Chuck Asay, 65, is an editorial cartoonist based in Colorado Springs. He drew for the The Gazette newspaper until his retirement in 2007. However, he continues to draw cartoons through his syndicate.
I recently conducted an email interview with him. My questions are in bold.
Let's start from the beginning. When and where were you born? Who were some of your early cartooning influences?
I was born in Alamosa, Colorado in 1942. I was raised on a farm with one brother and two sisters. Everyone drew for entertainment, including my mother and father. My whole family was close. We talked about religion and politics all the time and we all thought everyone was entitled you our opinions. Even though we argued sometimes it never seemed to affect our relationships. I think that is why, to this day, I can deal with people who seem to hate me. I figure they don’t hate me, this just don’t care for my ideas.
I grew up reading the papers and comic sections. Al Capp made a big impression on me in the early years and I was a real fan (as is every editorial cartoonist I know) of MAD Magazine. Pat Oliphant was the cartoonist for the Denver Post when I was in college. I showed him some of my cartoons. He said I should use a brush. He handed me one of his. From that point on I’ve used brush and ink to do my cartoons.
What were some of your first published works?
The Taos News published my first cartoons. I have a degree from Adams State College in Art and Education. I taught school in Aspen and in Taos. I moved to Taos from Aspen to see if I could break into the editorial cartooning racket. I took a job as the ad manager in Taos and offered the cartoons for free. I did that for a number of years.
When we moved to Colorado Springs in 1978, there were two competing papers…both needed (although they didn’t know it at the time) a cartoonist to give their readers local opinions. That, I believed, should be me. I offered my services, saying I could provide them with 3 local cartoons a week on a speculative basis. They would pay me $15 for any cartoon of mine they published. This was a win, win situation for the Colorado Springs Sun which was in fierce competition with the Gazette. A few months later, they asked me to come aboard doing editorial cartoons news illustration and advertising art. I would recommend to any cartoonist just breaking into the field to ask not what papers can do for you, but ask what you can do for papers. Later on, the Gazette bought and closed down the Sun. A year later, they hired me to do cartoons for them.
Your cartoons are unusual in that you usually construct a small story in order to make your point, a format similar to those used in comic strips, so I was pretty surprised when I learned that you never had a daily strip in your life. Have you ever submitted any ideas to syndicates? If given an opportunity, would you start one?
I think I have gone to the many-paneled format because it is easier for me to convey my ideas about the issues. I like to teach people about the issues as well as inflict my opinions on them. I like to take people from things they may know and bring them to new ideas that I believe they should know. It allows me to get deeper into the issues. I'd love to be able to one -panel cartoons like great cartoonists like Jeff MacNelly and Mike Ramirez, but my mind doesn’t seem to work that way. I have no interest in doing a comic strip. I like to change styles and have wrestle with ideas that have the capacity to kill us. "We don’t wrestle with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities of the air," the apostle said.
Would you say that comic strips that focus on politics have bigger readership than standard editorial cartoons? Lalo Alcaraz draws regular one panel editorials through syndication, but most people attibute him for his comic strip "La Cucaracha." The same thing with Scott Stantis; most people think of him for the conservative-themed "Prickly City," even though he's been political cartooning for almost 30 years.
Comics obviously enjoy greater readership. Readers come to know the characters and give a fan base that makes it tough for newspaper editors to drop the cartoonist. Editorial cartoonists can be dropped in a moment and nobody misses them because they are in competition with other editorial cartoonists for the same slot on the editorial page. When a newspaper drops Dilbert, people notice and cancel their subscriptions. When newspapers drop Asay, well…
I don’t like to think in terms of success being driven by popularity. I like to think in terms of being blessed to participate in the marketplace of ideas. I know there are many people who can do the things I do better than me. They may have better numbers and more recognition. That’s the way it is. I’m happy for them and I’m happy I’ve been able to raise my family doing a job I love and perhaps make a small difference along the way. Again, the apostle Paul said, “Warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak and be patient with everyone.” That is what I consider to be my job description.
What materials (pen, paper, etc.) do you use for your cartoons? Do you alter them in photoshop?
I use brush and ink. Sometimes I use Grafix paper for halftones.
Michael Ramirez is probably the most successful of the conservative cartoonists, winning almost every major cartooning awards in the US, including the Pulitzer Prize, which are rarely given to conservative cartoonists. What do you think of his work?
I really like his work. Not only is he a great cartoonist, he is a great human being. He also can play a mean guitar.
Is it common for editorial cartoonists to appreciate their colleagues' work, even if they disagree with their politics? I remember Ted Rall telling me that he's a fan of your work, and we all know what his politics are!
I also like and respect Ted Rall. He is a very thoughtful person with incredible gifts. He writes well and is passionate about ideas. We may disagree about ideas from time to time but I can think of no other person who I’d like to be locked up with if we should wind up in jail somewhere.
With newspapers losing readers and editorial cartoonists getting laid off one by one, will the internet eventually replace newspapers altogether? Can cartoonists make a living off it?
It's a tough time for cartoonists...but I do believe the marketplace will allow some creative, hard working cartoonists a place to ply their trade. We provide a service that is still in demand, perhaps even more nowadays when people aren't reading papers. The internet is the place to be to have your views seen by large numbers of people, so the marketplace is more open than it has ever been. Whether a cartoonist can earn a living by his wits or not is another matter. Daryl Cagel seems to do OK. Walt Handlesman is doing well with his animated cartoons being passed around the internet. I'm just entering the digital world, so I'm not a good person to a good answer to your question. I figure good editorial cartoonists will keep inflicting their views on others even if it calls for them to support their habit by doing other things to make money.
Which topic (abortion, gay marriage, or gun control) generate more hate mail to cartoonists, regardless of their stance?
I suppose gay marriage is the the hot issue now that you have listed. People are tired of fighting over abortion and gun issues. Much of my mail seemed to come from the War in Iraq, however, and religion issues. Many folks don't understand how I, as a follower of Christ can support the war in Iraq or criticize Muslim extremists.
Many "alternative" editorial cartoonists are decrying the use of symbols, such as Uncle Sam, Democratic donkeys, and Republican elephants, as tiring and cliched. What is your take on it?
Being a geezer, I automatically go for the symbols. It's shorthand for me. Of course they are a bit tired and overused, but still useful in communicating ideas. Most of the cartoonists who don't like using symbols use Leno-type jokes. That has become just as cliche as using symbols. I figure in today's PC world, symbols have passed the taste test. If I depict a feminist with hair on her legs, people get mad at my rendering and miss the point I'm trying to make. If I use my own "Lara Liberal" to make the same point, people generally like her and go quicker to the idea I'm using her to present. My elephants and donkeys are usually friendly conveyors of ideas also.
Interview © 2008 Charles Brubaker
Cartoons © Creators Syndicate