A Tale of Two Toonists
Political cartoonists are considered an endangered species. There are only a few dozen editorial cartoonists left in the newspaper field. Their ranks have been shrinking for the past 30 years at a pace of about one per week, according to the National Cartoonist Society.
As newspapers downsize and evolve, we are losing a revered breed of newsmen known as the editorial or political cartoonist.
MidWeek is fortunate in having two award-winning local editorial cartoonists, Dick Adair and Roy Chang. You no doubt are familiar with their work that appears regularly in our publication. We thought you’d enjoy the backstory on these guys who taunt public officials and poke into social issues with their drawings.
They’re unique because, as MidWeek editor Don Chapman notes, “Outside of New York or Washington, D.C., I can’t think of another paper that has multiple local editorial cartoonists on board. With the award-winning syndicated Steve Kelly, our editorial toons can stand with any paper in the country.”
If the prime role of a free press is to serve as public watchdog of government, cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.
As University of Hawaii School of Communications associate professor Gerald Kato puts it: “It used to be that on any given day, an editorial cartoon could influence public opinion more than any long-winded editorial. Nationally, there was Herblock’s cartoons of Joe McCarthy and (Richard) Nixon that revealed something about them when words failed.”
He adds, “We’ve been fortunate locally to have had Harry Lyons, Corky Trinidad and Dick Adair because they made us laugh, at the same time, think about current events. It’s a shame that they’re a dying breed in newspapers at a time when there’s a lot going on in the world of news that requires their deft touch.”
Adair, Honolulu Advertiser cartoonist for 27 years before losing his job in 2008, drew a balloon with his name on it drifting into the air as his final tribute to his days at the daily.
At the suggestion of company president Dennis Francis, who knew Adair from his days at the Advertiser, Chapman paid a visit to his former ‘Tiser colleague literally as he was cleaning out his office. Two weeks later his first cartoon appeared in MidWeek.
As for Chang, he says, “Heck, I’m just a peon DOE teacher behind the eight ball working for the state who likes annoying powerful figures in cartoons.”
Well, he does it well because, after seeing samples of his work nine years ago, MidWeek hired him too.
Adair and Chang have a strong following among news readers and art collectors. In fact, subjects of their artwork often ask for original drawings or reprints.
Sometimes they even get paid.
The two artists have interesting tracks to their present position as award-winning editorial cartoonists. Here, they tell their story and we don’t limit them to a 4-by-5-inch square space.
Daring Dick Adair
Artist, correspondent, set designer, cinema location artist, choreographer, dancer and seaman, Adair has traveled far and tried his hand at many jobs. The Chicago native attended high school in Los Angeles and as a teen was rejected as cartoonist for a girlie magazine because his sketches weren’t sexy enough.
“Eventually, I learned to draw a bosom,” he says.
The Hawaii Kai resident, 75, lived in Asia for 20 years, serving as a Navy journalist and war correspondent for military newspaper Stars and Stripes. He roamed Japan sketching, drew the Chinese Nationalist Army in Quemoy before heading to Vietnam, where he worked from 1965 to 1970.
He recorded the fascinating places and people in a book titled Saigon (available on Amazon.com). Adair also spent time in the Philippines, where he met his wife Margot, who is a history teacher at Maryknoll School. They have two sons, Dick Jr., 26, and Alexander, 21.
Off the battlefield, Adair hobnobbed with Hong Kong film producers who had him sketch movie scenes so they could determine visual quality, lighting and proper camera angles.
In 1981, he was hired by Honolulu Advertiser editor George Chaplin, who knew of Adair’s work in Stars and Stripes.
“I had to brush up on a lot of the stuff for the interview,” Adair recalls. “I knew nothing about the Legislature. Although I don’t think many legislators know about the Legislature.
“Editors liked my work because I could both write and illustrate stories. That’s how I made a living for a long time,” he says in a whisper, explaining that his voice was affected by throat cancer 10 years ago.
Three decades and more than 3,000 drawings later, Adair’s satirical cartoons are doing the talking for him.
But while modern cartoon-ists have computerized the process, Adair still does his work the old-fashioned way. He uses pen and ink on drawing paper, with a splash of watercolor.
Some of his favorite subjects have been the controversial Bishop Estate trustees of the late 1990s (“I loved drawing them.”), former Mayor Frank Fasi (“He hated my guts.”) and various City Council officials (“I don’t know where they got that bunch from.”).
National and world affairs do not evade Adair’s drawing pad either. For his efforts, he has framed letters from U.S. presidents, boxes full of professional awards, and even a Hawaii State Senate Proclamation.
All but one legislator attended the Senate presentation to Adair. Could be that the senator-estate trustee was disgusted with Adair’s pointed criticism.
“It goes with the territory,” the political cartoonist says. “The test of a written or drawn commentary is whether it gets at an essential truth.”
Or under your skin.
Relentless Roy Chang Chang, 42, is an art teacher, editorial cartoonist and a freelance illustrator. The Moanalua High School grad has a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and a master’s in education from the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
His cartoons have appeared in UH’s Ka Leo O Hawaii, Star-Bulletin, Honolulu Weekly and MidWeek.
Chapman hired Chang in 2002 on a part-time basis, but it soon became apparent that he was up to being a weekly contributor.
“I liked his local style,” Chapman says. “This is a guy with talent and a desire to work hard and make a dream come true.”
The fine arts teacher at Aiea Intermediate School is an adviser for the Cartooning Club and the Korean Drama Fan Club “where we eat kimchi and rice while watching K-drama scenes.”
But the role he most relishes is being “a citizen watch-dog with ink pens.”
Back in 1993, Chang answered a call from the Star-Bulletin to submit editorial cartoons while staff cartoonist Corky Trinidad took a year off.
“My first cartoon was about the mayor and his support of rail transit,” Chang says. “Some things never change.”
“I take my role more as journalist, humorist and sarcastic SOB than cartoonist,” he says. “My goal is to say something about an issue or, better yet, get the viewer to have a response. Elected officials tell me that they like what I say even if it’s critical because it makes them accountable and gets the public involved.”
As for inspiration, Chang reacts, “You can’t make up this stuff! Politicians create all the material I need.”
Editorial cartoonists can often bring an issue to light that the public is ignoring. An example would be Chang’s cartoon “Sitting on the Dock of a Bay” that depicted the tons of bundled trash waiting for months to be shipped out from Oahu.
Soon the local news media was hounding city officials.
As for art style, Chang keeps an old tradition in editorial cartooning by using “dingbat” characters that appear in the corner of his drawings.
“I use a panda and a monkey as characters to give closing comments,” he explains.
As for his peers, Chang admires “the late Corky’s wit, Dick Adair’s contour lines and John Pritchett’s cross-hatching to create values.”
Besides his toon duties for MidWeek, Chang is generous with his volunteer time for student art exhibits, community art classes and doing posters for arts and cultural events. He has a manga novel about to the published called Cacy and Kiara and the Lava Flows of the Fire Goddess.
But his true claim to fame could be his annual trips to San Francisco to get sourdough omiyage for colleagues and friends.
As for the fate of editorial cartoonists, we wonder if they will continue to be a force to influence public opinion and raise social consciousness.
Draw your own conclusions.