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

Stuart Carlson, the former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political cartoonist, died Friday at age 66.

Carlson, who was the cartoonist for the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Journal Sentinel from 1983 to 2008, was remembered for his incisive, humorous commentary on current events.

"He was fearless," his wife Mary Carlson said. "But he tried not to be mean."

Carlson's strongly held beliefs guided his work, which often broached hot-button topics, those who knew him said.

"He liked to get into good trouble," Mary Carlson said, referencing U.S. Rep. John Lewis' famous words.

In an email, former Journal Sentinel publisher Keith Spore called Carlson "the best to ever create a political cartoon in Wisconsin."

"And he did so with absolute faith in the righteousness of his opinion regardless of who disagreed (including his editors)," Spore wrote.

Carlson grew up in West Bend and earned an arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He began making political cartoons as a way to help pay for tuition.

After graduation, Carlson wrote obituaries and made cartoons for the West Allis Post/Star. Then, at the West Bend News, he worked as a reporter covering the courts, crime and local news of Washington County.

When he was hired at the Milwaukee Sentinel, it was first as a lifestyle reporter in the features department.

As editorial cartoonist, Carlson had a distinctive vision and voice, Mary Carlson said.

"He did cartoons that no one else would do," she said.

In 1991, Carlson was named the nation's best cartoonist by the National Press Foundation. In 1995, he won the prestigious John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Award.

Milwaukee Sentinel editorial cartoonist Stuart Carlson at his drawing board in 1986.
Milwaukee Sentinel editorial cartoonist Stuart Carlson at his drawing board in 1986.

Former Journal Sentinel editorial writer Jerry Resler, who was also Carlson's close friend, praised his humorous and smart approach to the tough issues of the day.

"When he was poking fun or criticizing, especially someone in political office, he did it so well and in such a good spirit that people would look at it and just be impressed with his humor," Resler said.

Carlson received his fair share of hate mail throughout his career, his wife said. Still, he always strived to be fair, Resler said.

"I always thought it was a great compliment when people would say, 'I really disagree with you, but you made a good point.' Or, 'I disagree with you, but you made me laugh,'" Carlson told Urban Milwaukee in 2014.

In the newsroom, Carlson was remembered as a kind-hearted and funny colleague.

"He was not only exceptionally talented as a cartoonist, but one of the kindest men I ever met," Resler said. "You couldn't not like him, he was such a good guy."

After he accepted a buyout offer from the Journal Sentinel in 2008, Carlson continued working as a cartoonist. His thrice-weekly political cartoons ran in over 30 papers across the country as part of a national syndicate.

He and Resler also created a daily comic strip called "Gray Matters," with Resler contributing dialogue and ideas and Carlson taking the lead on art.

Carlson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about seven years ago, was hospitalized over the Memorial Day weekend with a sudden illness.

He returned home for a day before he was hospitalized again. While at home, he drew what would become his last cartoon: a commentary on semi-automatic rifles after the Uvalde, Texas school shooting.

The cartoon depicts U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz holding a rifle as he proposes fewer doors or entrances in schools instead of fewer guns.

"It took him so much longer to draw in recent years. And it didn't matter. He just loved it," Mary Carlson said.

Carlson is survived by his wife, Mary, three children and 11 grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or Follow her on Twitter at @SCarson_News.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial cartoonist Stuart Carlson dies