An Art to It
After 60 years of editorial cartooning, Pat Oliphant wonders how the art form will survive
By Matt Grubs
At 81, Pat Oliphant’s eyes are finally giving him enough trouble that he’s no longer drawing regularly. He hasn’t stopped thinking about it, though. And it’s torture.
"We thought that Watergate was a unique condition. But it sort of pales in comparison to what we've got now," the editorial cartoonist tells SFR. "I've been in this business 60 years. And I've waited 60 years for this bastard to come along. And I can't do anything about it because of my eyes."
He's speaking of the president, to whom he will later refer as an imbecile.
"This guy would have really lent himself to it," he offers wistfully.
At the business end of Oliphant’s pen, many of his subjects have had little choice but to bow to his unforgiving wit and widely praised artistic acumen. He won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1967—as the story goes, by slyly figuring out the political bent of the judges and drawing a cartoon he thought could win.
Oliphant won the Pulitzer in his first few years at the Denver Post. It was his time there that introduced the native Australian to Santa Fe. He and his wife, Susan Conway, moved here from Washington, DC, in the '90s. Oliphant considers it a marked improvement on Beltway life.
He honed his sharp commentary on the whetstone of the daily news, morning radio and, later, cable television. Oliphant says he quickly learned that there was a delicate balance involved in his work regimen.
"Stay angry. You've got to work yourself up every morning into a lather of indignation and take it out in your drawings," he says. "Otherwise it'd be terrible not to have that outlet … which I'm finding now."
He still draws, occasionally, recently publishing a pair of editorial cartoons that pilloried both President Trump and adviser Steve Bannon. But he says his sketches of Trump are far from the final rendering he'd craft if he were producing work daily.
"You're trying to build a character at the same time as you're getting the caricature together," he says. Trump might lend himself to the character part more easily than the nine other presidents Oliphant has drawn, but he says getting a signature image down is something that demands painstaking self-criticism. "You're trying to say what you can about the person in one rendition. And it takes a bit of time to work that out in your mind."
It's hard to overstate just how much Pat Oliphant has meant to the world of editorial cartooning. His attention to not just political satire, but to the art of drawing—perspective and balance and a dozen other aspects—has made him a legend. Some of his work is part of the Museum of New Mexico permanent collection and is also cataloged at the Library of Congress.
He worries no one cares about the quality of a cartoon these days. When it's all about getting a laugh, he says, and not about getting the head-shaking, sometimes angry reaction, editorial cartooning is doomed: "It's not a joke at all. It's serious business."
That's why SFR launched its Political Cartoon Contest. Even though all subjects were fair game, most entries featured a version of Trump. Check out the winner and honorable mentions here.
Grand Prize Winner
Born and raised in Santa Fe. Patrick has two amazing kids and enjoys listening to Nick Cave and Tom Waits. He says no to GMOs and supports local, fair and fresh Santa Fe.
The Many Faces of Trump
It's hardly surprising that we received a large number of POTUS45 cartoons. After all, who could forget about that guy, even if they wanted to? Behold—the many faces of Trump!