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The birth of an editorial cartoon

Press Shop | 07.11.2019

They had convened in the governor’s office – the 46th Governor of Arkansas and the Editorial Cartoonist for the state newspaper – for a chat and an informal presentation – the sort of meetings the governor frequently hosts.

But without warning – which is how these things often happen – inspiration struck in the office, and thanks to Governor Asa Hutchinson, John Deering left with an idea and a sketch for another Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial cartoon.

This wasn’t their first encounter. In 2016, Governor Hutchinson and Mr. Deering were among those on stage for the Roast and Toast of the local civil rights heroine, Annie Abrams. In 2017, John led a brown-bag discussion about his work with the governor’s staff, after which he and Governor Hutchinson visited in his office.

Mr. Deering’s mission for his 2019 visit was to present the Governor with the original drawings of two of his cartoons that the Democrat-Gazette had published on its editorial page, where Mr. Deering’s cartoons have appeared for more than three decades.

The cartoons had focused favorable attention on the Governor’s Transformation plan to reduce Arkansas government from 42 executive-level agencies to 15. The Governor liked the cartoons. Mr. Deering, arguably the most prolific artist in Arkansas – three of his sculptures are installed on the state capitol lawn – had signed the originals and wanted to personally present them to the governor.

An autographed John Deering original is a treasured memento for his fans, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he handles them.

When Mr. Deering has finished a cartoon, and it is on its way to the printing press, he doesn’t enshrine the original in a scrapbook or otherwise preserve it for prosperity.

When one cartoon is complete, he flips the artist board over and draws a new one on the back. When the second one is done, the two-sided artifact disappears into the piles of other two-sided John Deering originals that he has cast aside.

When someone requests an original, Mr. Deering is happy to give it away, once he recovers it from the deep. If you don’t know Mr. Deering by his work for the newspaper, you probably have seen some of his sculpture around town. His bust of the late Governor Sid McMath is on the second floor at the capitol. The capitol lawn is home to three of his statues: Testament, at the north entrance to the capitol grounds, a tribute to the Little Rock 9; the Medal of Honor statue with the (much) bigger than life eagle in flight; and the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial, on the southeast corner of the grounds.

The day of Mr. Deering’s scheduled visit with Governor Hutchinson happened to be the day the Governor would be recording his weekly radio address. The Governor invited Mr. Deering to sit in and listen.

The Governor’s topic for the week was his two-part highway funding plan, which he successfully shepherded through the 92nd General Session.

In the closing remarks of his radio address, the Governor noted that “Arkansas’s roads are in urgent need of attention …”

Then the Governor referred to Hugh Austin, a central Arkansas businessman who sells tires and repairs vehicles. Mr. Austin’s shops have made some money fixing vehicles that have encountered a Arkansas potholes. In a gubernatorial conversation, Mr. Austin joked that he didn’t see the need to fix the highways. “I like the roads just the way they are,” he said.

When the Governor read that line from his script, Mr. Deering immediately pulled out his pad and pencil and went to scratching. “You inspired a cartoon,” he told the Governor once the recording was over.

Three weeks later, the cartoon that began life in the office of the Governor of Arkansas appeared on the Democrat-Gazette’s editorial page.

In the cartoon, two men are standing behind the counter at the Last Rites Auto Repair Shop, where you can pay with an arm or a leg or both. The man on the left is reading a newspaper with the headline, “House passes governor’s highway funding bill.” The man on the right, paraphrasing Mr. Austin’s words from the Governor’s radio address, is saying: “I think the roads in Arkansas are fine just the way they are.”

(Cover Photo: Artist John Deering and Governor Asa Hutchinson visit in the Governor's office in early 2019. First photo: John Deering poses with the bust of Governor Sid McMath that he created in the mid-1990s. Second photo: Governor Asa Hutchinson participates in a service at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, which includes this statue of a solider that John Deering sculpted in 1987. Third photo: The unveiling of John Deering's tribute to the Little Rock 9, Testament, in 2005. The sculpture  faces the Governor's office. Cartoon: The cartoon that John Deering drew after he listened to Governor Hutchinson record his radio address.)

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