is a bore and might as well run for office. Or run the Canada Council.

The ACEC is trying to redress what is really an injustice that (before you go off on the Tories: "That f***in' Stephen Harper!"), has existed for a loooong time, even under the Liberals. Because it doesn't have to do with politics but with perspective. The Canada Council doesn't have it.

So sign the petition if you think Canada's cartoonists deserve to be recognized somewhere other than on the wall of your office cubicle or your fridge door (though that is the highest honour). Do it now. Kick the Canada Council in the goolies.

About the pic at the top: That's outgoing ACEC president Terry (Aislin) Mosher with a framed copy of one of the most famous editorial cartoons ever published in Quebec: Serge Chapleau's portrait of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe wearing his infamous cheese hat. Now that's art.

You can also help support Canada's editorial cartoonists by buying this book:

It's a nice little collection of drawings by every single editorial cartoonist in the country. Each cartoonist - whether working at a daily,  a weekly or other publication - was asked by Aislin to choose a single drawing that best represents their work. The result is a snapshot of the art of the editorial cartoon in Canada today. An introduction provides a historical context for the collection. The book is also the catalog for an exhibition running through the summer at Montreal's McCord Museum

Monday, July 9, 2012

Shattered Mirror

Okay, this is kind of old news now but, since it's the main reason I ended up starting this blog, I figured it should be addressed. Plus it may be news to you if you're not a Montrealer.

Above is the last editorial cartoon I drew for the Montreal Mirror. It appeared in the June 21 issue. The next day the paper's corporate owner, Quebecor, announced that the alt weekly, founded in 1985, was shutting down for good. The move came with absolutely no warning, sending a shockwave through Montreal's media and arts communities. Seven full-time jobs vanished, dozens of freelancers suddenly no longer had rent money. No more Sasha, no more Rant Line, no more Best of Montreal.

I found out about it on Facebook. Really. I'd been the Mirror's editorial cartoonist for 9 1/2 years, having moved there in 2003 after a decade with cross-town rival Hour (and I'll tell that whole story in a future post). So suddenly after nearly 20 years I no longer had a steady cartooning gig. Same for my buddy Rick Trembles, whose Motion Picture Purgatory ran in the paper for a generation, give or take a few years.

Also tossed in the street was uber-talented music editor and comics artist Rupert Bottenberg. And there will be no more brilliant Richard Suicide covers to look forward to anymore either.

There's been a lot of speculation as to why this happened. Scarcely a month prior, Hour had finally been put out of its misery once and for all by its parent company Voir (corporate owner Transcontinental). This was a long time coming. Last year Hour laid off its entire (albeit small) full-time editorial staff, replacing them with a single editor and a single freelance columnist. So, for all intents and purposes, the Mirror had the anglo alt weekly market to itself. And the paper, though it wasn't pulling in the advertising bucks it once did, looked healthy and viable. But not viable enough for Quebecor.

In a phony letter from "the editors" (it was actually written by somebody in the corporate head office) posted on the Mirror website, Quebecor blamed "the growing popularity of digital media" for its decision to close the paper. Of course, it that were true, you'd think they'd have developed the paper as an online platform and held onto the sweet demographic that made up its readership (primarily 20- and 30-somethings) for its advertisers.

So was it just business? If so, why does Sun Media/Quebecor keep its neanderthal clown circus Sun News Network going? The cable "news" channel bleeds millions and yet has nothing to show for it but an audience made up of mouth-breathing Morlocks and pets left alone at home with the TV on (their ratings are embarrassingly low).

Was it political? The editorially-independent and definitely leftish Mirror was the black sheep of the Sun Media/Quebecor family, which leans further right than Karl Rove at a Tea Party cross-burning. Maybe they just decided it was time to drown the ever-troublesome offspring (actually an adoptee, Quebecor purchased the Mirror in 1997) in the bathtub.

Was it personal? Did CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau (PKP) finally decide that, with Trancontinental's Hour out of the anglo alt weekly market, he no longer needed the Mirror on the stands to show what a big swinging dick he was? (The two companies compete for market share in many other areas).

Or maybe it's all of the above. We don't really know and probably never will. Now it's all history. And a whole bunch of people (me included) just have to get their shit together and move on...

...But before that, I might as well use the opportunity here to thank editor Alastair Sutherland for all the years he just let me do my thing, never spiking a single cartoon. I think he even liked a few, judging from the "ha!" I'd occasionally get in an email, effusive praise from him. And thanks to art director Chris Tucker who, on many an occasion, had to replace one version of a cartoon with another just because I decided to move an eyebrow or redo the shading under an armpit or some other such neurotic cartoonist bullshit.

Finally, thanks to the Mirror's readers. Without you it would have just been wanking.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The last thing the world needs is another blog. So here's another blog.

I generally have no idea what I'm doing and I never have.

 I jump into things and figure out how to do them as I go along. I've never had the patience for proper instruction, training or reading manuals. As a kid, I taught myself how to ride a bicycle on a bike with only one pedal. I became a professional illustrator and cartoonist without having ever gone to art school (it shows). I fell into broadcasting from print because I gave good interviews.

Why not write a blog.

So, background (this is the easiest way to write my first post and I will always find the easiest way to do things): My name is Dave Rosen.

I'm a cartoonist and a seller of vintage movie posters. The former is actually now a little uncertain since I lost my regular gig when the Montreal Mirror shut down a couple of weeks ago (more on that later). The latter started as a sideline, became a full-time business and now may be drifting back to sideline status as our economy continues its slow, inevitable implosion. I don't know what the future holds (if I did I'd be a rich lottery winner). More blog-writing, I suspect.

I'm also a former-lot-of-things. A former broadcaster (I mentioned), former standup comic, former freelance journalist, former librarian, former idealist. I almost know how to do a lot of things but none of them really useful (like fixing stuff and building things) should there ever be a zombie apocalypse.

I don't get out as much as I should. And, even though I'm a little scared of them, I like people, but I have to keep reminding myself of that, otherwise I try to avoid them.

Last week (and this will be a whole separate blog post) I attended a cartoonists convention in Montreal. And, shockingly, enjoyed myself. I had many great conversations with many interesting people. Like most people who don't get out enough, I talked too much. I realized I had stuff to say. And some people even thought some of it was interesting. But maybe they were just being polite.

Anyway, some of that stuff is going to end up here. Because I have opinions. And theories. And a whole lot of people outside my family haven't heard any of my stories or jokes yet. So they'll seem fresh to a lot of you.

I'll mainly be writing about cartooning. I've been a cartoonist since I was 15 and if there has ever been any thread running through my life, then cartooning is it. But I'll include a lot of other stuff as well. I just won't know what that is until I write about it.

About the blog title: It's from Mitch Hedberg, one of my favourite dead comedians (the others are Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks). A line he used whenever a joke didn't work, which could be often in his case: "I'm gonna go back and fix that joke by taking out all the words and putting in new ones."

More to come. And I promise the posts will be shorter and there will be pictures, maybe even some cartoons.