Drawing a comic makes him a better editorial cartoonist - and vice versa, believes Bruce Beattie.
"It's like a musician learning two different instruments; it's bound to help," said Beattie, who does the "Snafu" panel for Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and editorial cartoons for the Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal and Copley News Service.
"I like doing both things," continued Beattie, one of more than a dozen double-duty cartoonists in syndication. "I know there's been a controversy in the business as to whether a political cartoonist is a prostitute if he does more than one feature - i.e, anything in addition to political cartoons."
While there are two schools of thought about this, Beattie said he has always been comfortable mixing politics and comics. "They don't really compete with each other," he commented. "They come from two different wells." Beattie did add, "Each cartoonist has to make his own decision about what he is going to do."
He may be a prolific cartoonist now, but cartooning was a relatively late career choice for Beattie. While many cartoonists get their start in grade school by drawing caricatures of their teachers or principals, Beattie didn't consider such a career until he was a University of Pennsylvania senior.
The Oriental Studies major had planned to work in Japan after graduation. However, after living there during his junior year, Beattie realized he could never become fully assimilated in that country and would end up as "a mascot for a Japanese corporation."
So he decided to look for another line of work. "I knew I liked jobs that allowed me to be creative, to use my sense of humor, and to work alone," Beattie said. "I'd always been interested in current events. You put all that together and cartooning sort of pops out."
Beattie began drawing cartoons for the first time during his senior year in college. After graduation, he moved out to Los Angeles and started doing cartoons for UCLA's daily student newspaper "until they found out I wasn't a student there." After a year at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Beattie was hired to be the editorial cartoonist for the Honolulu Advertiser.
"I lasted a year there," said Beattie. "I didn't get along with my editor."
He explained, "I wanted to become a nationally syndicated cartoonist. . . . His philosophy was he wanted me to do local cartoons. But it was worse than that. He wanted me to do cartoons of tourists doing funny things in grass skirts. We had to part ways."
Beattie then sent out his resume and cartoon samples to the approximately 300 newspapers with circulations of more than 40,000, and got the Daytona Beach job in 1981. "Appropriately enough, I started on April Fool's Day," recalled Beattie.
With a circulation of slightly more than 100,000, the News-Journal is a comparatively small paper to have its own political cartoonist. Beattie also noted that doesn't have the cartoon fodder of a large city such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Orlando - which is about an hour to the west.
"In a large environment, you have a lot more anonymity," added Beattie. "In a community this size, your editor or publisher is going to run into the person you're making fun of. In L.A., the chances are favorable you'll be making fun of people who aren't friendly with the editor."
Beattie prefers drawing national cartoons, but noted that local drawings have more of an impact on the community. In a number of cases, he said, local issues merge with national ones.
"We have a guy in town named John Tanner, who's the state attorney," said Beattie. "He's been good grist for the mill because he's a religious zealot in a politician's office."
Beattie regularly satirizes Tanner's war on pornography. When Tanner lease the names of people who rent X-rated tapes, he drew the state attorney looking through the window of a house. …