Chris Britt of Tacoma would like to see more compassion in the world. For more than 20 years he’s worked as an award-winning, syndicated political cartoonist and has been published in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Time magazine and more. He has about 200 clients across the country. Like many political commentators, Britt isn’t afraid of a controversy. He’s received his fair share of angry phone calls and hate mail. He even received death threats for a cartoon he published in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in The News Tribune in Tacoma in 1995. But while Britt still draws his pointed cartoons for newspapers across the country, he’s now about to reach a smaller audience — literally — children.
The first book he wrote and illustrated, “Blabbering Bethann,” centers on a rude little girl fixated on getting the primo seat on the bus and the last cupcake in class. But then she realizes friendship is more important than things. The book is in part a commentary on American greed, but instead of hateful calls, this group of readers is responding with hugs. “Blabbering Bethann” is on amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and bookstores everywhere. He has several more children’s books in the process of being published.
Learning to Draw I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. I remember Sunday mornings I’d sit there and just pour over the comic pages with my dad … At the time they ran comics real big in the newspapers and I just thought, “What a cool way to make a living.”
Befriending Charlie Brown I used to try to draw Charlie Brown out of the newspaper and try to copy some of what was going on when I was real young. My father was an architect, so I grew up around another pretty creative guy.
No Cartooning Class I started at the University of Arizona, and I can remember going up to my counselor there and saying, “I really want to be a cartoonist” and they were like, “Well, what do you do with that?”
His First Job The Arizona Republic had a business magazine, and they hired me to sell legal advertising of all things. But the deal I had with them was they would let me draw one political cartoon a week, too.
Cartoons without Laughs Political cartoons are not always meant to be funny. I think that’s one of the problems with readers of cartoons — they see the word “cartoon” attached so they immediately think it should be funny.
Art with a Message Pablo Picasso once said that, “A great piece of art shouldn’t hang on the wall to decorate the wall. It should have something to say.” With political cartoons, basically you’re waging a visual war against the enemy, whether it’s a politician or a policy.
The Barroom of Democracy Cartooning is a confrontational art form, and so is politics … one of my colleagues once observed that political cartoonists are the guys who walk into the barroom of democracy, throw the first punch and then sit back and watch the ensuing brawl. You kind of get things going. You lob that caustic grenade of commentary into an otherwise civil discussion and people go berserk.
Falling for Dr. Seuss When I grew up, I had, like a lot of kids I think, Dr. Seuss books. I found the drawings fascinating and so much of his work was that rhyming, that cadence, which is kind of easy and fun for kids.
Reading to his Daughter I read a variety of books to my daughter; she loved some of the same books I did. Shel Silverstein books, “The Giving Tree.” I mean, that’s just beautiful. To this day it’s just such a great story. It’s uplifting, it’s sad and it can still make you cry, you know? But it’s just so simple and so sweet.
Hugs over Hate One of my friends and colleagues, Matt Davies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, said the greatest part about starting to write these children’s books is you go into the libraries, into the book stores and you read your stories to these kids and the parents and at the end they all love you! They want to come up and give you a hug. It’s so different than in the political cartooning world where someone wants to come run you over with their car.
Finding Truth: For me I want to write stories that have a message — some truth in it. Kids will get that.
Blabbering Bethann by Chris Britt, $17