The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod


Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist of Hamilton Spectator

August 30, 2013


Interested in news, the boy enjoyed the reports of daily events, reading newspapers and watching the happenings in the world, in Canada, and locally on the family television. But the news didn't depress the child or make him upset. Instead, absorbing the intense and serious, Graeme MacKay saw the silliness in the politics, the ironic in the stories. He took his pencil and created cartoons... and crafted himself a fine future at the same time: staff editorial cartoonist for The Hamilton Spectator newspaper in southern Ontario.


"Naturally, all the absorption of news, combined with my enjoyment of drawing, led to the beginnings of my interest in political cartooning," MacKay wrote in an interview with Greg Farries on Maple Leaf Web, June 5, 2008.

, Graeme MacKay was born on September 23, 1968. He grew up in Dundas, Ontario, near the western end of Lake Ontario. "He's always been a 'news geek' and was the kid who never stopped doodling," said MacKay's biography. "He would draw his teachers and classmates, a sure way to win a chuckle or two."

After high school graduation, MacKay enrolled at University of Ottawa. Participating on the school newspaper, he became graphics editor of The Fulcrum. His life wasn't all art and cartooning, though. On a sketching trip to Europe in 1992, MacKay took a job as a bacon butcher at the infamous Herrod's Department Store. He returned to Canada in 1994.

Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay  
Editorial Cartoon © Cartoonist Graeme MacKay  

Cartoon of Graeme MacKay

Leaping back into the business of cartooning, the young artist produced humourous panels and submiitted his work to newspapers. MacKay's work caught the attention of the editor of the Hamilton Spectator and he was offered the plum posting of staff editorial cartoonist in 1997. Not only funny, MacKay is also wise. He accepted.

Finding humour in the ordinary is one of MacKay's strengths. Seeing the humour in politics is another, including viewing politicians as monkeys on occasion. "... he has one of those world views --call it the cartoonist's gene -- that routinely sees humour in the mundane. In his world, monkeys are reasonable, even expected, participants in public policy," wrote Editor-in-Chief of The Hamilton Spectator, Dana Robbins, on August 17, 2002.

"The Spectator's role is to reflect the community, and Graeme does that every time he puts pen to paper," added Robbins. "Although like a house of mirrors, his reflections challenge our perception of the world. Graeme's cartoons are quirky, but intelligent. And while his commentary is often pointed, it is never cynical or mean-spirited."

Self-cartoon by Editorial Cartoonist Graeme MacKay  

MacKay is careful to avoid causing harm, to his subjects and himself. "I've learned over the years that being too heavy-handed against a poltiician or issue will often cause me to cringe the next morning when I open up the paper," said the cartoonist to Farries. "Offending readers doesn't do any favours -- in terms of ensuring your employment at a paper -- so I've mellowed somewhat since first starting out in this job."

Editors also have a part in ensuring the appropriateness of cartoons appearing in their newspapers, suggested MacKay. "The role of editors isn't just to ensure correct spelling and grammar, but to act as filters, keeping the tateless content of the pages and avoiding libellous stuff that'll lead to expensive lawsuits."


Cartoon by Graeme MacKay

Coming up with ideas and creating five cartoons a week keeps MacKay busy, along with producing humourous works for other publications such as Maclean's Magazine and newspapers across Canada and the United States. Included in annual anthologies, MacKay's 'toons are also published in "Political Cartoons of the Year," "Portfoolio," and "Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year."

Ideas for his panels are not hard to find for MacKay. He always has his eyes on the news, locally, nationally and internationally. Envisioning the images first, the editorial cartoonist then works on the gags for the caption.

Giving advice to prospective cartoonists, MacKay reminds creators that there are very few full-time editorial cartoonists in Canada. By 2008, he told Greg Farries, there were only about two dozen or less across the nation. MacKay offers the tried-and-true advice of practice. "Practice more, and then practice more after that," he said. But MacKay still offers hope, since "there will always be a place for visual political satire, insome form, alongside news and commentary."

Editorial Cartoon © Graeme MacKay    

Living in Hamilton, Ontario, Graeme MacKay is married to Wendi L. (Silcott) MacKay. The MacKays are parents of two daughters. A true cartooning professional, MacKay was recent President of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists. For a quick look at MacKay's giggle-worthy cartoons, visit his website MacKay Cartoons or his Facebook page.

Great stuff, Graeme MacKay!



© Susanna McLeod 2013