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Graphically Speaking

By Michael Cleverly

Photo by Tracy Clover

11.27.17

Political cartooning is having a moment, and Mike Peters has kept up.

EDITORIAL CARTOONIST AND Snowmass resident Mike Peters received a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, but cites today as the glory days for people in his profession. “This period for a cartoonist is Camelot; it’s our best time. Unfortunately for the nation, it’s one of the worst times because this guy [President Trump] is nuts.”

Today may have the fodder, but Peters wanted to be a graphic artist from an early age. “My father was a traveling salesman and my mother, Charlotte, was in show business. I was a stutterer and made it through my early school years on my sense of humor and gift for drawing.” He was drafted during the Vietnam War, and upon his discharge, he began to mold his career.

At first, the young Peters wanted to be Walt Disney, but then he met Bill Mauldin, whose Willie and Joe cartoons during World War II made him a household name. Mauldin was responsible for Peters’ second job, at the Dayton Daily News. (His first position was with the Chicago Daily News.)

Now Peters vacillates between the bare-knuckle world of editorial cartooning and the gentler world of daily strips. His editorial cartoons appear in the Dayton Daily News and are syndicated in 300 papers internationally; his daily strip, Mother Goose & Grimm, appears in 600 papers across the globe. In 1991, he received the National Cartoonists Society’s prestigious Reuben Award for his daily comic strip. He limits himself to two editorial cartoons a week, while producing Mother Goose & Grimm daily.

Political cartooning has evolved over the decades. “Thomas Nast is the father of the American cartoon. In the last half of the 19th century, Nast fought Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall tooth and nail, railed against slavery, and advocated rights for Native and Chinese Americans,” he says. Beginning with The Yellow Kid, a strip created by Richard F. Outcault in 1894, publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer would tell a cartoonist to “go out and start a war.” Then they’d tell him to shape public opinion about that war. The term yellow journalism was derived from those early The Yellow Kid strips. Editorial cartoonists are no longer pawns of publishers and editors, but Peters says that ironically, “Fox News and their ilk, not contemporary cartoonists, are the most direct descendants of the old yellow journalism.”

Peters first came to Aspen in 1972. Brought here by a frat buddy for a ski vacation, he fell in love with the landscape and was hooked. He and his wife, Marian, made Snowmass home.

Now, years later, they remain unabashed about their affection for Aspen. “I stay here because this is where my friends are. I still hike, fish and ski, but more often now, I get just as much enjoyment out of watching others at these activities. And it’s the beauty—the view from my deck is like a painting that moves and changes.”

But even Aspen can’t escape change and the editorializing that goes with it. “I was sitting on a bench on the Cooper/Galena Street mall. A longtime local came and sat beside me. We watched the people up on Aspen Mountain, and after awhile, he got up and said, ‘This place has gone to hell.’ A bit later, a young fella, obviously new to town, sat next to me. When he got up to leave he said, ‘Gosh, this is the best place in the world.’”