Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Toronto Star’s editorial cartoonists

From The Toronto Star.

On the afternoon before Valentine’s Day, Theo Moudakis sat down at his desk in his home office and instead of drawing, as one might expect the Toronto Star’s editorial cartoonist to do, he started writing poetry.

“Roses are red, I’m serious, dude, slide over close, I wanna collude,” was one poem Moudakis came up with.

Here’s another: “I forgot to buy candy and flowers, my sweet, I’ve got an idea, I’ll send you a tweet.”

If you haven’t guessed, these were just two of four poems featured in Moudakis’ “Donald Trump Valentine’s Day Cards” editorial cartoon published on Feb. 14. 

The first poem accompanies a drawing of Trump with his arm around a bare-chested Vladimir Putin, while the second is written above a picture of Trump on his mobile phone next to his wife, Melania Trump, who is giving her husband the death stare.

The cartoon, a sequel of sorts to Moudakis’ first Donald Trump Valentine’s Day Cards cartoon last year that featured a similar theme, is a recent favourite of the artist.

“No cheap shots, nothing nasty, just funny,” says Moudakis, who has been creating editorial cartoons for the Star since 2000. “And it got enough people upset without it turning into an actual controversy. The laugh is always the cartoonist’s most lethal weapon.”

Indeed, Moudakis says it’s better to be funny than controversial. “Controversy is overrated. You don’t really want the entire city mad at you. Getting a good laugh always makes for the best cartoon.”

That’s not to say some readers won’t find editorial cartoons controversial or distasteful. In fact, controversy can and does play an important role in editorial cartoons. 

As the Star’s public editor Kathy English wrote in a November 2014 column, “editorial cartoons are visual commentaries, intended to make a point and make us think. Quite often, the best of them also offend and even infuriate some readers.”

As a commentator, Moudakis, who contributes most of the Star’s editorial cartoons, which appear on the editorial page, has licence to not only express his opinions about any given topic, but also to poke fun at, mock, scorn, taunt, and tease his subjects. 

Politicians in particular have long found themselves ripe for skewering by the editorial cartoonist’s pen.

“In the end, cartoonists aren’t journalists. The rules are different for us. We’re the only ones at a newspaper who don’t deal in facts or fairness, but I make sure to spread the unfairness around evenly,” he says.

Where does Moudakis find inspiration? 

Keeping up-to-date on the latest news is half the battle. His days start early, usually around 5:30 a.m. with a scan of morning news shows, newspapers and websites. 

By 8 a.m., he’s at his desk sketching ideas by hand, trying out wording and refining the message he wants to send.

“This is the most challenging and really the most thrilling part of the day. There’s nothing like nailing a good idea,” says Moudakis, who quit art school to become a cartoonist.

When he has something he thinks has merit, Moudakis will run it by his boss, editorial page editor Andrew Phillips, for feedback. 

Moudakis will then draw the final version of the cartoon on paper with a marker, scan it into his computer, and colour it digitally. He’s normally finished by 2 p.m.

In the case of the Trump Valentine’s Day cartoon, however, he started a day early in order to come up with four good poems.

“The poems done, I was free to leisurely draw everything the next morning, including all that hand-lettering,” he says. “It was one of those cartoons that was an absolute joy to do from beginning to end.”

Patrick Corrigan, who usually contributes the Star’s Saturday editorial cartoon, has a similar process, and says he looks for storylines with long shelf lives, due to the fact that he works ahead a few days.

“Over the years I’ve become patient if an idea is slow in coming,” Corrigan explains. “It’s like finding a parking spot downtown. Sometimes you just gotta go ‘round the block a few times.”

Corrigan says he gravitates towards social issues, trends and local politics.

Last Saturday’s cartoon, for example, humorously combined two current news events — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party shakeup and the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games — to make an observation about the turmoil facing the PCs. 

The cartoon featured several skiers flying uncontrollably off a long “Ontario PC Jump.”

“I was trying to lend a satirical take on their hapless process, so it was a natural fit to show them flying head over heels off the Olympic ski jump,” says Corrigan, who first joined the Star in 1983 as a staff illustrator.

At the end of the day, the job of an editorial cartoonist, says Corrigan, is to speak truth to power in an irreverent, satirical fashion.

“In other words, we hope to make the deserving subject choke on their morning oatmeal when they open their paper.”

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