Archive Event Highlight
Best Cartoon Award Winner Shares Process and Hidden Details of his Work
by Chad Bouchard
Award-winning cartoonist Adam Zyglis has been drawing since he was five years old. He started working from zoology books and kept sketching scenes from his life through high school and college. But it wasn’t until Sept. 11, 2001 that he was driven to use his art for political commentary.
Soon, at the urging of his English professor at Canisius College, he was drawing editorial cartoons for the student newspaper, The Griffin.
“I got addicted to the weekly cartoon, this process of controlling this little space, where I could say whatever I wanted. And I started understanding the responsibility that came from that.”
On Oct. 14, 2020, the OPC hosted an online program with Zyglis, who now draws for The Buffalo News, and this year won the OPC’s Best Cartoon Award for best print or digital graphic journalism, including cartoons, on international affairs. His list of accolades also includes the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.
The moderator was Rob Rogers, who served as head judge for the Best Cartoon Award jury. He won the OPC’s cartoon award for 1999 and 2012.
Rogers asked Zyglis to describe what it has been like after two decades in a newsroom to work from home during the pandemic.
“The change of scenery is something I struggle with now that I’m at home. I try to get out because it helps my brain work. If I’m sitting in the same space, I feel like things can get stagnant,” he said.
With a 4 year old and a 7 year old at home, he has been trying to balance home duties and distractions with his deadlines.
Zyglis discussed background and hidden details of each of the 12 images he submitted for the award, which cover a range of topics including Trump’s admiration and fealty to dictators, lack of leadership on climate change, his relationship with Ukraine, impeachment hearings, Brexit, conflict between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, a scandal involving Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Click through the slide show below to see the winning cartoons.
Rogers talked about how cartoonists gravitate toward a common iconography for certain figures and subjects, such as the depiction of Vladimir Putin being shirtless due to a photograph of him on a horse that went viral.
“It’s funny how those things happen, almost globally,” Rogers said.
Zyglis added that the phenomenon extends to comedians as well as other cartoonists.
“Anyone that’s a practitioner of satire taps into this collective imagery. It’s like we’re playing off of each other, almost how jazz artists would speak to an artist and reference some of their work. I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
He also talked about his decision-making process and the challenges of drawing cartoons on global issues instead of local issues that hit closer to home.
“With the black hole of news that Trump creates, local news takes a hit,” he said. “In my work, I’ve drawn fewer local cartoons because people are so focused on the national.”
Asked to speak about the fate of newspapers like The Buffalo News in the future, he said he remained hopeful but thinks the industry will have to adapt once again to shifting technology and markets.
“I think that newspapers will survive and they’ll be more of a niche. And the irony is cartoons are more popular than ever, because they’re so sharable on social media. So you’re going to see a new crop of cartoonists who aren’t really drawing in the traditional manner. And the challenge will be how do you get them to make money.”
He added that there needs to be a culture shift in how people think about cartoons as a crucial part of American journalism. He said continuing awards that recognize the importance of cartooning is a key way to help ensure that happens.
Click the window below to watch a playlist of video clips from the program.