Arts Desk

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat With Steve Artley

Steve Artley is both an editorial cartoonist and a cartoonist for hire. He self-syndicates his editorial cartoons, and you can see a nice recent selection on the  Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' website. I've got to know Steve recently after we were introduced by another local political cartoonist, Ann Telnaes, and I'm glad he could answer the usual questions.

Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Steve Artley: I've done cartoons and illustrations for books, magazines, packaging & POP display (Point-of-Purchase—this refers to shelving displays and stand-alone units, header cards, and all that kind of thing one sees in stores) and the like. But, I am primarily an editorial cartoonist, and started professionally doing it in the 1980s. My background is in commercial art, as a graphic designer, art director, and creative director. Currently, I operate a small design corporation that has specialized in packaging and  promotional materials, as well as advertising. My base of operations is in Alexandria, Va. I draw anywhere from one to five cartoons a week, depending on what's happening and how busy I am in other duties. I produce a weekly editorial cartoon feature on the opinion page of The Alexandria Times. I distribute the others to other newspapers, magazines, and online news outlets. I've been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, and various other periodicals throughout the US and Canada.

WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

SA: I was born in the middle of the United States (Iowa), in the middle of a middle-income family (third of four), smack in the middle of the last century. My political cartoons tend to be politically middle-of-the-road, although some have accused me of being a card-carrying member of the John Birch Society, while others think I'm somewhere to the left of Karl Marx. Personally, I tend to see myself closer to Groucho—while lacking his genius. This is all a matter of perspective of the person making the assessment, of course. And, if I may use a technical drawing metaphor, either too far to one side or the other is a vanishing point.

WCP: Why are you in the Washington area now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

SA: I came to the D.C. area in 2002. An opportunity came up to do work for the Departments of Defense and State. They seemed to feel my editorial cartooning skills and advertising background could be useful in combating terrorism. So, they gave me an office and crayons and I came up with concepts. I was working for one of the major government contractors at the time. Contracts have a way of expiring, so I was laid off from that job in fall of 2008. Now, I work on what I want to do out of my home-based studio.

WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

SA: I am uneducated, by Washington, D.C., standards (no Ph.D.) and pretty much self-taught through on-the-job training and experience over the years. In college, I was pre-med with intent on becoming a medical illustrator. Eventually, I decided my interest artistically was more in people's exteriors rather than interiors.

WCP: Who are your influences?

SA: My father Bob Artley was an editorial cartoonist in the 1950s for the Des Moines Tribune when Frank Miller (not to be confused with the graphic novel artist) was the cartoonist for the DM Register. In he 1970s my dad reprised his editorial cartooning career at The Worthington Daily Globe in Minnesota, then went on to write and illustrate books. So, I'd have to say he had the most influence, as did Frank Miller. Paul Conrad was one whose work I followed religiously for years, and influenced me greatly. Jeff McNelly was another, as well as the many of the fine artists (especially Uncle Mort) of Mad Magazine.

WCP: Uncle Mort?

SA: Y'know, Mort Drucker.

WCP: Yes, but he's not really your uncle, correct?

SA: No no no. Just a term of endearment. We cartoonists revere him so much. It's like comedians calling Milton Berle, "Uncle Miltie."

WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

SA: Graphic novels, comic strips, theatrical set design, kids' books, animation, musical scores, and own a bar.

WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

SA: Pace, pull hair, talk with other creative folks, play piano, write, watch a good movie, sleep. Seriously, engaging in another creative activity usually break through the blockade.

WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?

SA: There's a lot of debate on this subject among editorial cartoonists these days, as so many are losing their staff positions at newspapers. Going freelance, I suspect, is the future. I've always been freelance, and much prefer it that way. The main thing I miss in an office environment is camaraderie, especially when you have other creatives around you, such as writers and artists.

WCP: What's your favorite thing about DC?

SA: The history, the culture, the museums.

WCP: Least favorite?

SA: The traffic, the crowds, and the higher cost of living — compared to the Midwest.

WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?

SA: National Gallery, Library of Congress, and Five Guys.

WCP: Do you have a website or blog?

SA: I do, but it is frightfully out of date –

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