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#10: Ann Telnaes
Someone You Might Like with razor-sharp editorial wit!
ork, there’s a hefty chance you might like the people I enjoy too. Each week I share a new person who tickles my fancy. This week’s person is…
Ann Telnaes —
When I was a teenager, I would scour the internet for cartoonists from around the world to try and figure out what ‘everyone else was doing’. I lived in the most isolated city on Earth and had no contact with any other working cartoonists (with the exception of running photocopies at my day job for the guy who drew cartoons for my local community paper.)
I stumbled upon a website that was selling a book of cartoons called “Humor’s Edge” by someone named Ann Telnaes. I loved the cover and judged the entire book thusly, so against traditional wisdom, I ordered it.
In the intervening time it took to arrive, I had Googled, Yahoo’ed, and Alta Vista’d (yeah it was a while ago) the hell out of her work: I was completely and utterly mesmerized.
I wanted to know everything about how this artist worked and why the hell I was only just seeing this style of art in editorial cartooning now?
Fast forward 2 months
By the time the book arrived, I think I’d seen every cartoon of hers on the internet. I had an unquenchable thirst for more, poring over that book for years thereafter. It stayed on my desk for over a decade until I lost it in a move.
Political cartooning still is, and has always been, a very male-dominated industry. Ann is only the second woman to win a Pulitzer for cartooning (2001), and in 2017 she won the NCS' biggest honor; the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.
Her style is this beautiful marriage of fierce, incisive political commentary with slick, purposeful linework that always reminded me of the Warner Bros house style (Jones, Clampett, Avery) and Al Hirschfeld. Sure enough, she had studied animation at CalArts (where she now teaches), so her style did look somewhat like that of an animator, but she also built so much movement into all of her still compositions, it’s as if they were bounding off the page.
Not only was Ann’s work so unique as to stand out against the slew of MacNelly and Oliphant replicas, but her comic voice was so well-defined. Her anti-Bush cartoons in the early 2000s were both scathing and funny as hell.
Ann’s use of spot color, solid blacks, or a creative composition to draw the eye was always such a nice contrast to the sea of cross-hatching in every other newspaper at the time.
Ann was —and still is— always innovating, pushing the boundaries of what editorial cartooning could be.
She has been experimenting with making full use of new technologies online, introducing looping gif animation in her editorial cartoons, and figuring out the most useful way to utilize social media to share her work. She is also now on Substack:
So, here’s the story Ann probably hates me telling because it happened nearly 20 years ago when I was still a ‘kid’ cartoonist… but, it changed my career, so I’m telling it. (Sorry, Ann!)
My Ann Telnaes Story:
Being a young aspiring cartoonist, I was looking to other cartoonists to share how they work to figure out my own process. Everyone works differently so it’s an effort of asking (bothering) as many artists as possible.
Ann was the first artist I asked. I emailed her through her website, not really expecting a reply, but querying how she managed to get such a brilliant contoured line. Whether she was using Photoshop for her colors, or it was done by hand with paints, dyes, or inks. I wanted to know if she was using a digital drawing tablet, or just a mouse (which was pretty common back then for people working digitally.)
The email probably sat in her inbox for over a year, by which point I’d since established my own process of working. I was an aspiring editorial cartoonist in a town where there was really only one job going, and the guy doing it had been there since 1987 — he remains in the job today.
I was still vacuuming up as much information I could about the art form, the history, and the people working in the industry. Any morsel of information was welcome.
Then, the morning of my birthday, I woke up and dialed up to the ooooold intertubes to check my email… (Yes, I still had dial-up. I was living at home with my mum.) After the clicking, clanging, and bleeping subsided, I was excited to be met with an email from one A. Telnaes.
Not only did she reply…
but she’d written out an eight (8)-page explanation of how she draws her cartoons, complete with Photoshop specs, photos of her cartoons in process, and an answer to every single dopey question I’d asked her. (Note: She didn’t know it was my birthday, it was just a happy accident.)
I was blown away by her generosity and her attention to detail: She told me the kinds of blue pencils she used for sketches, the Windsor & Newton brushes she used for inking, and what kind of Bristol board she drew on.
She further described her process of drawing extra-large to get those amazing swooping lines —a hangover from animation days— and how she would scan it in two halves on her flatbed scanner to join them later in Photoshop, before adding any finishing touches and sending them off for print.
It totally knocked this kid from Perth’s socks off to get a response from someone whom I’m certain had way more important things to be doing. It speaks to her spirit of generosity towards young, aspiring artists — one that was again on display when she taught as a visiting faculty member at the aforementioned CalArts.
Her course, “Commentary through Cartoons” was well attended, and had fewer male cartoonists than female ones: The sign of a changing tide.
Ann’s generosity and support have continued to this day.
I still look to her for advice and counsel on all manner of cartooning-related things in my personal career and in my role as NCS President. (Not the least of which is the ever-present ‘where this industry is going?’ question.)
I’m now living in a surreal, bizarre universe where I can call Ann a friend, who will be sitting at my table at the Reuben Awards next month. (Let’s be honest, it’s Mort Gerberg’s table, I’m just sitting at it.)
You can see more of Ann’s Washington Post work here.