When drawing cartoons is serious business
A veteran political cartoonist will soon be turning his satirical pen on Bermuda and its characters (in a good way).
The Masterworks Museum’s latest Artist in Residence is Kevin (Kal) Kallaugher, who has drawn political cartoons for The Economist magazine and the Baltimore Sun newspaper for several decades.
While in Bermuda for the next couple of months, Mr Kallaugher hopes to find the Bermuda that tourists don’t see. His aim is to create a travelogue of his experiences on the Island.
“It will have bits about interesting characters I have met and chapters on Cup Match and every day life, such as buses, tourism, and politics,” he said. While in Bermuda, Mr Kallaugher will also give a talk about the world of political cartooning.
“I am very lucky to be working in the United States and the United Kingdom, where there is great tolerance for satire,” he said. “In many parts of the world drawing political satire is enough to get you thrown into jail or even a death sentence.”
Through the United States Department of State he has acted as a cultural ambassador in countries such as Sri Lanka, Romania, Russia, Azerbaijan and Lebanon to promote freedom of expression.
“I exhibit in major museums,” he said. “Sometimes people see my cartoons and they want to know why my hands haven’t been broken. I speak at universities.
“I speak to other cartoonists and civil and social groups. It is soft diplomacy. One funny thing is that in my intro the US State Department says ‘we don’t support half of the things he says’. For example, I was completely against the Iraq war.”
Mr Kallaugher is a great admirer of French political cartoonist Honore Daumier (1808 — 1879) who is known as the father of modern political cartooning.
“He was working during the time of Les Miserables,” said Mr Kallaugher. “He spent time in jail because of his work, and had a great mastery of line.”
He started at The Economist, which has about 1.5 million readers, at the age of 22. He was their first resident cartoonist in their 145 year history.
After graduating from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts with honours in 1977, Mr Kallaugher took a cycling tour of Britain, where he joined the Brighton Basketball Club as a player and coach. After the club hit financial difficulties, he drew caricatures of tourists in Trafalgar Square and on Brighton Pier.
“I always wanted to be a cartoonist,” he said, “although I originally thought I would have a comic strip like Doonesbury. I showed up at The Economist in May 1978 with my portfolio”.
“In the lobby, I had a look through the magazines on the table, and it was mainly just text with few photos or artwork. I had intended to pitch them a comic strip.
“I thought, gosh they aren’t going to want my comic strip. All I had in my portfolio that I thought might be appropriate were some caricatures I had done of my Harvard professors.”
Taking his courage in hand he went along to the art room at The Economist. As it happened several of the editors recognised the professors in the caricatures and one of the editors’ husbands was a professor at Harvard.
For that, he won himself a one day trial period the next day. The trouble was he didn’t know a lot about politics in Britain at that time.
His basketball colleagues recommended he go home in the evening and watch the BBC programme Newsnight. That evening he watched a segment on Denis Healey. As he watched, he drew a caricature of Healey.
“When I went to The Economist the next day they said they had a test for me, it was drawing Healey.”
He has been with The Economist ever since. He has also worked for a number of other publications including The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph, Today and The Mail on Sunday.
He returned to the United States after ten years to join The Baltimore Sun as its editorial cartoonist, continuing all the while to draw for The Economist.
His work for the Sun and The Economist has appeared in more than 100 publications worldwide, including Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Pravda, Krokodil, Daily Yomiuri, The Australian, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and The Washington Post.
His cartoons are distributed worldwide by Cartoonarts International and the New York Times Syndicate.
He has won several awards including the 2005 Nast Prize as presented by the town of Landau, Germany, and the 2004 “Gillray Goblet” for Cartoon of the year as presented by the Political Cartoon Society of Great Britain and many others.
He said every cartoon he draws has a story and one of his favourites came out of the 2000 American presidential election.
The cartoon depicts George W Bush and Al Gore standing back to back in a standoff, both holding pistols shaped like the state of Florida.
“The election took place on the Tuesday and The Economist went to press on Wednesday,” he said. “There was great panic because we didn’t know the result yet.”
That meant that he had to draw something that was topical and flexible enough to stand up during the events of the coming week, whatever the result.
“The decision was made at 4pm which was quite late as covers are usually finalised hours earlier,” he said. “The original idea for the cartoon was crystallised late Tuesday evening when I was at the makeshift BBC studios in Washington DC acting as an election night pundit.
“As I watched the ensuing mayhem in Florida I scribbled down the rough of the cartoon that later made it to the cover.
“I didn’t have a lot of time so I did it in crosshatch (a technique used by pen and ink artist to create texture and shading) and not in colour.”
While many cartoonists now work in colour because of advances in technology, Mr Kallaugher often still works in black ink and is known as “the last of the great cross hatchers”.
There will be an opening reception for Mr Kallaugher’s show, Kal Draws Bermuda, on August 15 from 5.30pm to 7pm in the Rick Faries Gallery at Masterworks in the Botanical Gardens in Paget.
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