My Early Cartooning Career

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After several years working as a freelance commercial and layout artist, drawing a few cartoons on the side for alternative papers like Around Kitsilano and the Berkeley Barb and for the student paper (The Link) at BC Institute of Technology – where I had run the newspaper and print shop since 1976 – I got a break in the spring of 1979 when I was asked to do illustrations for feature articles in the Vancouver Sun. What I would really have liked to do was draw editorial cartoons but had no chance at all, as the Sun had two of the top cartoonists in North America, Len Norris and Roy Peterson, alternating on the editorial page. Oh, to dream! I would have sold my soul to the devil to join that elite duo...

One of many I drew, an illustration for "Pushbutton holiday is almost here," August 11, 1979, by Robert Turnbull, which accurately predicted the Internet, interestingly enough. The Sun commissioned illustrations for many of its feature stories, and a plum spot was the cover of its Leisure TV and entertainment section included with the Friday paper.

The highlight of my brief career drawing for the Sun was the opportunity to fill the front page of the "End of the Seventies" section on December 29, 1979. The managing editor bought the original (I wonder if it still exists?) which was a large, about 20 x 30 inch, pen and ink drawing on illustration board. So many faces and events: (from the top including) Vietnamese boat people, Jane Fonda, Kent State, starving Indians, Bill Vanderzalm, Pat McGeer, Dave Barrett, Bill Bennett, the Bee Gees, John Travolta, Rod Stewart, Henry Kissinger, Nixon and Watergate, Gerald Ford, Tom Campbell, Rene Levesque, Pierre Trudeau, the FLQ, Peter Lougheed on the big car ("Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark"), the oil crisis, Joe Clark, Jimmy Carter, the Jonestown mass suicide, Edward Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Jackie Onassis, Ayatollah Khomeini, Margaret Trudeau (& Mick Jagger – should've drawn Ronny Wood), John Diefenbaker as Brutus, Robert Stanfield, David Lewis, Jean Drapeau and Robert Bourassa and the Montreal Olympics, Jean Chrétien, Ian Smith of Rhodesia, Willy Brandt and Brezhnev the Russian premier .... and "Jaws." The Air Otto reference was for Liberal cabinet minister Otto Lang, one of the pigs at the trough of that era. The only glitch was the blank banner at the bottom, which was supposed to read "How Soon Could We Forget?" in red ink, but it got stripped out of the black plate and not put into the red one by the Sun production crew. Oh well....

Then, Barbara McLintock at the Victoria Times (a separate paper from the Colonist in that period) took a liking to my drawings, so I drew some editorial cartoons for it in the spring and into the fall of 1980, a few of which were ....

June 3, 1980

June 24, 1980

July 15, 1980, when Alberta premier Peter Lougheed suggested that BC and Alberta should jointly approach Ottawa to get a better resource-revenue deal (around the time the federal Liberals brought in the National Energy Program and created Petro Canada). Bill Vanderzalm has the fly swatter; he had sued Victoria Colonist cartoonist Bob Bierman over a cartoon that showed him picking the wings off flies, implying he was cruel and heartless – a reasonable inference after he suggested he would personally hand welfare recipients a shovel if they wouldn't go to work. The guy on the left with the broken glasses was, I think, the hot-tempered Rafe Mair, always getting into scraps as a cabinet minister as he later did as a hot-liner.

Somewhere in there the Times and the Colonist amalgamated so I was shown the door, but the Province was looking for a new cartoonist and I had a final fling with it....

Dave Barrett, then the leader of the Opposition in BC, savouring the infighting in the Bill Bennett government, sometime around October, 1980.

A highlight (as I increasingly didn't get along with the the paper's editor) was drawing the cartoon for the morning after the 1980 US presidential election. There appeared to be no chance that Ronald Reagan would lose, but nevertheless I did a second cartoon of him riding into the sunset with "The End" written above, in classic western-movie style. What an era-defining moment that day was ...

The upshot of 1980-1 was the Province hiring Bob Krieger, whose style, so like that of the venerable Terry Mosher aka Aislin in the Montreal Gazette, won the day. The news of his buyout/retirement 32 years later in 2013, at the point when daily newspapers appear to be about to collapse, caught my eye. He'd had my dream job, whereas I wrote and illustrated 15 books, lived on a farm and in Australia and travelled extensively and lengthily – all impossibilities for a job-holder.

So, although I was crushed at the time, non, je ne regrette rien. And, to be honest, I really never would have become an A-list cartoonist. The only cartoonist from my generation who was really good, really funny, was Adrian Raeside, who drew for the Times-Colonist after Bob Bierman left.

In 1982, I began trying to illustrate a book I wanted to do on the history of Vancouver but couldn't shake my cartoon/line drawing style. We went to Australia at the end of that year, with me drawing lines, and came to Vancouver six weeks later with me painting patches of colour.

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner 2000-2012

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