Issue #8 "I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life"

A conversation with Canadian editorial cartoonist, Michael de Adder.

Michael de Adder is one of Canada’s most celebrated editorial cartoonists. His work has been featured in newspapers such as The Hill Times, and the Toronto Star. He also happens to be the winner of the 2020 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Perspectivves found him hunkered down at his home in Halifax where he shared his impression of the first U.S. presidential debate, what he actually thinks about his own work, and whether he thinks the next century will be as eventful as the last. If you’re an unbridled optimist, you won’t be by the end of this conversation. 

Ziv: Hi Michael, how are you doing?

Michael: Good. I’m in Atlantic Canada. We’ve got our own bubble going on that’s a little better than most places in North America. 

Ziv: Everybody I know that lives in Atlantic Canada tells me that they feel super safe there.

Michael: Yeah, we feel super safe. They’re opening things up more. I think you’re allowed to have 50 people together playing sports so sports teams can now play each other. While the rest of the world is getting ready for the second wave, we’re opening up. 

Ziv: The world just got to witness that bizarre first U.S. presidential debate. What was your impression of that?

Michael: I don’t know if Biden won but Trump lost so we’ll take that. Biden presented himself as a decent human but I think anybody besides Trump could present themselves as a decent human. Biden underperformed a bit but Trump overperformed and he was horrible. So what can you say? That’s all there is to say. And it was the most embarrassing display I’ve ever seen come from a president or from any North American leader, really. 

Yarden: Who’s your favourite politician to make fun of through your cartoons? 

Michael: I like drawing Justin Trudeau and I really liked drawing Stephen Harper. But it’s kind of obvious right now that Trump is the big show and will be until after the election. I suspect he’s not going to win this one. But what happens after? Who knows...scary times. 

Yarden: What’s your opinion of your own work? 

Michael: Well, I’m an artist. I never like my work [laughs]. I need five years to look at my work. You know, most days I can’t separate myself from it. And I’ve spent so much time looking at each cartoon, because I drew them, that they are bereft of humour to me. They are no longer funny. If they were funny, they no longer work. So I need some time to separate myself from my drawings. I remember, 20 years ago, thinking that I was having a good year and I was drawing cartoon after cartoon every day and then a year later I went back and looked at my work and I thought, “This is crap, this is crap, this is crap”. But I’m an artist and I see nothing but faults when I look at my own work. 

Ziv: What’s been the most pressing issue for you during this pandemic? 

Michael: Not being able to socialize and not seeing people. That was the hardest thing. I’ve always worked from home. I’ve always self-isolated. You know, I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life pretty much. So my life didn’t really change. And [media companies] still have to put out newspapers so I was very fortunate that the work didn’t cease. But, like everybody else, I crave human interaction and having a beer with friends. And the stress of the whole thing...we didn’t know where the pandemic was going. You’re afraid to lose a loved one and there’s family I haven’t seen so there’s a lot of concerns, but none professional for me. I was fortunate that way. 

Ziv: Do you think that editorial cartoonists are losing their prestige in journalism? 

Michael: Bean counters at newspapers, with the decline of newspapers, don’t see the importance that the average citizen sees. The readers still see the value in it. A great editorial cartoon can nail [a point better] than a five-part piece involving seven investigative journalists, for example. A good editorial cartoon can help to take out a president much like Herblock helped to take out Nixon. Editorial cartooning might be more popular because of social media and how far you can reach. It’s just not popular with the bean counters. We’re not talking about your Joe average cartoonist. We’re talking about some Pulitzer prize winners who’ve lost their jobs, some very good talent, and that’s sad to see. In Canada, there used to be almost 30 cartoonists and now there must be under 15 of them that are making a living out of solely drawing cartoons. It’s getting well under that number. I don’t know exactly where that number is at present. 

Ziv: You’re pretty much a part of a tight-knit family of Canadian cartoonists.  

Michael: Yeah, who compete once in a while and fight at the Thanksgiving table every year [laughs]. But we are a close-knit family. I’ve met a lot of great cartoonists in my lifetime. 

Yarden: Is there a specific drawing you made that stands out to you? 

Michael: There’s always the stuff that stands out. I remember when Jerry Falwell died I drew him waking up in hell, you know, and the devil’s going: “Surprise!” This was before social media, but everybody had e-mail so it went viral in my email before viral was a thing. So many people were either happy with the cartoon or mad at me. A political cartoon site called posted the cartoon on their page with my e-mail right underneath it. It was a lesson of what was to come later. What happened with Jerry Falwell and that cartoon now happens to me at least once a month. I mean my e-mail doesn’t break down, but Twitter goes wild. 

Ziv: Are you afraid to open your e-mail or Twitter on days like that then? 

Michael: No, I enjoy upsetting people! My favourite cartoons are those that are hated by one side and loved by the other. Maybe that’s the sign of the times more so than it’s ever been. Everything’s polarized now. You can’t crack an egg without that being political or someone hating you for doing it. But I actually think the internet, and we’re now making dog robots—the combination of the two— is the end of us. That’s it. I mean, as soon as you give that dog robot the intelligence and the desire to survive and it looks at us as weak little bags of water what do you think it’s going to do? And then, we’re still arguing over here about what are facts and what’s fake news and what’s regular news. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m far off about what’s going to happen. 

Yarden: Looking back at the past century, do you think that the next century is going to be as eventful?

Michael: I think that Donald Trump is nothing compared to what’s coming with the environment and climate change. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I just can’t see us righting that ship. So, the answer to your question is no. We are all dying. No, I’m just kidding [laughs]. Glad I could help you guys with the positive outlook on your future!

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

About the creators:

Yarden Haddi: Student of the Image Arts Centre at Ryerson University.

Ziv Haddi: Graduate of the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at Western University. A former intern at 680 News at Rogers Media and q on CBC Radio. Currently, he produces a current affairs program on Zoomer Radio.

Made with chutzpah in Toronto.