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Clay Bennett – Editorial Cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Part 2 of 3)

By Admin | November 11, 2008


How old were you when you drew your first cartoon and what was it about?

I have no idea what my first cartoon was about, or where it is today. I’ve been a cartoonist as long as I can remember, so my first cartoon was probably drawn when I was 4 or 5 years old.

Why do you think you became an editorial cartoonist?

Cartooning was always a passion of mine, so pursuing some career in cartooning was a given. The desire to become an ‘editorial’ cartoonist developed as my passion for politics started to blossom.

For me, this came around the age of 14. Now, that may sound very young to some folks, but it really wasn’t unusual in my family. The Bennett’s are a passionate and opinionated lot.

With a family dynamic more like the McLaughlin Group than the Brady Bunch, debate and argument were commonplace in our house.

Every night at the dinner table, I would watch the debates unfold. My two older sister, both liberals, would take on our dad, a career army officer and staunch Republican.

It was always the same, my sisters would argue from their hearts, while my dad would argue from his head.

Even though I agreed with my sisters views, I always admired my old man’s ability to support his positions with facts, figures, and anecdotal evidence.

I learned a lot from both sides. I learned compassion and understanding from one side, logic and reasoning from the other.

I tried my best over the years to incorporate both lessons: to express views more like those of my sisters, but to argue their virtues with the analytical skill of my dad.

What is your all-time favorite cartoon that you have drawn?

I can’t say. If you estimate that I draw 250 cartoons a year, and multiply that by almost 30 years I’ve been a cartoonist, you’d come up with about… um… er, well a whole lot of cartoons.

To pick one cartoon above all the rest as my favorite would be tough. It’s like picking your favorite son or daughter.

Who is your favorite cartoonist?

My favorite cartoonist is Argentina’s Quino (Joaquin Salvador Lavardo). In my humble opinion, he is a god among cartooning mortals. His work is a true testament to the universal nature of cartooning.

He hails from another continent, speaks a foreign language and is the product of a different culture, but still communicates masterfully with this insular American through his unique and inventive visual storytelling.

Technically, he’s not an editorial cartoonist, but in my mind, no cartoonist captures the politics of the human condition better than does Quino.

Who has been the seminal cartoonist in this century? Charles Schulz?

Charles Schulz would be a good guess. That’s really a tough one, though, because there are many cartoonists who have produced important and influential work in different cartooning disciplines.

Editorial cartoonists might list Herblock, Mauldin, or Oliphant as the most seminal cartoonist of the past 100 years, animators might point to Walt Disney, Tex Avery, or Chuck Jones as being the most influential, but Stan Lee or Will Eisner might make the list if your talking comic books.

There are so many different forms of cartooning and so many great cartoonists, it’s impossible to elevate one above the rest.

Has any editor or paper ever called you in and said, “Whoa there, cowboy, tone it down?”

Although I don’t believe I’ve ever been called ‘cowboy’, I’ve certainly been told to ‘tone it down’.

Newspapers that subscribe to my work will never do that. They’ll just refuse to run the cartoon, or cancel their subscription.

The newspaper for which you work is different. That paper has a great stake in you, the work you produce, and what tone and positions your work expresses.

So, yes, I’ve been told, many times, by various employers over the years, to tone it down.

My current newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has been great on this particular issue.

The publisher here understands the nature of editorial cartooning, he understands that creativity is best achieved the more freely it’s exercised. He also understands that I’ve been at this for a very long time.

He realizes that I value my freedom enough to exercise it responsibly. I have yet to be told what to draw, what to say, or how to say it. There were many reasons I took this job, but the editorial freedom I was promised was probably the single-most important of them.

So far, the paper has made good on that promise. I can only hope that never changes.

How do you work? Do you have a favorite place, or time or method that you use to draw?

I’m always working to a degree, but most of the real work I do in creating a cartoon is done in my newsroom office. I do have a method, but if I told you what it was, I’d have to kill you.

How many cartoons do you draw in a week?

Five. They appear in the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday editions of the paper.

Do you let your wife or a colleague critique your cartoons before you hand them in?

Sometimes, but it’s not really a critique, and it comes long before I hand in the cartoon. If I’m sure about the cartoon and the idea behind it, I usually don’t need any validation at all. I’ll just draw it up and hand it in.

But if I’m insecure about a cartoon, if I’m worried that the idea isn’t coming across, or if the cartoon’s point is not apparent, I’ll show it to a few people in the newsroom to see what they think. It’s like my own little focus group.

I can easily lose my enthusiasm for a cartoon if it doesn’t get a good reception from this test audience.

Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com

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