Stuart Carlson: A master of his craft of cartooning and thorn in the side of Wisconsin politicians

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

As an editorial writer for a dozen years, I have to admit I often envied editorial cartoonists.

No matter how good a job you do researching, constructing and writing an editorial, it never hits home as quickly as an editorial cartoon. After all, you don’t read an editorial cartoon, you look at it and it speaks for itself, especially when it’s clever and well drawn.

Like those drawn by Stuart Carlson, the editorial cartoonist for the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 1983 to 2008.

My good friend was a master of the craft, clearly one of best editorial cartoonists to ever put a pen to paper. His cartoons were creative, humorous when the occasion called for it and exceptionally well illustrated.

More: Stuart Carlson, 'fearless' former Journal Sentinel political cartoonist, dies at 66

The guy could draw, no surprise since he majored in art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and honed that skill to a fine and humorous edge over the years.

His death June 10 left a void not only with his family, colleagues and friends but journalism in general. He was named the nation’s best editorial cartoonist by the National Press Foundation in 1991 and four years later won the prestigious John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Award.

He was widely respected nationally and especially in the Journal Sentinel newsroom because of his talent and humanity. His cartoons may have had a sharp edge to them at times but like Carlson himself they were not mean spirited.

Even people who disagreed with his cartoons often admitted to Carlson that his cartoons made them laugh. That was easy to understand because he was a truly nice guy with a good heart, the kind of person we could use more of these days.

He adored his wife, Mary, his three grown children and his 11 grandchildren. And, oh yeah, the cabin he built up north, which provided a welcome retreat.

Stuart’s cartoons made a difference over the years because readers — and yes, leaders — paid attention.

Unlike some cartoonists, Carlson put a lot of detail in his drawings which helped to drive home the point he was making.

When Carlson and I were on the Editorial Board, a highlight of my day is when he would stop by my office each morning with the cartoon he had just finished. This was before he had run it past the editorial page editor. He didn’t do it to get my blessing. He did it because we were like minded and shared a strong sense of humor.

Our editorials were usually about serious stuff like taxes and public spending and health care. What impressed me so much was that Carlson could take a serious topic the Editorial Board had discussed in detail that very same morning, cut out the fat and come up with an ingenious cartoon that made its point in a simple, straightforward way. In short, something readers could easily relate to.

Carlson could not only poke fun at others but himself. He had a huge pencil hanging from the ceiling in his office. It was so big you couldn’t ignore it.

I suppose some editorial cartoonists might have found the gag pencil was a bit silly. But not Carlson; he was both proud and possessive of it.

I don’t know for sure but I like to think that in a way my dear friend and and colleague figured that despite the power his cartoons wielded, that pencil hanging over his head each day helped keep him pointed true north.

Jerry Resler is a retired editorial writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Stuart Carlson: cartoon master, annoyance to Wisconsin politicians