Interview: Adrian Raeside

Adrian RaesideAdrian Raeside is an international comic book artist who is best known for his comic The Other Coast. We had a little chat with him to talk about his work and his passion for the environment.

For those who do not know you – who is Adrian Raeside?
– A 53 year-old New Zealand-born Canadian living in Canada’s largest ski resort – who no longer skis. (Too often by the time I met my daily deadlines, the lifts had closed down.) Starting from a blackboard in my parents kitchen, I had always been drawing. I had no idea I’d ever be able to make a living at my scribbling but in 1978, turned down for a job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door (I am not kidding) and completely unaware of how difficult it was to make a living as a cartoonist, I tried my hand at selling my work. I guess it was a case of blissful ignorance coupled with persistence. Gradually, I began to build up a decent list of newspapers that ran my editorial cartoons. In 1980, the Victoria TimesColonist hired me as their Editorial Cartoonist, where I’ve been ever since. In 2000, Creators Syndicate picked up The Other Coast, which up to then had been running as a Sunday in a few papers in Canada. The Other Coast now appears in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.

Some cartoonists work during business hours, others stay up late at night and some people like to listen to music while they work. How is your working day?
– My day usually starts around 6am – not because of any burning desire to start work at that ungodly hour, but due to my ancient border collie sticking his wet nose in my face, demanding he be let outside to paint the snow banks yellow. I used to work late into the night but gave that up a few years ago. Now the most I’ll do in the evening is fiddle with some rough ideas, answer mail, and upload cartoons for the next day.

Is it always easy to find inspiration?

– I wish I knew where inspiration comes from. Sometimes an idea is triggered by something I read, or something someone said, which means the oddest thing can sometimes be turned into an idea for a cartoon. That doesn’t mean to say every idea makes it to print. Probably only 10 percent – if I’m lucky.

Do you have any idea what kind of jokes or stories that are most popular among your readers?
– I’m always surprised the ideas I think worked the best aren’t always the ones that get the most reaction. Often it’s ideas that I’m not sure were the best that get the most feedback. Which shows I obviously know nothing about what makes a good cartoon …

How much time do you spend on drawing comics in a week?
– I try to take at least one day off a week but it never happens. Between The Other Coast strip and the editorial cartoons, I produce 11 cartoons a week, not counting freelance illustrations. Oh well, keeps me out of the local bars …

You come from New Zealand but have lived in England and you are now living in Canada. Is there any difference between what people make jokes about or think is funny depending on where they live?
– As The Other Coast appears in newspapers around the world, I try to make my humour as universal as possible and it helps to have lived in different countries. Although I’m not sure how well The Other Coast translates into African Click language …

You seem to have a number of adventurous ancestors. Some of them went to the South Pole during the early 1900s. You travelled to Antarctica in 2008 to retrace your grandfather’s footsteps, and then write about it in the book Return to Antarctica. Are you as adventurous as your relatives?
– Yes, my grandfather, Sir Charles Wright, was on Robert Scott’s 1910 race ot the South Pole, along with two great uncles, Sir Raymond Priestley and Thomas Griffith Taylor. I did visit Antarctica a few years ago, but I confess I do not have my grandfather’s adventurous streak. Although I did spend a few years living on a sailboat in the Caribbean, dodging hurricanes and running aground. But that was more due to stupidity than an adventurous streak. Besides the book, I recently produced a documentary on the Scott expedition. The trailer to the doc is here.

What is the best thing about living in Canada?
– I think it has to be the feeling of space, clean water and clean air. Unfortunately, that is slowly changing, with development encroaching on what was once wilderness areas. The number of dead bears at the side of the highway is a sad indication things are changing. But I do have a lovely bear skin rug in front of the fireplace …

Is it okay to joke about anything? Or are there topics you try to avoid?
– Every now and then I’ll stumble into a hornet’s nest that raises the ire of certain groups. With The Other Coast, I try to stay away from religious-themed jokes as they can so often be taken out of context and then I have to spend hours answering the mail it generates.

Many cartoonists use their cartoons for political purposes, or to make jokes of politicians and those in power. So I guess that cartoonists have a certain power to affect people and their opinions. Do cartoonists use that opportunity too often or too rarely?
– Personally, I’m not sure the comic strip is an appropriate forum to promote ones political leanings as It’s a fine line between humour and satire. The exception being Gary Trudeau’s Doonsbury, a strip which brilliantly weaves comedy and politics. However, I’m fortunate in that I also draw an editorial cartoon, which is my forum to air my political views.

I do have an environmental theme in The Other Coast but it’s more humour-driven and I make a point of lampooning both serial polluters and rabid environmentalists.

An awful lot of cartoonists who we interviewed earlier reads a surprisingly small amount of comics. Are you one of them?
– I always read comics strips in the newspapers and grew up with Wizard of Id, Donald Duck, Beano, Mad Magazine, etc…. but I never got into the superhero comics. Perhaps that’s because they weren’t reradily available to me when I was a kid in New Zealand. There is also a sameness about that genre of comic. However, I am impressed by the quality of cartoons being put up on the web. It’s a great medium for new cartoonists starting out but I’m not sure when the web will be a place where one can make a decent living.

If you had not become a cartoonists – what would you been up to instead?
– I had a number of jobs before I made a living at cartooning. Surveying in the bush, working in a print shop, working in a grain elevator… none of which I was much good at, so I doubt those would have turned into careers.

I probably would have tried to work in film, as I did briefly go to film school after I got out of high school but never had the $$ or time to do anything film-related. I got into animation in 1988, producing dozens of animated editorial cartoons and animated shorts for Children’s Television Workshop and other broadcasters. I left the animation business years ago but still occasionally write scripts for animated TV series. If you think about it, drawing a comic strip is almost like producing a film: you are both creating and directing the characters and putting words in their mouth – but you don’t have to rent fancy set location trailers for the characters …

If you could choose a cartoon character that resembles you the most, which would you choose and why?
– I suppose it would be Toulose, the short, big-nosed character in The Other Coast would be closest. He’s both an artist and writer, is a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to saving the planet, but is well meaning in a muddled sort of way.

Quick questions:

Coffee or tea?
Green tea. The caffeine in coffee gives me the shakes. Pity, because I like coffee. Given a choice though, single malt whisky.

Disney or Marvel?
Neither. Disney sucks and Marvel is all superheroes and mutants beating the crap out of each other.

Metallica or U2?
I’d say U2, although my stereo bust months ago and I haven’t bothered fixing it. I never could figure out how to wire up the damn thing up properly anyway.

Photography or painting?
Both. Photography is a form of painting except you’re using light. I used to use watercolours a lot prior to scanners being available, but now I colour everything in Photoshop as it’s so convenient. Pity, as I did like the challenge to using watercolours.

Computer or TV?
Newspapers. Even though I get hundreds of channels on my satellite, most of them are crap, broadcasting endless ’reality shows.’ Although I get some news online, I’ll still keep buying newspapers. Printer’s ink runs pretty deep in my veins.

Ted Stridh


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