A Q&A with Noted Cartoonist KAL
April 21, 2016
by Megan Wessell, A Bookish Affair
You may not recognize the name Kevin Kallaugher but if you’re a reader of The Economist or The Baltimore Sun, you probably recognize his editorial cartoons drawn under the name Kal. Always insightful, his cartoons add a lot of humor and wit to the issues of the day. His career spans more than 38 years and he has drawn more than 8,000 cartoons and 140 magazine covers.
How did you get started as a cartoonist?
I always wanted to be a cartoonist. I drew as a kid, contributing cartoons to my high school and college newspapers and arranging meetings with cartoonists as a teenager. My senior thesis at Harvard was a 13-minute long animated film based on a comic strip I had created in the school paper, The Crimson. Upon graduating I embarked on a bicycle tour of the British isles. Soon after I secured a job playing semi-pro basketball for the Brighton Bears in the English league. When the team hit hard financial times, I scoured London for cartoon work including drawing tourists in Trafalgar Square. A few months later, to my great astonishment I landed my first publishing gig as a cartoonist…. with The Economist. That was in April 8,1978.
As a long time reader of The Economist, I’m a huge fan of your cartoons! How do you get the ideas for what you draw?
The idea of my cartoons is drawn (literally) from many sources. I start the process by wearing my hat as a journalist, where I am scouring the world’s news for worthy and important subjects. Once I have focused in on a subject of interest, I next don the hat of a columnist, where I construct the criticism and refine the commentary that I want to share in my journalistic piece. Next, I wear the hat of a satirist, where I try to harness humor to deliver my opinion/criticisms. Finally I wear the crown of an artist, where I endeavor to deliver my satiric commentaries using, lines, shapes and letters. Finding an effective cartoon idea can be challenging… Fortunately, the world’s politicians are always willing to help… as they are the best scriptwriters a cartoonist could ever ask for.
Do you have a favorite cartoon you’ve ever drawn?
My favorite and most popular cartoon I have ever done was back in 1989 about the insanity of the Stock Market (see attached). Almost immediately upon its publication the cartoon was reprinted in newspapers and periodicals around the globe. Soon I was getting copious requests for reuse in books, textbooks and encyclopedias. Stockbrokers everywhere were requesting copies. Now 27 years later, I still get regular requests for prints and reprints of this timeless piece.
How long does it typically take you to draw the weekly cartoon for The Economist?
One answer is 38 years… as every cartoon is a culmination of the decades of work that you have invested in your craft. Another answer is approximately 10 hours. First there is the idea stage as outlined above. Once you settle on your cartoon idea there is the execution in pencil, pen and ink. Though the artwork may appear small on the pages of the magazine, I invest a serious amount of time on delivering detailed artwork for the readers. Today I use old fashion dip pen nibs (some over a century old) to create my crosshatching. The inking of the art alone takes 3 hours.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cartoonists or other artists?
A determined work ethic is an asset in any profession but is essential in the world of an artist. There are many highly talented people who never succeed in the arts and others with lesser talents who excel largely due to their intense devotion to their craft. It is not a guarantee of success, but it is a key cornerstone. Professionalism is another… if you meet deadlines, communicate clearly, and work well with others, you will help yourself enormously. (It is surprising how few people do this).
If you want to work in the visual arts…draw,draw, draw and draw. Then draw some more. Try to keep the drawing fun and not a chore. Find things you like and try to draw them. Draw them big, draw them small, draw them fast, draw them slow… then move onto something else. In time, like learning a new language, you will become fluent in drawing. For the aspiring cartoonists, there is no school for our craft so you must search out past and present cartoonists and learn from them. The web is a great tool for this. Buy their books, follow them on line and then draw, draw, draw and draw!
And now for a fun question, if you could bring any three people with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
First I would invite Mark Twain. As a great raconteur, my guests and I would be able to while the time away with his amusing tales and sharp observations about the foibles of mankind.
When Mark wanted to take a break, Stevie Wonder would share his musical genius with us, entertaining and inspiring us with his timeless melodies.
Finally, after the performance, Julia Child would present a sumptuous feast drawn from the flora and fauna available on the island.
I would use my drawing skills on the sandy beach to create large cartoons to beckon overhead aircraft and alert them to our whereabouts. Rather than saving us, I think thousands might be tempted to join us!