On Friday, April 10, readers of The Boston Globe saw the first published cartoon of Erin McDermott (Film/Video BFA 20), a fourth-year Character Animation student at CalArts.
The COVID-19-themed work evolved from an assignment in McDermott’s Commentary Through Cartoons class, which is taught by Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post.
In this Q&A, 24700 asked McDermott about her cartoon’s origin, development and its eventual placement in one of the largest newspapers in the country.
24700: This was a project for the class. How did you develop the idea for your cartoon?
McDermott: Ann has assigned us to watch/read the news for 30 minutes a day and to make sure we “second source” and fact check our findings to make sure they are true. Ann also asked that we jot down notes and sketches for our final project, which is a political cartoon. I ended up going ahead and completing this cartoon because I was having a lot of fun.
I was walking my dog and couldn’t believe how clear the sky was. I could see the mountains so clearly! I excitedly checked the air quality index. This was the first time for me that I saw “Good” described for the AQI in Los Angeles. It was so exciting to see. The next day I was reading the daily news for Ann’s class and found that multiple news sources were talking about the new relaxed EPA regulations during this pandemic. I was so upset with what I found. Currently, companies are responsible for monitoring themselves to make sure they meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution. This includes power plants and factories. The EPA also informed companies that they will not be seeking penalties if companies violate these requirements due to COVID-19. This really bummed me out considering the air quality was getting good.
24700: Tell us the story of how you landed in the pages of the venerated Boston Globe.
McDermott: Each week, we have one on one’s with Ann. We discuss what we’ve read and show our sketches and ideas. I brought a finished comic and Ann really liked it. The previous week I showed her a comic I did on the importance of the census and she encouraged me to send it to Bina Venkataraman [of The Boston Globe] on Twitter. Bina was calling for more female editorial cartoonists and to send her their work. I sent it to her, but didn’t hear back. So this week, Ann encouraged me to send my new cartoon to her. I did, and within an hour I was contacted by the editor of the “Opinion” section of The Boston Globe wanting to include my comic in their print edition. I was so thrilled. This was the first time I had my work published.
Ann also walked me through how to get paid for my work and to make sure I retained the rights to my work (so that I can send it to other newspapers). As a student, you get so excited and caught up in being included in a newspaper that you feel like you shouldn’t push your luck by asking about rates and retaining rights, but Ann gave me the confidence and tools I needed to make sure I was treated like any other professional editorial cartoonist. The next day, it was printed!
24700: What are you currently working on during this COVID quarantine?
McDermott: Currently, I have been watching a lot of films. Especially Cast Away! It’s my favorite movie. I feel like it’s the perfect film to watch right now, since we all are struggling to adapt to our new routine and have to be away from one another.
I have also been super into political cartooning. It’s been a great outlet to express my frustrations, share my opinion, and connect with others.
In Maija Burnett’s Flash class, we’ve been working on an emoji sticker pack! I am making a sticker pack of “Quarantine Emojis,” which has been a lot of fun and also lets me focus on how I feel.
I also have to finish my thesis film, which has been especially hard because it was a wedding proposal film to my boyfriend of 13 years, but now that we are both working from home with our desks right next to each other, I am thinking I may need to change my film idea. Overall, the CalArt’s faculty have been super understanding and supportive during this adjustment period. I am so fortunate to have such talented, understanding, and creative teachers to find ways to keep me engaged during a really stressful time.
Lastly, I am finishing commissions I took to raise money for our classmate Marvin Bynoe’s family. He passed away suddenly and it has been devastating for our entire program.
24700: What do you hope to do (mostly career-wise) after graduation?
McDermott: The future right now is such a mystery. Graduating during a pandemic is terrifying to say the least. Many internships have been postponed or completely cancelled, which is really unfortunate. As for what I want to do career-wise, I’m not sure. I don’t want to put myself in a box. Before taking Ann’s class I would have never thought about pursuing editorial cartooning, but now I am obsessed with it! I love waking up and checking what is happening in the world and having the tools I need to make sure what I am reading is factual. It’s empowering to know what’s happening and then commenting on it with your art.
That’s the amazing thing about CalArts and animation in general. They both show you that there is no “one path.” The skills you learn here can take you so many places, even ones you might not have thought about. So as for now, I will remain open and follow what makes me most excited. For now it’s editorial cartooning, comics, character design, and visual development. I’ll leave you with a quote from my favorite movie Cast Away:
”I know what I have to do now, I‘ve got to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”