Obscure cartoonist who lives far, far away. Former cartoonist for the Anchorage Daily News, Winner of Alaska Press Club !st Amendment Award Author: My Degeneration, a Journey Through Parkinsons. From Penn State Press. Lives in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains with his wife Pamela, and two psychotic small dogs.
-I was brought up in Alaska, the son of two doctors, one of four children. Music was a large part of our lives, my Dad built a harpsichord and my parents had regular sessions with other musicians, playing Renaissance music on recorders. One of my favorite memories is falling asleep to the stately refrains of the 1600s. Artistic endeavors were encouraged, we always had art supplies around, tempera paints, watercolors, pencils and pens, and plenty of paper.
-I became an artist around age 8, when my best friend said “See this drawing?” He held up a panel from the strip “Winthrop” he had copied out of the afternoon paper. “You will never make a drawing as good as this.” He told me. I was certain I could equal if not surpass him, and I sat down to try. The drawing I made was not as good as his, but I’ve had lots of practice since then. It had never occurred to me that little kids could draw cartoons before then, and I was hooked.
-I was concerned that a career as a cartoonist would be a liability for an adult. The comic strips of the time were, Peanuts and Pogo excepted, embarrassingly lightweight. How could you hold your head up in respectable society with such a silly profession? But that problem was solved for me in the fifth grade when I saw my first drawing by Pat Oliphant, then the cartoonist for the Denver Post. I was entranced first by his free, spontaneous line. And he was drawing trenchant, funny cartoons about things that seemed consequential, like presidential power abuse, racism, and the degradation of the environment. This was something you could do as an adult, and not be ashamed to admit at cocktail parties. I knew then what I wanted to do.
-I prepared by studying the great U.S. cartoonists of the day, Oliphant, Bill Mauldin, Don Wright, Paul Szep and Tony Auth among them. I was also blown away by the magical line of Ronald Searle. And I revered George Booth, Charles Addams and Lee Lorenz as well. Not to menton Mort Drucker, Ben Shan David MacCauly, Larry Gonickand Jules Feiffer, Later I grew to appreciate magazine cartoonists that worked for publications like The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, artists like Edward Sorel, Philip Burke, Richard Thompson, Everette Peck and Steve Brodner. Oh, and Lately Ann Telnaes of the Washington Post I went to Whitman College in Washington State, where I studied art. When I graduated I turned the country upside down looking for a staff job. The best possibility came from my hometown paper the Anchorage Daily News, who offered me freelance work.
-I did work that impressed the editors enough it led them to create a permanent full time position for me. I worked for the paper for 27 years. It was a great gig. Fantastic colleagues and an ambitious atmosphere that drove us all to do exceptional work. I did 4 political cartoons per week as well as illustrations for feature stories, charts, graphs and maps and, eventually a six-days-a-week comic strip, called “Muskeg Heights”.
-The publishing industry has been in free fall for years, newspapers have been cutting back staff, first out the door has been the cartoonists. I was forced out of the job I loved by in 2008 by staff cutbacks and Parkinson’s Disease, which I was diagnosed with in 2002. One of the few bright spots for cartoonists has been book-length comics, or as they are confusingly known, graphic novels, which still sell. I published one with Penn State Press called “My Degeneration” about my struggle to come to terms with life after my Parkinson’s diagnosis.
-I have had many testimonials from readers about how the book has comforted them and helped them understand Parkinson’s. (See Amazon reviews of “My Degeneration”) So yes, I am sure of it.
-Undoubtedly my book is my greatest achievement so far. I am also proud of the body of work I created for the newspaper, now in the collection of the Anchorage Museum of Art and History. I am working on a second book, about Alaska during the Cold War. It will be great to promote your interview on social media and redirect them for your interview
-Roz Chast, a cartoonist for The New Yorker says you shouldn’t go into cartooning unless you are convinced you cannot do anything else. This is good advice. So much depends on luck, there is so much competition, so few opportunities, you should be convinced this is the only road you can take, that you have no other choice. Then you will be prepared to risk the difficult path that leads to a cartooning career.