Canadian cartoonist Roy Peterson remembered: Cartoonists share their memories

(Cartoon of Roy Peterson by Wes Tyrell)

Decorated and acclaimed cartoonist Roy Peterson passed away on September 29. He was 77.

Considered a legend by many in the industry, Peterson won more National Newspaper Awards than any other Canadian journalist as the editorial cartoonist at The Vancouver Sun where he spent 40 years of his career. He is also well known to readers of Macleans magazine, where he famously illustrated Allan Fotheringham's columns, with whom he had a long partnership.

His body of work, which also included appearances in Time and Punch magazines, eventually earned him an Order of Canada in 2004.

Ask anyone who knew him, and he is best remembered for his warm spirit and willingness to guide young talent looking to break into the industry.

Seven cartoonists from across the country shared their memories of Peterson with Yahoo Canada News:

John Larter - Formerly the Toronto Star
"The first thing Canadians should realize about Roy Peterson is that Canada actually had a cartoonist of world class stature. If there's one thing we Canadians are famous for it's thinking all the talent is elsewhere. Roy was respected as one of the top cartoonists in the world and rightly so.

"His technical skills with a pen and brush were matchless, although no matter what your cartooning style, his most important lesson to all that labour at the art table was: Why be a Honda when with a little sweat you can be a Rolls Royce?

"As great as he was at his craft, those that had the honour to meet Roy all walked away with the exact same impression. His kindness, gentleness and inclusion of everyone he met made his character even more impressive than his art. His art made you want to be a better artist, his character made you want to be a better person. The teacher may be gone but for all of us that knew him his lessons remain."

Michael de Adder – The Halifax Chronicle Herald
"When I was just starting off in this field, the Chronicle Herald’s Bruce MacKinnon actually gave me Roy Peterson’s number to call in Vancouver to ask him for advice. I think I was too frightened to call and sat on it for a couple months. But one Saturday morning, feeling low about my career, I did phone him.

"A deep voice, like a television news anchor’s voice, came on the other line: it was seven-time National Newspaper Award winner and Officer of the Order of Canada Roy Peterson talking to me, on the phone.

"'Hi, you don’t know me,' I said with a shaky voice. 'I got this number from Bruce MacKinnon. I was wondering if you could give me some advice.'

"There was a long pause. I expected to hear a click and the phone to go silent.

"Then he started talking.

“'The most important thing,' Roy said, 'is to just get published. It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter how often, just get published. Get yourself a deadline. Until then, you won’t get better. Having a deadline makes you draw. I drew for small local papers while working for Sears Canada.'

"It went like that for a full hour. It was a full hour, I looked at the clock. Each tidbit of advice being noted. 'Maybe I can be a political cartoonist,' I thought to myself. 'Roy Peterson’s struggle isn’t that much different than my own.'

"I met him in person a few years later in Ottawa, in fact he became my friend. Roy had time for everybody like that. It didn’t matter how good you were. You could be Pat Oliphant or a guy off the street with a sketchpad, and he’d talk to you the same."

Brian Gable – The Globe and Mail
"In the zany, madcap world of Canadian cartooning, Roy always seemed to me to be an adult. He was frequently rather reserved but one always felt that his calmness sat on top of a deep well of strength and 'class', for lack of a better word.

"He was funny as well as a brilliant draftsman, but he was also a consistently devoted professional. He took the profession of cartooning very seriously and always delivered timely, top-quality work that set the industry standard and was deservedly admired by his peers and National Newspaper Awards judges. In that way he served as a model to a generation of up and coming Canadian cartoonists. Roy was also widely respected abroad, particularly the U.S., where he served as the president of the AAEC for at least one term during the eighties.

"I think that among those of us who knew Roy personally we will remember his strong love of his wife, Margaret and his family, his generous and solid character and his life-long devotion to the creation of top-drawer Canadian editorial cartooning."

Terry Mosher – The Montreal Gazette
"Roy Peterson was one of the most influential cartoonists ever to work in Canada. Indeed, his style reverberates even today in the work of a number of younger, award-winning cartoonists. He and Len Norris formed an unbeatable tandem working for The Vancouver Sun for many years during what is now considered the golden age of Canadian political cartooning.

"Despite Roy winning an astonishing seven National Newspaper Awards, his relationship did not end well with The Vancouver Sun (proving the old adage that you can love the company you work for all you want – but the company does not love you).

"I might have added that Roy was always cool in that he always worked with his shoes off!"

Graeme MacKay – The Hamilton Spectator
"Roy's work was the main inspiration for my desire to take up editorial cartooning. As a 20-year-old, I found the courage to look up his phone number while in Vancouver attending a conference of the Canadian University Press. I had been dispatched there as a delegate representing my student newspaper, The Fulcrum, from the University of Ottawa, and given that I was just beginning my life in the business of cartooning, it was only natural that I at least try to seek some advice from the one guy in Canada that stood out to me as the best cartoonist in the country.

"How wonderful it was that he was more than happy to meet me at his impressive studio over looking the city of Vancouver. He was warm, jovial and gentle. His soft baritone voice was both soothing and reassuring that were I to take his advice to practice, practice, and do more practicing with the pen my future could potentially be found in the profession. It's advice I took to heart, and it worked. Whenever I meet aspiring cartoonists with similar ambitions I tell them exactly what Roy told me.

"I told Roy a few years ago at a cartoonist convention that I had to give up cross hatching because it was causing my eyes to get bloodshot after a days’ work and I was afraid if I kept doing it I’d become permanently cross eyed. He pointed at his own medical condition which caused his right eye lid to appear droopy in his later life as a good reason not to keep cross-hatching, a comment to which brought us both to laughter."

Bruce MacKinnon - The Chronicle Herald in Halifax
"Roy was a hero and mentor to me. He was always warm and approachable, always encouraging friendly and kind to any young cartoonist who came to him for advice, and was universally loved and respected by his peers. He was always what I wanted to be when I grow up (I'm still waiting).

"After his beloved wife Margaret died, whenever we could convince him to come to a convention, he would spend any unscheduled time holing up with us in the hotel room - by 'us' I mean Bob Krieger (a close friend and a fellow Vancouver cartoonist whom he mentored from the start), a couple of American cartoonists who had become old friends, and myself. We were all musicians/guitarists so we'd sit around playing tunes for Roy, absolutely thrilled and honoured to be the apparent muses and court jesters for this living legend.

"One particular night, Roy had a request. He said can you play something by 'that guy' from Texas? 'You know, that guy with the high hair?' He kept trying to explain but we couldn't figure it out. Finally, he grabbed the little notepad of hotel paper and a ball point and scribbled something in about 25 seconds. He held it up to us and in unison we all hollered 'Lyle Lovett!' It was brilliant. It was a quick sketch but at the same time the most accurate of caricatures in the slickest style. Not just any cartoonist can do that. Krieger immediately pounced on it and made him sign it. The tiny 3"x 4" sketch now hangs matted in a huge frame on the living room wall in Bob's Vancouver home.

"Many of us feel like we've lost a father figure. I'm just so proud to have called him my friend."

Bob Krieger
"Roy Peterson was as kind, generous, humble, hilarious, and elegant gentleman who also happened to be a world class cartoonist and illustrator. Along with Duncan Macpherson, he was a transformative figure in North America cartooning.

"I know Bruce MacKinnon told you the Lyle Lovett story.

"In my defense, the only reason I ended up the sketch was because I was sitting closest to the night stand. I’ll never forget Roy stretched out on my bed, a beer in one hand and an bourbon in the other. Or his frustration trying to remember the name of the Texas musician with the hair and pointy nose.

"One more story. Margaret’s drink of choice was gin and tonic. When she passed, a few of us started a tradition of buying a round of G&Ts for the table of Canadians at the U.S. conventions and someone would toast Margaret’s memory. Never failed to get us tearing up but it just seemed like the right thing to do. After a while, Americans wanted to be part of it. At the Halifax convention, Bruce arranged for G&Ts for the entire room and got up to the podium to make the toast. It was just beautiful but he couldn’t get through it without choking up. He paused. The room was silent except for some sniffling and sobbing. He apologized saying he’d hoped he could get through it without losing it when Roy booms out 'How do you think I feel?!' It broke everyone up. We all burst out laughing and crying and more laughing."