An Interview With Cartoonist Monte Wolverton

The second political cartoonist that I met after Steve Greenberg in the convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists two years ago was Monte Wolverton. The son of famed MAD cartoonist Basil Wolverton, Monte was trained at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design and he also studied editorial photography with Look magazine’s Earl Theison. His cartoons have been published in CB Radio magazine, Creative Computing, CARtoons and Youth Magazine. He did advertising, publication design and illustration work in L.A., Seattle, and Portland, running an innovative design business that produced advertising, corporate images, and comic illustration. In the last 1980s Wolverton was the design director for Plain Truth, a large faith-based publishing concern that produced magazines and promotional materials.

Since the mid 1990s, Monte began doing editorial cartoons for syndication by Cagle cartoons to over 850 publications weekly. His political cartoons also appear weekly in the LA Daily News.

According to your bio, you worked in a small design studio in Southern California in the late 1960s. What was the artistic climate like back then?

In the late 60s through the mid-70s worked in a So Cal studio that was part of a big Christian publishing company — but that didn’t stop us from having fun. The designers and artists there were mostly in their 20s — and we had a network of connections with the local design and art community. As publication designers, we had a huge budget to buy art and photography, so we hired big name illustrators and hung out at LA Society of Illustrators events. There was a lot happening in print — and it was relatively easy for a commercial illustrator or designer to stay busy and pull down some big bucks.
But the underground and alternative artists hadn’t yet been assimilated into the stylistic mainstream. So when you tried something radical and got it into print in a relatively staid publication, you felt like you were really pushing the envelope.

Your father is the legendary cartoonist Basil Wolverton. How did he influence your own cartoons and artwork? What other artists have influenced your work?

When I was maybe 4 or 5 years old I imagined myself being a cartoonist. My dad just encouraged that — built me a little drawing board. I remember him teaching me a few things about lighting and shading — and letting me ink a couple of lines on some stuff he was doing for MAD. In college I became more interested in design and photography than cartooning. I started selling cartoons in the mid-70s — and then quite deliberately emulating my father’s style, because I figured it was the Wolverton style and my father had had a stroke and wasn’t drawing anymore — so someone had to do it. Other influences have been Robert Crumb, Robert Williams and Johnny Hart. I also went back and studied Virgil Finlay, who had influenced my father in terms of his pen technique.

Fifteen years ago, you began to do political cartoons. What got you interested in doing political cartoons? What has been a big influence in your political point of view?

I have Newt Gingrich to thank for getting me into political cartoons. He just bugged me so much with his disproportionate (and, as we later learned, hypocritical) attack on then-President Clinton, that I had to draw something. Which led to me doing a panel every week. I called it the Wolvertoon and created a website around it — originally it was more of a social commentary panel. I was thinking of something like Matt Groening’s Life in Hell for alternative weeklies — but it never really went that direction. Some small newspapers picked it up, and I was sending it off to selected larger papers and weeklies, a few of whom published it occasionally, including the Washington Post. Then my friend Daryl Cagle (who had been doing political cartoons himself) included me in the cartoons he was providing for MSNBC — he encouraged me to turn my panel into a consistently political cartoon. Later, when he started his syndicate, he included me in the group. My political point of view took a long time to develop — my grandmother was a devout Republican and my dad leaded that way. My favorite Uncle Gary (my mom’s brother), however, was a devout Socialist. In the 70s we would have long conversations about socialized health care and other issues. But fundamentally, I think my Christian faith drives my political perspective — to watch out for the little guy, the poor, the elderly, the marginalized. Of course other more conservative Christians come down way differently in their politics, which I understand — but disagree.

Many of your cartoons are critical of corporate power and the austerity proposals of the Republican Party. Several of your cartoons seem sympathetic to the arguments of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What are your thoughts of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

I think it’s about time somebody protested. And early in a social movement, we might expect diversity and and lack of focus. But to be more effective, the movement needs to evolve — to hone down to a few spearhead issues — and hire a good PR firm to help them strategize. Occupy protestors should all be familiar with a key message the group wants to get across — and be able to explain it in a coherent way to anyone who asks. Right now they are so anti-institutional (I understand — I am too) that they are not yet as effective than they could be. Institutions are necessary tools — institutions just have to be managed so they don’t become ends in themselves.

As a Californian, I love a lot of your local cartoons on the state of California. Your cartoons on the Caltrains system, on our tax system and on Jerry Brown and the political situation on Sacramento are priceless. What have been the reactions of your local cartoons? What do you think about the influence of cartoons on local issues as opposed to national issues?

Gee — thanks — I actually don’t get a lot of feedback, because the letters go to the local papers and editors. Politics are local. Probably, local editorial cartoons have a greater effect in influencing local issues than their national counterparts on influencing national issues. I find that sometimes my California/Los Angeles cartoons are less partisan than my national cartoons. I even suffer a few pangs of guilt because I beat up on Jerry once in a while. Yet any feedback I get from the local cartoons still comes from irate conservatives.

One of my favorite cartoons of yours was one you did on October 24, 2011, where you mention all the things a liberal should be proud of. I’ve gotten hassled at times for my liberal views even though I live in the Bay Area. Since Orange County is in the L.A. area, would the political climate there be more conservative that in northern California? Have you gotten any hassles for some of your liberal cartoons?

Oh, yeah. For my national cartoons, I used to get a lot of hate mail and near-death threats. It seemed like a lot of them came from South Carolina. Then there are people who want to engage you in a big argument — actually trying to change your politics. Hey — this is my opinion. If you have an opposing opinion, do a cartoon or a column or something yourself. Letters and emails against cartoons and columns are best addressed to the paper where they become part of the political discourse. Orange county has traditionally been more conservative — and is home to Trinity Broadcasting and other conservative religious groups. But its becoming increasingly urbanized — and conservative values seem to go with rural settings, so I’m thinking that Northern California is a lot more conservative. Similar to rural eastern and southern Oregon and rural eastern Washington. A friend actually went through my Proud to Be a Liberal cartoon point by point, showing how conservatives were instrumental in bringing about the accomplishments I listed. But I didn’t say there weren’t people from both side of the aisle involved in those things — its just that if liberals hadn’t pushed for them, they never would have happened.

You have a wonderful sketchy art style, with lots of line strokes and stipling effects. It looks like you put a lot of work in doing your finished work. What is the process that you go to in making a political cartoon? How long does it take for you to finish your cartoons?

Thanks. It always seems like they take too long. But what the heck! People like ’em. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who likes em. And maybe my wife. Sometimes. I usually start in the late afternoon by reading the news services and the Buzzflash website to see if anything pops out (for California cartoons I look at the LA Daily News, Sacramento Bee and LA Times). Sometimes my longtime friend, high school teacher and professional songwriter Randy Cate will offer an idea. Sometimes I’ll end up reading the news for hours before I decide on one. Then I start sketching — and some visual approach usually emerges. Then I’ll scan in sketches and sometimes borrow old characters or elements — combine and arrange it all in Photoshop — and arrange the typography in Quark Express. Then I print it out and start inking the final on vellum or tissue. That’s usually about 9 or 10 pm. I usually do that while watching a movie or something. Then I scan that in to Photoshop — clean it up — do any tweakings and adjustments — sometimes add shadings and textures if it still needs it. I save the b/w version (and in the case the the L.A. Daily News, email it to my editor there) — then I resize it and do the color version, often while listening to the Bob Dylan radio show, of which a have a collection of audio files. The next morning I upload both versions to Caglecartoons website. And then it’s done. Longest time, counting research and stewing over ideas — about six hours. Shortest time if an idea pops out fully developed and the art is easy — a couple of hours.

When I read articles about political cartoonists, one of the most frequent topics that I hear is about the future of editorial cartooning. What is your opinion about the future of editorial cartooning? Can it survive as a profession in the internet age?

Editorial cartooning is as vibrant and healthy — and probably more diverse and outspoken — as it has ever been. However — as in the 50s — there are still only a few hundred professional editorial cartoonists in the country. Numbers are not increasing. Yet in the 50s, most of those were employed full time by newspapers. Now I think there are only about 30 or so employed full time — and they have other duties. The majority of editorial cartoonists now have to rely on other sources of income. If this is a problem, I’m part of it because my syndicate provides the highest quality cartoons and columns to publications for a fraction of what a full-time staff cartoonist would cost. Plus, people can now afford to buy good editorial cartoons to illustrate their blogs, e-zines and newsletters. So I think editorial cartoons are here to stay. The business model is just different. Politics is an annoying, grim, serious business dominated by a bunch of egotistical blowhards that take themselves way too seriously. As long as there are those people around (and as long as we have freedom of speech and of the press) there will be cartoonists and pundits to mock them, laugh at them and keep them in their place. Cartoonists and politicians need each other. We both have a societal role to play. It would be nice if we were paid as much as politicians, considering the risks we take by challenging and confronting power.

I looked your fine art pieces on your website and think they’re great and whimsical pieces. I like the youtube videos of your sculpture pieces and I like your textured painting techniques as well. What are your thoughts behind your paintings and sculptures? How do you create your fine arts sculptures?

Thanks again. My fine art has almost always come right out of my subconscious. I use surrealist automatism (an invention of early surrealists, as one might infer) making little sketches of the figures that emerge, preferably when my conscious mind is preoccupied with something else. I scan ’em in and pick the ones I think are most compelling to realize as sculpture or a painting — and I try not to fool with them too much on the way — I just let them take on an identity of their own and tell me what colors and textures they want to be. Kinda like Steven King’s character-driven writing where his characters essentially seem to write the story for him. My first sculptures were concrete on wire mesh on wooden armature. Now I’m working with wood — carved and painted. Got a show coming up in June at Portland’s Peculiarium.

You’re the President of the Rat Terrier Club of America. Tell us a little about Rat Terriers and the Rat Terriers Club of America.

Kayte and I have been active in the Rat Terrier club for about 13 years. Our main objective during that time has been to get the breed recognized by the American Kennel Club. Right now we have achieved partial recognition with full recognition on the horizon. Kayte and I aren’t dog breeders — we just like these dogs — they’re similar to Jack Russells, except they are a distinctly American breed, and are a bit calmer than Jack Russells. They’re really friendly little guys — unless you’re a rodent.

A youtube video of a Monte Wolverton art exhibition

Youtube videos of sculpture by Monte Wolverton




A youtube video of political cartoonists Jeff Parker, Mike Peters, Monte Wolverton and Cameron” Cam” Cardow.

Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen

An Interview With Cartoonist Adam Zyglis
An Interview With Reverand Gerald Britt
An Interview With Cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards
An Interview With Poet, Activist, and Teacher Diane Wahto
An Interview With Cartoonist Jesse Springer
An Interview With Cartoonist Steve Greenberg
An Interview With Eric Wilks
An Interview With Cartoonist Greg Beda
An Interview With Poet Melissa Tuckey
An Interview With Cartoonist Andy Singer
An Interview With Author Robert Balmanno
An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper
An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen

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About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Since my time in college, my goal has been to be a successful children’s book illustrator. I’ve illustrated 3 books: Two Moms the Zark and Me by Johnny Valentine in 1993; Night Travelers by Sue Hill in 1994; and Cherubic Children’s New Classic Story Book Volume 2 for Cherubic Press in 1998. I’ve painted murals for Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, the Berryessa branch of the San Jose Public Library, and Grace Community Church in Los Altos. I’ve had a few illustrations published in South Bay Accent Magazine and I will have an illustration published in the January/February issue of Tikkun magazine.
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