Steve Stegelin’s illustrations have appeared in City Paper’s pages for 18 of its 25 years. You can see some of his best cartoons here.
Each week, his award-winning editorial cartoon and Blotter drawings elicit laughs, prods and probably a few nods or head shakes, depending on whether you’re being lampooned by the city’s resident newspaper caricaturist.
We sat down with him to hear about his process and what’s changed over the past 18 years.
CP: What’s your timeline like each week for the editorial cartoon?
Steve Stegelin: With the editorial cartoon, it’s more timely. That’s one thing that’s changed over the years: Used to be, I could work a week in advance with ideas and it would still be timely. But I think with the 24-hour news cycle and because of social media, the news cycle is a lot faster-paced.
I kind of keep an eye out for stories that are going on, and one of those stories has to have a decent kind of opinion and a decent kind of riff to run with for the joke, in a cartoon perspective. Basically I will sit down on Friday and start really kind of deciding what story I want to tackle. And by Sunday, have the cartoon knocked out.
CP: Are there favorite things you like to draw?
SS: The donkey and the elephant have become staple characters that have cemented themselves from a design perspective. So there’s just an ease and a kind of joy in tweaking those designs and playing with expressions. Other caricatures take a little bit more time. Lindsey Graham is a caricature that I’ve evolved over time. I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse … But I used to look at him almost like the lovechild of Elmer Fudd and Droopy Dog.
CP: Has it gotten harder to do local stuff with such a focus on national news?
SS: It is easy, sometimes, to tackle a national issue that’s recognized by people across the country, but really be somewhat local. There are also times like during the Trump presidency, where it was just nonstop — the firehose of everything coming out of his administration — that it was hard to do anything but that week, after week, after week.
The local topics definitely resonate, I
think, with readers — you can’t get that anywhere else, right? Everyone was doing Trump (comic) strips, but nobody was doing Tecklenburg strips.
We do benefit somewhat, from a satirical perspective, from the fact that Lindsey Graham and Nancy Mace get national headlines on the regular for whatever reason.
CP: Do you ever consider whether whoever you’re drawing will see your cartoon?
SS: When I first started off at the paper, one of my foils was John Graham Altman. He was a school board member, and was very homophobic. Then one day, (former editor) Bill Davis reached out and said, “Hey, we somehow got word from Altman: He really liked the strip of him and he’d like a hard copy of it.” And it was very critical of him, but at least in his eyes, I think there was some sort of perverse flattery that he had gotten enough notoriety that he was immortalized in a cartoon form.
CP: You also do the Blotter cartoon each week. What’s your process for that?
SS: I do get recognized more in public for the Blotter than from my political cartoons. It’s like this unifying thing that everyone reads the Blotter — only a subset seem to pay attention to the news side as much.
I usually tackle the Blotter illustration almost like an improv exercise. Usually I’ll get the material on a Wednesday or Thursday and try to knock it out that evening. Really try to keep it loose and spontaneous.
I’ve been very impressed/amazed at how consistent Charleston is in providing drunks or petty thieves.
Interview by Sam Spence. Responses have been edited for content and clarity.
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