Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Roy Peterson 1936-2013

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of long time Vancouver Sun editorial cartoonist Roy Peterson from an heart attack on Sunday.

Born in Winnipeg in 1936, Roy Peterson worked for 47 years for The Vancouver Sun. He produced many covers, illustrations and cartoons for Maclean's, including a 23-year association with Allan Fotheringham's Back Page column. His books include The World According to Roy Peterson, Drawn & Quartered, The Canadian ABC Book and the best-selling Frog Fables and Beaver Tales series with Stanley Burke. Roy and his late wife Margaret, raised five children and he has served as president of both the Canadian and American Associations of Editorial Cartoonists. Winner of the Grand Prize at the Montreal International Salon of Caricature in 1973 and of a record seven National Newspaper Awards, he was appointed, in 2004, Officer of the Order of Canada.

A tribute by J.J. Mc Cullough on his Filibuster blog:

I just learned the sad news that Roy Peterson, one of my greatest artistic role models (and a great British Columbian) passed away yesterday.

Peterson was the editorial cartoonist of the Vancouver Sun for nearly 50 years, from his hiring as a young man in 1962 to his unglamorous layoff in 2009 for cost-cutting reasons. During that time, he was one of Canada’s most recognizable and celebrated cartooning talents, racking up enormous piles of awards and earning praise from coast to coast.

His cartoons, which combined breathtaking technical skill with a unique, old-timey whimsy, were instantly recognizable for their beauty, humor, and charm. Roy was a cartoonist of the old school who found his greatest pleasure in pointing out the across-the-board absurdities of politics, rather than carrying water for any particular faction, and his comics were neither “cruel” or “soft,” but observational, teasing, and aloof in a way you don’t often see today.

I met Roy only once, at an informal gathering of Vancouver cartoonists. He was an old man by that point, but seemed perfectly suited for the role; soft-spoken and gentle with a wry and winking grandfatherly sense of humor. He was one of my great heroes long before I ever got a chance to meet him in person, and I will be thankful for the rest of my life that I was privileged enough to have the opportunity.

Pierre Trudeau on the cover of "Drawn & Quartered"

I’ve often felt that I’d like to write more about Roy’s amazing career someday, or maybe even make a fan site about him, since his body of work is so large and impressive, but not particularly well-documented. Roy only released two collections of his own work (The World According to Roy Peterson, about global politics in the 1970s, and Drawn & Quartered, about Pierre Trudeau in the 1980s), but for the last 50 years his drawings could be found all over the place in countless different venues; on book covers, in magazines, in “best of Canada” cartoon collections, even the occasional children’s book.

Lucien Bouchard on the cover of "Portfoolio 10", 1994

It says something about the humble nature of the man that he never put any great effort into making his entire oeuvre well-known, or even broadly accessible to the general public, but now that he’s passed, I do hope memories of his marvellous legacy to Canadian art do not die with him.

For an incomplete archive of some of his Sun work, check out this searchable archive from Simon Fraser University.

Rest in Peace.

John Ehrlichman, Bob Halderman and Richard Nixon

An excerpt of Graeme Mackay's eulogy:

Since his rather abrupt, disrespectful and unceremonious boot from the Vancouver Sun a few years back a few conventions have come and gone without Roy’s attendance. His decline in his health was no doubt hastened by the thoughtless bean counters who obviously put more effort into cutting the talent than realizing the folks like Roy were truly responsible for maintaining admiring subscribers.

It’s this kind of treatment along with the ruthless chopping of other great cartoonists in this country that keeps the rest of us doodlers still lucky to be employed wondering when the next axe will fall and on whose neck it will hit – but I digress.

Roy Peterson leaves this world with a solid reputation as one of the great masters of editorial cartooning in Canada. His catalogue of work is his legacy, along with fond memories of a great and gentle soul, surely to endure in the minds of many who will continue to be inspired by him for generations to come.

Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney

My own memories of Roy Peterson:

I first met Roy at the first Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' convention I ever attended in Washington D.C. in May 1980. I had been invited there by Terry Mosher (aka. Aislin) who wanted to broaden my horizons and introduce me to the Canadian cartoonists who were members of the AAEC.

One morning, fuelled by the beers I had been offered by those who wanted me to vote "no" in the upcoming referendum in Quebec, I woke up with a massive hangover and an autographed copy of "The World According to Roy Peterson".

The dedication read "For Guy Badeaux... who likes western Canadians but isn't too wild about Mexicans, Cheers". Somewhat baffled by that message, I turned around to Terry who informed me that I had been involved in a heated debate the night before with some Mexicans cartoonists who were also attending the convention.

I would learn, some years later, that the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional) was in the habit of paying the way to AAEC meetings to those cartoonists who were friendly with the regime.

Roy would serve as president of the AAEC in the early 80's and would be instrumental in the creation of our own Canadian association. I fondly remember a lunch we had in late 1985, with Bob Krieger and Dan Murphy, by Stanley Burke's houseboat in Vancouver harbour for that very purpose.

Michael de Adder reminisces:

Roy Peterson was one of three cartoonists who influenced a generation of Canadian cartoonists. When I think of cartooning, I think of Roy Peterson, Aislin and Duncan Macpherson.

When I was just starting off in this field, the Chronicle Herald’s Bruce MacKinnon actually gave me Roy Peterson’s number to call in Vancouver to ask him for advice. I think I was too frightened to call and sat on it for a couple months. But one Saturday morning, feeling low about my career, I did phone him.

A deep voice, like a television news anchor’s voice, came on the other line. OMG, it was seven time National Newspaper Award winner and Officer of the Order of Canada Roy Peterson talking to me, on the phone.

“Hi, you don’t know me,” I said with a shaky voice. “I got this number from Bruce MacKinnon. I was wondering if you could give me some advice.”

There was a long pause. I expected to hear a click and the phone to go silent.

Then he started talking.

“The most important thing,” Roy said, “is to just get published. It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter how often, just get published. Get yourself a deadline. Until then, you won’t get better. Having a deadline makes you draw. I drew for small local papers while working for Sears Canada.”

It went like that for a full hour. It was a full hour, I looked at the clock. Each tidbit of advice being noted. “Maybe I can be a political cartoonist,” I thought to myself. “Roy Peterson’s struggle isn’t that much different than my own.” 

I met him in person a few years later in Ottawa, in fact he became my friend. Roy had time for everybody like that. It didn’t matter how good you were. You could be Pat Oliphant or a guy off the street with a sketchpad, and he’d talk to you the same.

And guess what, the most important thing was to just get published.

Excerpts from a profile in the Vancouver Sun:

The deftness of his drawing was disguised by the fact that he often agonized over his work. He devoured newspapers from around the world, mining them for ideas, and he could sit at his desk for days working on a cartoon.

“If he had a really good idea and he had some time,” said Bob Krieger, former editorial cartoonist at The Province, “he’d take a couple of days, working on it after he finished the more pressing stuff.

“When communism fell, (he did a cartoon showing) every icon in Communist lore sitting in bankruptcy court, all cross-hatched. Marx and Mao and Stalin and Lenin … it was just brilliant. He said it took him a couple, three days. It would have taken anyone else a month and a half.”

Krieger’s relationship with him showed a side of Peterson that few got to see. In public, Peterson could be guarded and quiet — there was a natural reticence to him. But to friends and colleagues, he was, as Krieger said, “as generous and kind and considerate a human being as you’d ever want to know.”

Krieger found not just a counterpart in Peterson but a friend and mentor.

“The day that I got hired by the Province, I went home and realized that I had just gotten the job of my dreams, and had no idea just what the f--- I was doing.

“So I picked up the phone to call the Sun newsroom, started to dial the number and hung up. Repeated that about 10 or 12 times before I finally got the courage to hang on line and ask to speak to (Peterson).

“I said ‘You don’t know me, but I just got hired as the Province cartoonist, and I have no idea what I’m doing.’ He said ‘Why don’t you come over?’ So I walked to his office, and even before saying hello I think he said ‘How much are they paying you?’

“I told him and he pointed to the wastebasket in the corner. ‘You see that? The guy that empties that every night gets paid twice that. Go back and ask for more.’ And he talked to me for an hour, calmed me down and sent me on my way. He was always incredibly warm and welcoming, just the kindest gentleman you ever want to meet in your life.

Roy Peterson's self portrait

Fred Sebastian on his blog.

I will forever be indebted to the kindnesses both he and his dear wife Margaret offered me on those occasions, usually at conventions, when we had the opportunity to meet. I will never forget the day I opened my copy of Witty World in the Summer of 1993, to read their interview with Roy Peterson. Usually in these interviews, the spotlight remains firmly on the artist and their work, but there was Roy Peterson discussing his heroes and influences, Ronald Searle, Duncan Macpherson, and Harvey Kurtzman. But Roy also took the opportunity to highlight another artist, much less celebrated, whom he felt was destined for the 'top':

"There are a couple of guys that could go to the top. But you could never guess. There are young guys that don't have a name yet. In Canada, there's a young cartoonist named Freddy Sebastian in Ottawa. His artwork is evolving." thanks to you, Roy, it did indeed.

Terry Mosher (a.k.a. Aislin) wrote the following on Facebook:

Roy Peterson was one of the most influential cartoonist ever to work in Canada. Indeed, his style reverberates even today in the work of a number of younger, award-winning cartoonists. He and Len Norris formed an unbeatable tandem working for The Vancouver Sun for many years during what is now considered the golden age of Canadian political cartooning.

Despite Roy winning an astonishing seven National Newspaper Awards, his relationship did not end well with The Vancouver Sun (proving the old adage that you can love the company you work for all you want – but the company does not love you).

Below is one my favourite cartoon of Roy's on Canadians astronauts voyaging into Space with the Americans.

Rest In Space, Roy…

From Yahoo Canada:

Cartoonists share their memories

Cartoon of Roy Peterson by Wes Tyrell

Cartoonists from across the country shared their memories of Peterson with Yahoo Canada News:

John Larter - Formerly the Toronto Star

"The first thing Canadians should realize about Roy Peterson is that Canada actually had a cartoonist of world class stature. If there's one thing we Canadians are famous for it's thinking all the talent is elsewhere. Roy was respected as one of the top cartoonists in the world and rightly so.

"His technical skills with a pen and brush were matchless, although no matter what your cartooning style, his most important lesson to all that labour at the art table was: Why be a Honda when with a little sweat you can be a Rolls Royce?

"As great as he was at his craft, those that had the honour to meet Roy all walked away with the exact same impression. His kindness, gentleness and inclusion of everyone he met made his character even more impressive than his art. His art made you want to be a better artist, his character made you want to be a better person. The teacher may be gone but for all of us that knew him his lessons remain."

Brian GableThe Globe and Mail

"In the zany, madcap world of Canadian cartooning, Roy always seemed to me to be an adult. He was frequently rather reserved but one always felt that his calmness sat on top of a deep well of strength and 'class', for lack of a better word.

"He was funny as well as a brilliant draftsman, but he was also a consistently devoted professional. He took the profession of cartooning very seriously and always delivered timely, top-quality work that set the industry standard and was deservedly admired by his peers and National Newspaper Awards judges. In that way he served as a model to a generation of up and coming Canadian cartoonists. Roy was also widely respected abroad, particularly the U.S., where he served as the president of the AAEC for at least one term during the eighties.

"I think that among those of us who knew Roy personally we will remember his strong love of his wife, Margaret and his family, his generous and solid character and his life-long devotion to the creation of top-drawer Canadian editorial cartooning."

Terry MosherThe Montreal Gazette

"Roy was always cool in that he always worked with his shoes off!"

Graeme MacKayThe Hamilton Spectator

"Roy's work was the main inspiration for my desire to take up editorial cartooning. As a 20-year-old, I found the courage to look up his phone number while in Vancouver attending a conference of the Canadian University Press. I had been dispatched there as a delegate representing my student newspaper, The Fulcrum, from the University of Ottawa, and given that I was just beginning my life in the business of cartooning, it was only natural that I at least try to seek some advice from the one guy in Canada that stood out to me as the best cartoonist in the country.

"How wonderful it was that he was more than happy to meet me at his impressive studio over looking the city of Vancouver. He was warm, jovial and gentle. His soft baritone voice was both soothing and reassuring that were I to take his advice to practice, practice, and do more practicing with the pen my future could potentially be found in the profession. It's advice I took to heart, and it worked. Whenever I meet aspiring cartoonists with similar ambitions I tell them exactly what Roy told me.

"I told Roy a few years ago at a cartoonist convention that I had to give up cross hatching because it was causing my eyes to get bloodshot after a days’ work and I was afraid if I kept doing it I’d become permanently cross eyed. He pointed at his own medical condition which caused his right eye lid to appear droopy in his later life as a good reason not to keep cross-hatching, a comment to which brought us both to laughter."

Bruce MacKinnon - The Chronicle Herald in Halifax

"Roy was a hero and mentor to me. He was always warm and approachable, always encouraging friendly and kind to any young cartoonist who came to him for advice, and was universally loved and respected by his peers. He was always what I wanted to be when I grow up (I'm still waiting).

"After his beloved wife Margaret died, whenever we could convince him to come to a convention, he would spend any unscheduled time holing up with us in the hotel room - by 'us' I mean Bob Krieger (a close friend and a fellow Vancouver cartoonist whom he mentored from the start), a couple of American cartoonists who had become old friends, and myself. We were all musicians/guitarists so we'd sit around playing tunes for Roy, absolutely thrilled and honoured to be the apparent muses and court jesters for this living legend.

"One particular night, Roy had a request. He said can you play something by 'that guy' from Texas? 'You know, that guy with the high hair?' He kept trying to explain but we couldn't figure it out. Finally, he grabbed the little notepad of hotel paper and a ball point and scribbled something in about 25 seconds. He held it up to us and in unison we all hollered 'Lyle Lovett!' It was brilliant. It was a quick sketch but at the same time the most accurate of caricatures in the slickest style. Not just any cartoonist can do that. Krieger immediately pounced on it and made him sign it. The tiny 3"x 4" sketch now hangs matted in a huge frame on the living room wall in Bob's Vancouver home.

"Many of us feel like we've lost a father figure. I'm just so proud to have called him my friend."

Bob Krieger - Formerly the Vancouver Province

"Roy Peterson was as kind, generous, humble, hilarious, and elegant gentleman who also happened to be a world class cartoonist and illustrator. Along with Duncan Macpherson, he was a transformative figure in North America cartooning.

"I know Bruce MacKinnon told you the Lyle Lovett story.

"In my defense, the only reason I ended up the sketch was because I was sitting closest to the night stand. I’ll never forget Roy stretched out on my bed, a beer in one hand and an bourbon in the other. Or his frustration trying to remember the name of the Texas musician with the hair and pointy nose.

"One more story. Margaret’s drink of choice was gin and tonic. When she passed, a few of us started a tradition of buying a round of G&Ts for the table of Canadians at the U.S. conventions and someone would toast Margaret’s memory. 

Never failed to get us tearing up but it just seemed like the right thing to do. After a while, Americans wanted to be part of it. At the Halifax convention, Bruce arranged for G&Ts for the entire room and got up to the podium to make the toast. It was just beautiful but he couldn’t get through it without choking up. He paused. 

The room was silent except for some sniffling and sobbing. He apologized saying he’d hoped he could get through it without losing it when Roy booms out 'How do you think I feel?!' It broke everyone up. We all burst out laughing and crying and more laughing."

Roy and Margaret at the AAEC convention in Toronto (2001)

Roy's obituary in The Vancouver Sun.

Maclean's, October 14, 2013

Allan Fotheringham remembers Roy Peterson in the October 21 edition of  Maclean's.

Allan Fotheringham on a gentleman in a profession that had few

The rarest thing in the universe is two human beings who share the same brainwaves. In the crazy world of journalism, it is even more unique. That was certainly the case with Roy Peterson, who died quietly as September folded, and this scribbler, who had a remarkable linkage of political thinking over half a century.

We had an arrangement that was unparalleled in all of Canadian journalism. A full 26 years sharing a column on the back page of Maclean’s magazine, my keen prose polished by his unforgiving cartoons. No one could touch this—except our bank managers.

Roy would sit in his creative office, a renovated garage behind his house in Vancouver, waiting for a phone call from me from somewhere in the world, from God knows which continent. It could be India, Russia, China, or any of the 91 countries I encountered in the 26 years we produced the column.

Friends could not believe it when I told them Roy would only receive on his garage phone my musings, what I would be raging about on the lurking deadline, and he would somehow produce an angry cartoon that perfectly matched my anger. Incredible as it may seem, I would sometimes give him my vague instructions a day before his deadline in Toronto.

It was that linkage of the brainwaves. Extrasensory perception. Roy and I lasted for 26 years on ESP.

The genius behind all this was Peter C. Newman, who, on taking over as editor of Maclean’s, came up with the idea of uniting Roy and me on the unlikely showcase that was the back page.

And what a team we were.

An example? It was no surprise that, within a year of Dave Barrett taking power, a cabinet minister had to be sacked for being caught in flagrante delicto in a car within a 50-yard view of the premier’s office window. The cartoon illustrates the goofiness of B.C. politics. Or René Lévesque ready to rip Quebec out of Canada. Roy came up with a cartoon showing Lévesque chainsmoking with cigarette butts hanging out of his mouth while pulling a rope, presumably with Quebec at the other end.

Rather quickly, all the polls showed that Maclean’s readers would turn to the back page first—leading to my publisher on one of my books labelling it Last Page First and using one of Roy’s caricatures of me on the front cover.

The strange thing was that Roy and I were so different personally. Although he was a tall man he was quiet, gentle. I never once heard him raise his voice in anger. But he had a quiet determination to build his career and become known nationally without leaving the West Coast. I, on the other hand, was a short, wild egomaniac fours years his senior, travelling the world, building my career doing five jobs—journalism, television, publishing nine books and working the lecture circuit. I guess opposites attract.

On the 10th anniversary of the back page, Roy called me up and suggested a reunion in Chicago . . . just us two. I agreed. Off I went to the Tremont Hotel, which Roy arranged. We had a great weekend together—just the two of us, or so I thought. I later found out he had brought his wife, Margaret. But she was doing her own thing in the background. I never saw her once. When I checked out of the hotel, I was told my bill had already been taken care of.

On the 20th anniversary of the back page, I received another call from Roy. How about this time we take our wives with us and go to Las Vegas? Roy would arrange everything. Off Anne and I went to the opulent Bellagio hotel in Vegas. When we arrived, there was a basket in our room put together by Roy and Margaret, with gifts, a booklet outlining our itinerary and a bottle of Champagne. Shows, fine dining, a helicopter ride at midnight over Las Vegas, even gold earrings for our wives followed. Once again, when I checked out of the hotel, the bill had been taken care of by Roy.

Roy Peterson was a freak. A civil gentleman in a profession that held so few.

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