Behind the scenes with cartoonist Cathy Wilcox
I’ve been drawing cartoons since The Sydney Morning Herald and age since 1989. I started out drawing paperback comics for the sections, then moved on to the news pages, then to the larger editorial niche, usually to replace one of the esteemed masters of the craft such as Alan Moir, Jenny Coopers, Les Tanner or Michael Leunig. Now I draw editorial cartoons four days a week – immersive enough but with a chance to salvage the weekend!
My main responsibility is to follow the news. I can get away with walking “fresh” once in a while, but most of the time I need to keep up with what’s going on so I have plenty of material to work with. News moves quickly – especially with social media and a 24-hour news cycle – so capturing the arc of a story and predicting where it is going is as important as examining a single event.
Although I do not have the same obligation as a journalist to be “factual” – to have all the names and figures at hand – my cartoons must be based on truth. Maybe that’s what I think is hiding under the political twist, or taking someone’s proposal to its logical extreme to expose nonsense, but if it doesn’t ring true, it probably fails in as a cartoon. If I have any doubts about this – about whether my idea conveys what I want it to say and “works” – I might submit it to a trusted critic, such as a colleague, friend or Member of the family. But working from home like I do these days, I’m pretty used to relying on my own judgment or that of my dog. By the way, my dog Tilly is very helpful, because she takes me out every day, and lots of good ideas come up during a walk!
I like that comics combine so many of my interests: human nature, language, humor, drawing; and also that the subject changes all the time. I also like that I’m given the freedom to fill that space on the letters page however I see fit. I admit that it took time to overcome the “impostor syndrome”, but to have had confidence and to have been able to evolve in the work is one of the greatest privileges.
As I grew, my view of the world also grew. Although I feel no desire to take a partisan political perspective, I can bring my own values and life experience to my work. Environmental issues and the treatment of refugees are perennial. They are politicized and exploited as such, but I think it is worth bringing them back to their essential human dimension. Politicians trying to get away with it are an inexhaustible resource. I hope that won’t change anytime soon.
My main source of feedback is via Twitter. It’s also a big part of my daily research, to gauge what people are excited/upset/talking about. Some cartoons capture the zeitgeist and resonate strongly with people; some land more quietly but still say something that matters. If I end up having to explain a cartoon, it’s probably failed. And last week, I drew one that was accurate when I filed it, but a little stale the next morning. Twitter made sure I knew!