Reviewed By: Marshall Ramsey
If you want to become an editorial cartoonist, you don’t go to editorial cartooning college. After you decide to chase the mathematically impossible dream of being one, you look around at who is drawing them. You study their work and their lives. You might model your artwork after theirs (until you develop a style of your own). You also see how they project their “voice.” Does their work have bite? Does it say something? Are their opinions well-researched and sound? What do they do to be able to crank out a cartoon every day?
While there are no textbooks to teach these skills, Bill Sanders’ memoir “Against the Grain: Bombthrowing in the Fine American Tradition of Political Cartooning” (foreword by the great Jules Feiffer), is as close as you’re going to get.
I wish I had had it 30 years ago when I got into the business. I’m grateful to have it now. When I first would go to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) conventions, I’d see Bill. I remember meeting him and him being generous with his time and constructive criticism. I also remember him being a heck of a musician. He also had a cutting wit. I admired him.
I really enjoyed this book. Not just because Bill tells his life story and his take on the historical events over his 56-year career (Bill is retired from the Milwaukee News Sentinel and King Features Syndicate but still draws cartoons regularly. You can see them at sanderscartoon.blogspot.com). I loved reading how he chased and caught his dream.
Bill had some incredible brushes with history while he was a cartoonist during the golden era of newspaper cartooning. He unknowingly was in the restaurant during the Greensboro Woolworth Sit-In (changing his perception of race forever.) There was even a moment when his wife Joyce babysat Jayne Mansfield’s son when she was in North Carolina on a press junket. And he was sent to Vietnam as part of a USO tour (where he not only drew cartoons from the field, but met one of my cartooning heroes, Williard Mullins) I loved reading how his career advanced from Stars and Stripes in Japan to Greensboro, North Carolina to Kansas City to Milwaukee.
While I found all these historical milestones (and more) interesting, what was really meaningful was how they shaped his political viewpoint. Bill’s opinions are smartly formed from years of travel and slung ink. He’s not just a gag cartoonist. He’s a sharp commentator. (and a great athlete and musician).
My favorite part of the book was seeing Bill’s style evolve, grow and improve over his career. Sometimes when you are a cartoonist, your talent follows a bell-curve. His artwork and ideas have continued to improve throughout the years.
“Against the Grain,” is a fascinating look into what makes a good editorial cartoonist. It can be read on many levels and enjoyed on all of them. It’s a history book, an art book and a memoir.
Bill Sanders is a heck of a cartoonist who has written an interesting book. It tells the tale of a cartoonist who’s driven by his passion for his craft and his love of his family. “Against the Grain” is the story of a life well-lived.
Marshall Ramsey is the editorial cartoonist for the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and the author of several books, including “Fried Chicken & Wine.”