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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v9n9 (03/03/2010) » Eight Questions With...

Adam Zyglis: Editorial Cartoonist

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Talk about lofty predecessors. When Adam Zyglis became the editorial cartoonist for the Buffalo News in 2004, he stepped into a role once held by not one, but two, Pulitzer Prize winners (Bruce Shanks in 1958 and Tom Toles in 1990). Since then the Buffalo born artist has has worked hard to carve out his own reputation and style and has been rewarded with international syndication and several award nominations for his cartoons. You can see more of Adam’s work, including the cartoon mentioned below, at

How did it feel to step into a role with such lofty predecessors (Tom Toles, Bruce Shanks)?

I see it as such a huge honor to be a part of this rich tradition, especially here in Buffalo. At first I was so focused on developing my own work, one cartoon at a time, that I didn’t really have time to think about it. I simply saw Toles and Shanks as a source of great inspiration, as I still do now.

How did you get into cartooning and where did you draw your inspiration?

I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was 5, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it. My original art influences came from comic books and magazines—R Crumb, Jack Davis of MAD, among many others. Later as I got into politics I loved the illustrations of Ed Sorel and David Levine. I was first published on a regular basis in the student paper at Canisius College and then later in Artvoice.

What is the most meaningful or controversial cartoon you have drawn in your career?

The cartoon I drew in 2007 after the arrest of Altemio Sanchez stands out in my mind. I depicted the original rape victim saying to a Buffalo policeman “A man driving this car raped me!” and handing over the plate number. Then “26 years 8 rapes & 3 murders later” I showed the same two characters decades older, with the cop saying to the victim, “We caught the man who drove that car!” I was literally highlighting the facts, to suggest they could have caught him back then. It made a splash on the network news when the Buffalo Police Commissioner demanded I apologize for the cartoon (I did not). My phone and Inbox blew up with hate mail from cops. But when I saw TV reporters press the DA about it, I knew the cartoon had changed the debate.

Has any political/public figure you’ve lampooned been upset by your caricature of them?

I remember Joel Giambra was especially sensitive. One time as I was taking notes during an editorial meeting with him, he kept peeking over at my notebook and told me take it easy on his chin. I wasn’t even drawing him.

Almost all editorial cartoons today are drawn in the same “Thomas Nast-esque” style. Is there a place for “alties” to come into the mainstream?

I believe a strong single image is almost always the most effective way to get an opinion across, regardless of the publication. A few alt cartoonists do embrace this single panel format, notably Mr. Fish and Matt Bors. What makes them “alties,” is what they get away with in terms of taste. As for the cross hatching look, most daily papers don’t use color on the editorial page, so the classic style simply reproduces better. But the Web may be changing this. I’ve considered adding color to my cartoons online and to the ones I send to the syndicate.

At what point do political sensibilities (or fear for one’s life!) trump the issue of free speech, such as in the Jyllands-Posten controversy?

Luckily I work in the U.S. where satire is strongly protected (thanks to the 1st amendment and The People vs Larry Flint). The Danish cartoons were commissioned by an editor with the purpose of stirring up controversy. That’s not my role. I try and stay true to what I believe needs to be said, without crossing my own personal line of taste. I let my editors worry about the rest.

What do you typically do when you run into a serious case of cartoonist’s block?

I typically just read, and read some more. I’ve been known to pace around the office a lot. I do have some brainstorming tricks when I’m in a jam. And there’s always my stack of leftover ideas from the previous day to play with.

Do you ever feel like cartoonists are too cynical?

Sometimes it’s good to break from the cynicism. Many people don’t understand that cartoons can often be serious, thoughtful or poignant. Cartoons are meant to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. But most often the comfortable make better targets.

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