Editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Daily News, Signe Wilkinson lectured to prof. Diane Bones’ writing humor class on Tuesday and discussed her art and how she discovered her occupation.
Wilkinson began by recounting her recent return from a cartoonist’s conference in France, also attended by a group of Iranian journalists. She said that, as an American journalist, she felt privileged to be protected under the First Amendment, remarking that Iranians and writers from similar countries are not as fortunate.
Wilkinson realized her affinity for politics when she served witness to a revolution on the island of Cyprus, where she was stationed on a housing project. While working as a reporter at a local Pennsylvania newspaper, she found herself so bored in editorial meetings that she was busy doodling the stories being discussed instead of writing them.
“Editorial cartoons combined my interest of art with politics and my lack of spelling,” said Wilkinson.
She enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts to learn how to “draw a hand.” Wilkinson said her goal of becoming a cartoonist was frowned upon at the institution.
Wilkinson has been a member of the editorial cartoonist staff at the Daily News for 20 years. She contributes five cartoons a week on subjects that range from local news to national and international.
Asked whether she ever runs out of ideas, Wilkinson pointed out that there is always something significant in the news to which insight can be added. She draws most of her subjects from statements made by politicians that she feels leave room for interpretation.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist has been known to infuriate officials and the public at times. Once, she was picketed because of a cartoon she drew that satirized the oppression of Muslim women. Wilkinson also remarked that the Philadelphia Police Commissioner is often on the phone protesting to her editor.
“I love this city,” Wilkinson said. “My job is to show where improvements need to be made.”
The creative process of one of Wilkinson’s cartoons comes relatively easy to her. Drawing the actual cartoon, which includes sketching, transferring to a cleaner image, then to coloring is usually one and a half to three hours of work. Meanwhile, the brainstorming aspect can take anywhere from seconds to hours.
The artist, who refers to herself as a “feminazi,” insisted to students that, “editorial cartoons do not convince people. They either anger people who disagree with your viewpoint or it makes them agree more.”
“The surprise of an editorial cartoon is when it is viewed for the first time, and the joke is absorbed,” she added.
Broadcast journalism major Jayne Laychak said, “I enjoyed learning how she started in the business and how she matured along with it. It gave me hope that I can be successful in the future.”
Wilkinson concluded her lecture with a bit of her signature humor: “I have to get back to the office,” she said, “and draw a cartoon of that icon of morality, Michael Jackson.”
Jesse North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.