Psst … you should see how hard SW Parra has been working on his upcoming ArtHop show at The Fresno Bee. The Bee’s award-winning editorial cartoonist has been scurrying around for weeks making sure this ArtHop is extra special. He’s had the artwork up for a week now — but each piece is cleverly covered, so even employees will have to wait until 5 p.m. Thursday for the big event.
We caught up with SW — or, as we call him in the office, Steve/Steven/Cool Artist Guy — to chat about this exciting show from the award-winning editorial cartoonist.
Question: Do you remember your first editorial cartoon? What was the subject?
My first editorial cartoon was drawn for my Mom. It was in 1969 and I was seven years old. It was something to do with Richard Nixon.
How many editorial cartoons are featured in the show, and what years do they cover? Do you have a favorite?
There may be 50 to 60 sketches, original drawings and prints in the show including one that is 4 feet x 5 feet that guests can actually pose inside of and Instagram or Tweet a selfie. The show includes a copy of a cartoon that published back in November 1998 but mostly the range is during the last 14 years.
A favorite? That’s tough. It might be the broken pencil held together with a rubber band — a metaphor for the much embattled and heavily challenged Fresno Unified School District.
Walk us through the process of coming up with a cartoon. Do editors come to you with an idea, or do you make a pitch? Do you read lots of political stories looking for ideas? What’s the average turnaround time for one of your cartoons?
Next question (just kidding).
Actually, Donald, I am still trying to figure that out. But, sometimes it goes like this: It’s about 1:11 a.m. and I am sound asleep when that is interrupted by an image that enters my mind’s eye, so I have to get up and scribble a little bit and make notes because if I don’t I am unable to fall back into REM. Some ideas do come from conversations with my editor, then it’s up to me to create the picture worth those thousand words without trying to use more than two of them (words).
I do read news stories that pertain to politics — mostly local and of statewide concern — by John Ellis, George Hostetter and Dan Walters among others. However, my cartoons touch on many aspects of life in the Valley, from air quality to education to crime to water and our heroes.
One cartoon takes one entire day — if I am lucky there will be an event that is occurring in popular culture that ironically coincides with a news event and that can make for a very good cartoon. As an example: The Grand Theft Auto Fresno cartoon published on the GTA:5 debut and also when Fresno P.D. issued its top 5 most wanted vehicle thieves about the same time Fresno County Jail had an early release (6 hours) of one of the most notorious car thieves. I do have to be paying attention to what is going on around us in order to connect the dots in developing an editorial cartoon.
Who has been your favorite politician to caricature over the years?
Arnold”‘the governator.” He was such a colorful personality and some of what he said and did while serving as California’s 38th Governor seemed to be tailored for editorial cartoonists. I have also enjoyed drawing Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Mayor Ashley Swearengin and former mayor Alan Autry.
Have you ever offended someone by the way you portrayed them in a cartoon?
On the contrary. Many a politician either at the local or state level has requested signed copies — I guess it is considered a kind of “badge of honor,” even though my commentary may be opposite of some policy they may be proposing.
Do you have any “idols” in the editorial cartooning world?
I really enjoy Michael Ramirez of Investor’s Business Daily — he is also a good friend and soundboard. But, when I was a kid growing up south of L.A., my father subscribed to the Herald-Examiner and its cartoonist/illustrator was Karl Hubenthal — I always looked forward to the newspaper and seeing his work.
What do you think makes a great editorial cartoon?
Simplicity. I believe the greatest works get the message across instantly. If the cartoon makes you laugh or makes you angry enough to write a letter to the editor, well, then that cartoonist is worth his or her salt.
Are there any subjects or topics over the years that you’ve avoided because you thought they were too incendiary?
No. Not really. However, it depends on how the cartoon is crafted and if the message conveyed might be misinterpreted.
On Facebook, you’re known as Surfwest Parra. What’s the story?
I am glad you asked. On Facebook there already was a Steve Parra (in Texas), so I tried to use my professional name, SW Parra, but Facebook would not accept initials. So, I used the nickname given to me by one of my colleagues early in my career. Rob Hernandez is a funny guy — he saw my credit/byline “SW Parra,” then asked, “SW? what does that stand for — SurfWest?”
Anything else you’d like to say?
I look taller on television.
And I am grateful for the opportunity to share my point of view with the readers of The Fresno Bee and the Valley community. It is more than a creative outlet — it is my cure for insomnia.