Three years ago, when I attended the Portland AAEC convention, I met Florida cartoonist Peter Evans and his lovely wife Juana. Peter Evans is a well traveled man who was born in England and began his art career in advertising in Canada. He became creative head of a major U.S. ad agency in Mexico City before settling in Miami, Florida. For the past 17 years, he has been cartoonist of The Islander News of Key Biscayne.
Evans has won over 100 art honors, including ‘Top 100 U.S. Creative Men’ from Ad Day, USA; several Florida Press Association first place awards; national ‘Best Editorial Cartoons Of The Year’ book, and the Golden Spike Award from the Association Of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Peter, thank you very much for doing this interview. Tell me about your early childhood years in England. How did you get interested in art?
I grew up during WW2 in Brighton, England. After the war, I won entry to a pre-University grammar school but disliked studies, so I left as soon as I was legally able – 15 – to get a job. I did three things well at school: art, English language, and gymnastics, but art didn’t seem like a real job so I became a dental technician.
What led you to an advertising career in Canada and Mexico City?
I was married at 20 and two years later we had a child on the way. Since I had already peaked at my job, running a dental lab, I realized that I stood little chance of advancement without a fresh start. So we boarded the original Queen Elizabeth and sailed for New York, then took a train to Toronto where we had been granted landed immigrant status. Our son was born a week after we arrived.
The dental scene in North America was entirely different from Britain’s and I was fired from 3 jobs in 3 months. I was fired from my last dental job on a Friday and looked in the newspaper classifieds. There was a job advertised for an assistant art director at Grant Advertising, an American firm, and the only international ad agency at that time.
I called the art director and told him I didn’t have an art portfolio but if he could wait until Monday I would have. He agreed, so I bought a 29 cent box of watercolors and a cartridge pad in Woolworth’s and whipped up a half dozen ads over the weekend. On Monday, I showed them to the art director and he hired me on the spot. It wasn’t until years later that I asked him why he had chosen me over all the other applicants with art school training. He said, “I don’t know. There was just something about your work.”
Within 5 years, I was vice president/creative director of Baker/BBDO, one of Canada’s largest ad agencies. The main reason I progressed quickly was that I was good at both art and copywriting (cartoonists share this ambidextrous skill set). Most artists are terrible writers. Most writers are terrible artists, because the two skills come from different brain hemispheres. Since I could do both, I became Mad Men’s Don Draper, heading up both art and copy departments.
What is the advertising field like? Is there anything from your advertising experience that you apply to your editorial cartoon work?
Their creative approach is almost identical. You require a concept that integrates art and copy. Both use a headline – the blurb in cartooning. Both use a graphic – in cartooning, a drawing; in advertising, a photo or illustration, and a logo; in cartooning, that’s your signature. The only real difference is cartoons don’t usually carry body copy, except in multi-panel cartoons. So cartooning came fairly easily to me.
What led you to Miami, Florida? What led you to switch from advertising to editorial cartooning?
My wife is Spanish and I am fluent in the language, so I asked for a transfer from the Toronto office of Kenyon & Eckhardt Advtg., where I was creative director at the time, to our Mexico City branch. Eventually, the assistant general manager there, an American, decided to return to Miami and asked me to join him to start an ad agency. We became very successful, but a few years later I decided to open my own shop. Eventually, illness forced me to retire and, out of something to do, I sent some drawings to our local newspaper. My idea was each week to show a sketch of something that everyone had seen but ‘hadn’t really seen,’ like the small drawings in The New Yorker. The editor told me she wasn’t interested but could I draw cartoons since they had just lost their cartoonist?
It was serendipitous, rather like the way I entered advertising. I whipped up some cartoons and she said, “I think this is going to work out.” 17 years later, I’m still there, although she has had to make the same economic cutbacks faced by all newspapers today.
From looking at your work on the AAEC website, you seem to alternate from a more detailed crosshatching ink work to a more clean and spare line art. I like the variety of styles that you use. What has been the influence in your cartoon styles? Are there any favorite cartoonists who’ve influenced you?
I think the style changes are an advertising influence where you try never to repeat yourself. I’ve always concentrated on the idea and let that dictate the drawing style. Most readers are affected by the idea, few by the drawing. I learned that from advertising, too. You can increase an ad’s readership 10 times just by changing the headline.
As a kid, my cartoonist hero was (Carl) Giles . He was the staff cartoonist of the Daily Express newpaper, so powerful he could command almost any salary he liked.
You are very fair in your cartoons in criticizing both the Democrats and the Republicans. I especially like your cartoon of December 9, 2010 and your cartoon of July 28, 2011 on the rancor between the political parties that has led to gridlock in the government. What are your thoughts on the impasse right now between the two political parties?
Like most people, I am disgusted with Congress. The two days a week they spend working is mostly on their own reelection. Talk about out of touch. Look at Mitch McConnell, or Orrin Hatch. They seem like characters from a Dickens’ novel and bear no resemblance to the average American of today. It really is time for a major change in politics, certainly term limits. I think a third party would be a good idea, considering the diversity of our present society and the gridlock in our polarized Congress. I don’t adhere to the Tea Party’s philosophy but, at least, they’ve shaken things up.
In the past few years, you’ve made some really powerful critiques of the economic problems of our nation. You are especially critical of the economic institutions that got us into this mess in cartoons like your September 25, 2008 cartoon, your October 9, 2008 cartoon, and June 11, 2009 cartoon. How has the economic crisis affected you and your community?
Really very little compared with most Americans. I still have the job I had before the crisis and, because I live on a south Florida island which has grown into a very desirable community, my home is again worth what it was before the housing bubble burst.
They have. There is a huge building boom going on, especially in the Miami area. Most buyers are Brazilians, Chinese and Europeans, who pay cash. In today’s paper, they announced that Miami home sales were up about 24% over last year.
As a fan of libraries, I enjoyed seeing your cartoon on September 17, 2009 on the crisis of your county library system. Would you describe the crisis of the county library system in your area? What has happened since that cartoon ran?
Well, like most municipalities which have budget shortfalls, cutbacks in the library system have been severe. But that cartoon was actually attacking Key Biscayne’s Council toying with the idea of breaking away from the county system to finance our own library, as we had with our police force and fire department. It was a loony idea because how could a single library ever compete with the vast selection of books which circulate throughout the entire Miami-Dade library system? Whatever the reason, we are still part of the county system since that cartoon ran.
A majority of your cartoons are on local issues in the Key Biscayne area. I find them very insightful and knowledgeable. How do you come up with the ideas for your local cartoons? What is the most satisfying thing about doing editorial cartooning for you?
Rex Babin and I had long discussions on the importance of local cartooning. Generally, I believe focusing on purely federal matters and leaders over local ones can be suicide for cartoonists. Why would an editor keep on staff a cartoonist with a $75,000 salary when he can pick up a splendid cartoon on the same subject for a few bucks from a syndicate? Cartoonists used to hold a lot of power, and still do in many ways. Power has pitfalls. A humble cartoonist can take on the most powerful man in the world with an audience of perhaps millions. Heady stuff. From a journalism point of view, though, it can be foolish. Readers care more about their local taxes going up than they do about what’s going on in Washington, or Benghazi. As they say, ‘All politics is local.’
Local toons also make the cartoonist irreplaceable, because syndicated cartoonists know nothing of your local issues. I tackle national and international subjects, too. But, by far, my cartoons cover local happenings. For me, the question when I sit down to draw each week is, ‘What is top of mind with my readers?’
I read the paper I work for to generate ideas for my local cartoons. They do a very thorough journalistic job. The Islander News was honored as the leading community newspaper in Florida for 7 years in a row.
My most satisfying thing? When I see an outcome that happened because of a cartoon I had done.
When I attended my first AAEC convention in Portland three years ago, I was very nervous about meeting other political cartoonists from across the nation. You and your wife Juana were very friendly and kind to me during that time, and I deeply appreciate both of you making me feel welcome. How did you and Juana meet? How do you both enjoy living in Florida?
I had just been demobbed from the RAF and was strolling the seaside promenade. I leant on a rail to watch bumper cars below. Suddenly, this magnetic female, unlike any girl I’d ever seen, stopped to watch, too. When she walked away, I dashed up to her and asked if I might stroll with her. I expected, “Beat it, you creep,” but instead was returned with a lovely smile. She didn’t speak a word of English, nor I a word of Spanish, so we ‘conversed’ with her Spanish/English dictionary the rest of the evening. Serendipity, again. We’ve been married for 57 years.
I love Florida because I have SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Gloomy skies make a gloomy me. Weather was one reason I left England. Waking each day to sunshine cheers and energizes me. And Juana is from the Spanish Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, so she’s used to sunny weather.
What would you advise someone who is visiting Florida for the first time? What are some places in the Key Biscayne area that you would recommend going to?
See the ‘old’ Florida. It’s infinitely more interesting and beautiful than the glitzy new Florida. Take an airboat ride through, or walk the Everglades. Fly over Biscayne Bay in an ultralight aircraft. Visit Vizcaya, a Mediterranean palace built by John Deering at the turn of the century with materials and furnishings from Renaissance Europe. Visit Coral Castle, an unbelievable fantasy carved from fossilized coral rock by an eccentric immigrant from Estonia. He built it alone and at night during the 20’s after being rejected by his fiancee before he left Europe. No one knows how he did it. He had only primitive tools but a genius instinct for the science of leverage. One door alone weighs several tons but is so delicately balanced it can be pushed open with a finger. My own passion is diving. We have a small offshore reef where I freedive daily to commune with the fishes. It’s another universe. South Florida has the only underwater national park in the U.S., and anyone can quickly learn to snorkel. Charter boats take groups out, or you can do the Hemingway thing and fish for marlin in the Gulf Stream.
Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen
An Interview With Progressive Christian George Koukouris
An Interview With Cartoonist Gustavo Rodriguez
An Interview With Children’s Book Illustrator Lea Lyon
An Interview With Democrat Nancy Hirstein Smith
An Interview With Cartoonist Ann Cleaves
An Interview With Muslim American Activist Zahra Billoo
An Interview With Peace Activist and Lay Pastor Jim Ramelis
An Interview With Cartoonist Monte Wolverton
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
An Interview that Everyday blogger Diane Wahto kindly did of me