Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Matt Wuerker - Cartoonist Survey #210

Matt Wuerker is an editorial cartoonist and illustrator who was born in California and now lives and works in Washington, DC. While earning his degree in International Affairs at Lewis and Clark College, he drew cartoons for the school’s newspaper, Pioneer Log. He graduated in 1979 and began working at Will Vinton’s animation studio in Portland, Oregon creating clay animated films. During this time he also illustrated a couple of books written by Dr. Laurence Peter (author of the "Peter Principle") and worked as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator for newspapers and magazines. In 1981 he got married and he and his wife moved to the Canary Islands. After a year out of the States, they moved to Los Angeles where Matt continued with his freelance work and also started working on a syndicated comic strip project with Dr. Peter. The single panel cartoon, “The Peter Principle” was launched in 1984 by United Feature Syndicate and ran for a couple of years until Dr. Peter’s health started failing. Matt started working in the animation field again in the mid-80’s, animating and designing music videos for the likes of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Michael Jackson.

A couple years after his son Owen was born he realized that the music video business didn’t allow him to spend much time with his family, so he moved the family to Portland, OR to resume freelancing. Since that time, his cartoons have appeared in The Washington Free Press, LA Times, The Nation, Funny Times, The American Prospect, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. Matt and his family then moved Washington, DC and in 2006 he started working at Politico. He has been their editorial cartoonist and illustrator ever since. He also creates computer animations for Politico’s website. Collections of his cartoons have been published including, “Standing Tall in Deep Doo Doo” and “Meanwhile in Other News”. He also co-authored, “The Madness of King George” and illustrated, “Robbing Us Blind”, “Building Unions” and “Chaos or Community?”. Last year Matt was awarded both the Herblock Prize for excellence in editorial cartooning and the Clifford K. and James T. Berryman Award. He has also twice been a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning. You can see much more of Matt’s work over at
Politico and read his profile from The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. You can also try your hand at making your own cartoons with “The Cartoon Playground” over at the Funny Times website. All of the elements at the Playground were created by Matt.

What is your favorite pen to use?
I know I should be using nibs but I've become addicted to rapidographs. They're generally tidy and the ink holds up to watercolor.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
I use pencil, 9 mm mechanical mostly.... lots of erasing too.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
All by hand, tube watercolors.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Sable watercolor brushes.

What type of paper do you use?
Fabiano bright white hot press watercolor blocks.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Drink coffee.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Music sometimes but mostly chatter on the radio or cable news shows. I used to have an unhealthy interest in listening to Rush and evangelical radio shows but I've grown out of it.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I never got into any of the superhero stuff. Classics Illustrated were my faves... does that make me a nerd? I also liked Richie Rich and Archie. I guess that makes me more of a dweeb.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
In the regular daily comics I liked Peanuts and Broom Hilda.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
When I was little I loved Gwendolyn the Miracle Hen that had wonderful illustrations by Ed Sorel. My family also had a lot of Charles Addams books that I spent a lot of time with. I have copies of these still.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I've taken adult classes along the way at places like Otis/Parsons in LA and a painting class at the Corcoran here in DC but I'm self taught.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
A blessing, especially once they figure out how to put a little monetizing box on it.

Did either of your parents draw?
My dad would draw little cartoon figures on post cards I'd get at summer camp. I really loved those, usually goofy little boys or sometimes funny Prussians with pointy helmets. My mom has incredibly straight hand writing and speedball lettering skills she picked up as a school teacher. My Prussian helmets and my block lettering still can't hold a candle.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Both of my parents, going way back to grade school days.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
Yes, a number of different places, to adults, kids and even in the California Men’s Penitentiary (I was a guest teacher, not an inmate).

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Passion, even though personally I'm a throwback to thinking drawing matters. I remember a conversation with Matt Groening back before the Simpsons. I did a traditional political cartoon for the LA Weekly the same time they were running Life in Hell. We were talking about drawing and Matt made the point that it wasn't about a well rendered drawing but about an idea and attitude, and then he closed his eyes and, without looking once, did a lovely automatic drawing of Binky.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
Lint is about it.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Dudley Do-Right.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Lefty ...all the way.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Work at the circus twisting up balloon animals.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Traditional drawing table in the middle of a bustling newsroom. Another desk with a computer and scanner right next to it.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I have tortured pianos and cellos and briefly a banjo in my life but I'm the least musical person on the planet.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Do your own thing and at the same time contribute something positive to the big conversation that's going on out there. Drawing skills are something to treasure and work on, but you need to have something to say. Contributing good humor is just as useful as trenchant insight.

Who is your favorite artist?

Can't answer that. It's too long a list of inspired people who've done such great things.

Thank you very much Matt!

And yes...this was yet another great interviewee suggestion from Mike Rhode at


Richard Hadley said...

Is this the same cartoonist who did his first political cartooning as a high school student for the Palos Verdes High School newspaper, "The Trident?"

David said...

Hi Richard,

I know he went to Palos Verdes High School, so him drawing for the school's newspaper makes sense. I just can't confirm that the name of the paper was "The Trident."

Dirk said...

As a classmate of Matt's at PVHS, I can confirm our school paper was indeed called The Trident