This week we talked to freelance cartoonist Al Goodwyn who is the creative talent behind Goodwyn Cartoons, which have been published in a number of different newspapers, including several in Virginia.
Please tell us a little bit about your yourself.
I’m married with three fantastic grown children (my wife’s a grade school teacher and is pretty great too). I have a technical background, physics and math degrees, and for 34 years was as a health physicist for a Department of Energy facility in South Carolina. The last 10 years have been spent in Northern Virginia, supporting several government agencies in DC in addition to DOE. We live in Herndon currently but have begun the process of exploring greater Virginia to find the ideal retirement location.
How did you become interested in drawing cartoons and when did you realize that you had a knack for it and could make a career out of it?
In 1989 a physics publication I subscribed to put out a call for cartoonists. Although I had never drawn cartoons, I considered my sense of humor above average but my doodling ability only slightly above average. I drew several science-themed cartoons for them and that was the beginning of a 29-year side activity. In 1997 I decided to try editorial cartooning and found success with a local South Carolina newspaper, the Aiken Standard. In 2002, when I started spending more time in DC, I backed away from editorial cartooning.
Fast forward to 2018, the physics publication notifies me that they are no longer going to use my cartoons. I decided then to pick back up on editorial cartoons (around the same time I also began considering my retirement options and activities, wondering if cartooning might be a worthy post-retirement activity). My work was picked up very quickly including cartoons for the Washington Examiner and even covers for the Examiner.
What does your process look like when it comes to drawing a cartoon? Walk us through all the steps—from conception to publication.
My ideal cartooning day starts with the content of five online newspapers including two national newspapers and two local Virginia newspapers, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and the Daily Press out of Hampton Roads (these are also two of the newspapers in Virginia that carry my work). The Aiken Standard picked me back up and I do cartoons on local issues for them.
Often a cartoon idea will just come to me while I’m perusing the news. Other times I’ll compile four or five topics and determine the opinion I want to express. I find taking those ideas for a walk often helps clear the mind and allows my thoughts to wander. I come back with a few ideas to further hone.
The drawing process involves sketching out an idea to get the layout, then penciling it on 11×14 Strathmore Bristol board paper, inking and scanning it. Editing and color is then done digitally. Finally, it goes to my online and newspaper clients. I have a snarky blog that I’ll also post it to, and I’ll often include satire to go along with the cartoon. This satire is picked up as well by several online political commentary sites.
What’s the recipe for a great editorial page cartoon? What components do you think are necessary to make the cartoon topical, timely and memorable?
In general, the best cartoons are those that use very little dialog and are linked to an opinion that can be defended. A cartoon will be topical and memorable if it contains those elements plus relates to current events that are heavily followed, contains eye catching art, has a unique style and appears in print before the topic’s gone stale.
What has kept you wanting to use a newspaper as the primary medium for your art?
Cartooning for magazines requires a heavy dose of patience since it might be months before a cartoon is actually in print. In comparison, an editorial cartoon appears within a few days. With the rise of the internet, cartoons are published there almost instantaneously. However, despite my newspaper subscriptions being all online, I still appreciate the tactile feel and look of a newspaper in my hands, especially if I’m looking at a cartoon I created.
What characteristics do you think make your cartoons uniquely yours?
Several things come to mind including political and social perspectives, artistic style (or maybe consistent non-artistic style), and a willingness to provide opinions contrary to most people (as long as they fit the “recipe” described above). My cartoons lean right, but I frequently do cartoons that poke at all sides. To me, style matters quite a bit. If you can look at a cartoon and instantly recognize the artist, then they’re unique. I definitely have a style, but there are so many great editorial cartoonists that do a much better job than me. As a sad side note, editorial cartooning is a declining profession due to newspapers dropping their own cartoonists to rely on cartoon syndicates. That’s left many of those highly skilled, unique cartoonists without a direct newspaper connection.
Do you have a favorite cartoon that you’ve created during your career?
One that comes to mind was associated with the Covington Catholic High School and their encounter with a group of Native Americans. The cartoon shows a kid in a MAGA hat photographed as a criminal holding a sign that reads “hat crime.” It hit all of the criteria I mentioned earlier.
What do you like most about freelancing rather than being an in-house cartoonist?
I guess it’s the “free” in “freelance,” as in, free to do my own thing when I want. Overall though, being part of a team collaborating on cartoon topics is preferred. The cartoons I draw are always my idea but it’s great input to hear what topics are on a media outlet’s mind and get their feedback on cartoon roughs.
What would you say to a young person who is considering a career as a cartoonist today?
I had this exact question from a high school student two weeks ago. The short answer was, have a strong back up plan but pursue cartooning to determine the level of your passion. For me, I can’t NOT draw cartoons. If no one ever wanted to look at my work, I’d still be drawing. Of course, it might be in crayon … on padded walls.
Tell us what awards and honors you’ve received during your cartooning career.
In 2002, when I was originally with The Aiken Standard, I won for best editorial cartooning in South Carolina from the South Carolina Press Association. Last year, after I had just picked up editorial cartooning for a second time with that paper, I won again. I’ve also supported many community projects over the years that promote worthy causes. One, in particular, was a request from our county coroner in Aiken County, SC, to illustrate a children’s book on seat belt use. It was an honor to have worked with her and many of the county officials involved in the project. The book’s title is “Buckles, Buckles, Everywhere.” By the way, if you want your heart to stop beating momentarily, get a phone message from the coroner saying she’d like to discuss something with you.
Share with us something that most people may not know about you?
Most don’t know that I’m a frustrated fisherman and can juggle.