by BK Munn
Vancouver Sun political cartoonist Roy Peterson died September 30 at St. Paul’s Hospital after experiencing a heart attack at his family home, according to a statement released by the family. Peterson had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
Born in Winnipeg, Peterson moved with his family to the Vancouver area in 1948. He became interested in cartooning in highschool and sought out an audience with the Vancouver Sun’s Len Norris, then the dean of Canadian editorial cartoonists, who told him to prepare for a “hard grind.” While a student at The Vancouver Art School, Peterson took lessons from cartoonist Al Beaton, who raved about his drawing ability.
After graduating, Peterson worked in the art departments of various retailers, while honing his cartooning chops. “I drew for small local papers while working for Sears Canada,” Peterson told cartoonist Michael de Adder. He also worked for Woodward’s department store before ending up at Eaton’s. He started placing cartoons in The South Cariboo Advertiser in 1956 and had graduated to The Vancouver Province (home of Al Beaton) by 1962.
Peterson began work for The Vancouver Sun in 1962, joining the staff in 1963 and eventually replacing the legendary Norris as ranking cartoonist. From there his career took off, with Peterson rapidly becoming one of the premier newspaper cartoonists in the country. His syndicated cartoons were seen across Canada and he placed work internationally in venues such as Punch, The Spectator, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and TV Guide. He was also a major contributor to Maclean’s beginning in the 60s, and famously illustrated Alan Fotheringham’s back-page column for over 25 years.
As Fotherinham noted, “Roy would sit in his creative office, a renovated garage behind his house in Vancouver, waiting for a phone call from me from somewhere in the world, from God knows which continent. It could be India, Russia, China, or any of the 91 countries I encountered in the 26 years we produced the column.
Friends could not believe it when I told them Roy would only receive on his garage phone my musings, what I would be raging about on the lurking deadline, and he would somehow produce an angry cartoon that perfectly matched my anger. Incredible as it may seem, I would sometimes give him my vague instructions a day before his deadline in Toronto.”
Peterson’s heroes and influences included Ronald Searle, Duncan Macpherson, and Harvey Kurtzman. With Len Norris he shared a precise, clear-line drawing style nonetheless imbued with a plethora of skilled technique, varying from the lightest feathering to inky blackness and tight cross-hatching. A talented caricaturist, he also excelled in composition and figure drawing, ably delineating everything from landscapes, to political faces, to the muscles on a rock guitarist’s forearm. His gentle nature served him well in a mentoring role to generations of younger cartoonists.
Peterson published several books, including The World According to Roy Peterson, (with text by Fotheringham), Drawn and Quartered (cartoons from the Trudeau years), and Peterson’s ABCs. During the 1970s and 80s, he also illustrated four brisk-selling political allegories written by the humourist Stanley Burke: Frog Fables and Beaver Tales, The Day of the Glorious Revolution, Blood Sweat and Bears, and Swamp Song.
Peterson was one of the founding members and organizers of the Canadian Association of Editorial Cartoonists and served as the president of the U.S. association in 1983. He won seven National Newspaper Awards for his work, more than any other cartoonist or journalist, and received The Order of Canada in 2004.
After a 47-year tenure, he was fired from the Sun during a round of cutbacks in 2009.
Predeceased by his wife Margaret, Peterson is survived by several children and grandchildren.
A Celebration of Roy Peterson’s life will be held between 2:00 – 4:00 pm, Friday, October 11th, 2013 at Hollyburn Country Club, 950 Crosscreek Road, West Vancouver, BC.
by BK Munn