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SaltWire cartoonist de Adder first Canadian winner of prestigious Herblock Prize
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SaltWire cartoonist de Adder first Canadian winner of prestigious Herblock Prize

Written by
Stephen Cooke
Published by
The Chronicle Herald
on
March 4th, 2020

Named after the pen name for three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Herb Block, the award comes with a $15,000 prize and a Tiffany trophy.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t hurt if it comes with the occasional cash prize and trophy.

Halifax artist Michael de Adder, whose work appears in The Chronicle Herald and other SaltWire Network publications, the Toronto Star and Ottawa Hill Times, is clearing room on his shelf for the 2020 Herblock Prize, a major U.S. award for editorial cartooning. He is also the first Canadian cartoonist to win the prize.

Named after the pen name for three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Herb Block, the award comes with a $15,000 prize and a Tiffany trophy. It was previously won by cartoonists at the Washington Post, Newsday and the Boston Globe, along with alternative weekly and online favourites Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World) and Ken Fisher (Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug).

“It feels amazing; how could it not? Even some of the second-place finishers are some epic cartoonists. I’ve admired some of these people’s work forever, so it’s kind of mindblowing,” said de Adder, who will also be receiving an honorary degree from his alma mater, Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. (Class of ’91) at spring convocation on May 11.

“I don’t think I’ve really processed either the honorary doctorate or winning the Herblock yet.”

When asked about this week’s dual honours, and whether they were a sign that 2020 would be his year, the cartoonist laughs and replies, “I heard it was the Year of the Rat, wasn’t it?

“I guess that’s appropriate if you talk to Donald Trump supporters.”

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He could be referring to any number of his cartoons featuring a spray-tanned, hair-challenged commander-in-chief, but the one that will come immediately to mind is last July’s image of the president manoeuvering his golf cart past the bodies of Salvadorans Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter Angie, who died while trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States.

The cartoon went viral online almost instantly, inspiring outrage and admiration in equal measure, while also ending his 17-year relationship with Brunswick News papers in the Moncton-born cartoonist’s home province. Around the same time, he signed on with the U.S. political cartoon provider CounterPoint, which has helped his work become even more widespread.

“I don’t know what goes into making a viral cartoon,” said de Adder matter-of-factly. “Because I’ve drawn cartoons that I thought would go viral, and they didn’t go anywhere, and then I drew cartoons that I didn’t think were any good at all, and they went viral.

“I do know that timing is a huge factor. If you’re first out of the gate, you get a lot more attention than if you wait even an hour. The reason my cartoon of Donald Trump playing through got any attention was because the photo that I drew had just appeared on the internet, and I instantly had an idea. I wasn’t drawing it for anybody in particular, I just posted it to social media, and that’s where it took off.”

De Adder is now making plans to attend the Herblock Prize & Lecture presentation at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on April 6. Then he heads to Sackville to pick up his honorary degree on May 11 at Mount A, which he credits as the perfect incubator for his art that appeared in the student newspaper the Argosy.

“It’s a small, intimate school inside an intimate town, and you all end up going to the same parties and beer gardens,” he says of his experience there.

“You get to know the entire campus, that’s the rewarding thing about Mount A. The flipside of that is, you get to know everybody. But if that’s your thing, great. I certainly enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t have become a political cartoonist if I hadn’t gone there and accidentally got involved with the school newspaper.”

Since Mount A, where de Adder received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing and painting, he’s gone on to win seven Atlantic Journalism Awards, the Association of Canadian Cartoonists’ 2014 Townsend Award and the 2002 Golden Spike Award for best editorial cartoon spiked by an editor.

He cites one of the biggest reasons for the success of his work as knowing you only have a few seconds to make an impact, and developing a style that gets his points across without resorting to clunky labels or over-exaggerated caricatures.

“Like any artist, I’m wracked with self-doubt, but despite that, I have confidence in my ability to produce at least something understandable,” he says.

© The Chronicle Herald

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