Dwane Powell: Political Cartoonist

Since 1975, News and Observer cartoonist Dwane Powell has been using the power of his pen to call out politicians on both sides of the aisle.

AIRED: October 31, 2017 | 0:07:55

>> I usually just start out doodling, scratching around.

Something about the motion of drawing

you kind of stimulate something.

I would start out with a

list of ideas like legislature, legislature and legislature.

If I went back to Arkansas to first start drawing

where I started with the Advanced Monticellonian,

San Antonio Light, like Cincinnati Enquirer

and then the News Observer I've done about 15,000 cartoons.

I wanted to be an editorial cartoonist in a capital city

and I wanted to be sure

that my philosophy dovetailed with the newspaper

I was working for.

My early years at the News Observer.

You had all these old bulls over there

in the legislature - Holshouser Jim Hunt, Jesse Helms,

cast of characters, you know.

This is going to be great!

Here's one.

It's when the Democrats

and Republicans were kind of evenly matched up

they couldn't really get much legislation through.

>> Nothing was going anywhere.

Pretty soon after I got to the News and Observer,

Helms was against everything.

He was "Senator No", so I drew him

with a big "No" stamp on his desk.

Everyone was worried about Mexicans climbing over the wall.

Here we were in a big gas crisis we needed Mexico.

I had Jimmy Carter climbing the wall here

going into Mexico with a gas can.

I don't have a problem being mean

but I think a cartoon can be more effective if

it ridiculed the target without hammering them

over the head at the same time he laughed.

If I'm at the News and Observer and I'm going to work,

I do five a week sometimes six.

You know it gets agonizing sometimes.

I might go 'til five in the afternoon with no idea.

You know some of my best cartoons would come that way.

Well here's to get down to the point you know

with the editors dragging the thing off your chalkboard.

When I finish one it's a relief, then usually when I'm driving

home I start thinking of the cartoon I should have done.

I just love the ambience of a newsroom back in those days.

>> Typewriters clacking away to just a hive

of activity, passing notes around shouting at each other.

It was a great time to be at the News and Observer.

Got anything you want to feed me?

Some flood related maybe something.

>> The other thing was just election stuff

redistricting maps are out.

>> You could do something funny on that.

You know they come out with new maps it's the same map

could have the Republicans

making new maps on a Xerox machine.


>> His perception is

the role is to use humor and images to kind of tweak people.

He said he's instinctively opposed to power, you know,

sort of holding people to account.

It's a sort of a form of dissent.

It's effective, you know.

>> One of my favorite cartoon coaches

we're all taking money from Nike - the Deaner, Mack and Hooker.

Swoosh mouths.

>> Cost of gas, food and utilities along with tax

increases left us down to the last few bucks.

Step right up here comes the North Carolina lottery.

They're gonna solve all our problems.

Something I never tired of was

after I finished a cartoon going down

and watching the press run.

Whenever it starts up building would kind of shake.

>> This all over here used to be a real hive of activity.

Every journalist's dream I think was after you finish your work

you get to hear that press run.

You're not going to hear it here unless you go out to Garner.

This is where she used to be.

Ripped out.

>> The financier's in Sacramento.

It just tore my heart out really in a way

this was the beating heart of the newspaper right here

and it's gone.

Big seachange change I think in journalism

it wasn't just in the News and Observer.

Perfect storm that was just when

The Daniels sold to McClatchey.

and then after they bought Knight Ridder,

they took on a huge debt.

The digital age was coming on

and really changed the way newspapers get revenue.

Next thing we knew they were laying off

people right and left.

I watched all my friends wonderful journalists

marched out the door.

I was one of the lucky ones I retired

on my own volition in '09.

I didn't even draw a napkin for three years.

They called up and wanted to know if I would do one a week

for the Sunday paper.

and deal mostly with local and state issues.

I don't want to dash off a cartoon you know

just because it's a cute subject or something.

You want to say something - you want to be right at whatever

opinion I take in the cartoon.

And that's what's in my heart.

That's what I really think.

I'm signing my name to this.

And I want to be darn sure that I'm philosophically in sync

with what I'm putting on paper.

The GOP is trying to pass a health care bill.

The reason focusing on Burr is

because he represents North Carolina.

He's been pretty quiet.

>> His silence is deafening in that he's going along with it.

I was walking downtown, decided to wonder in the museum

hadn't been in there in a while.

>> In the City of Raleigh Museum,

We do an eclectic lot of exhibits that tell

Raleigh's diverse and rich history.

When I walked in, Ernest said, "You know,

"we think we'd like to do a show of your cartoons."

>> For the City of Raleigh museum honed in

on your profession

that as print media kind of goes out of circulation

that that editorial cartoonist which has a long rich history

United States is disappearing.

So for us it's kind of a way to sort of celebrate your work

but also put your profession into a context.

So we really looked at political cartooning

through the life of the United States

back to before the Republic was founded.

Political cartoons tried to convey and sway the public

in favor of revolution, independence

and it is just part of politics and is part of American culture.

Dwane, we really wanted to include

some of your hate mail and love mail in the exhibit.

And by far this one was my favorite.

it says, "To he who would sell his soul to sell a cartoon,

"may the fleas of 10,000 camels rest in your crotch hairs."

Oh boy.

>> I remember one time I had only been at the paper a

couple of weeks, and Frank Daniels sticks his head in the

door and says he was at a party the other night

and three people came up and told me I should fire you.

Three people came up and said I should give you a raise.

So I guess you're doing okay.

>> Editorial cartoons have kind of been replaced.

as a satire medium by things like The Daily Show

and satirical comics.

The problem is getting eyes on the cartoons.

How do we come off of newspapers

and start getting more eyes on our work on social media?

I just want to be a part of the discussion

and hopefully make people think.

>> And laugh.

>> Well, if they want to laugh it's okay.


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