A cartoonist with a Yukon legacy

The political cartoonist at the Yukon News has regretfully left the territory.

The political cartoonist at the Yukon News has regretfully left the territory.

Wyatt Tremblay left it a legacy of two decades worth of provocative, farcical and sometimes scathing cartoons that have ridiculed some of the worst decisions Yukon politicians have made.

He’s still drawing the editorial cartoons for us, at least for now, but at a different desk – his new-found home in Airdrie, Alberta. His last day in the newsroom was July 12.

He credits the News for developing his talents as a cartoonist. But his skills stem back to his childhood, when he would doodle everywhere, from the bathroom walls, to math books to frosted windows.

His drawing took off after he moved to Haines Junction when his father became the first chief warden at Kluane National Park, Tremblay said. As an asthmatic 12-year-old without a television set, he became a fervent sketcher when he moved to the territory.

He started with Disney characters in elementary school, then “graduated” to the superheroes of Marvel Comics, he said. Then he went to high school and came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t make a career out of his drawing.

“I thought I’d be a doctor, but I still sucked at math. Then I thought I’d be an accountant but I found that insufferably boring. Then I became a janitor because it allowed me to draw and write,” the 53-year-old father of four said.

Being a self-employed janitor has become his longest-standing job, while he also worked two or three other ones on top of it, including being the editorial designer and political cartoonist at the News.

His first political cartoons were actually published in the Whitehorse Star, when he worked as the newspaper’s ad designer in the early 1990s. A single colleague said she liked firemen, so Tremblay drew her a muscular bull in a fireman’s uniform.

Word got around and the editor asked him to draw for the newspaper. He made two cartoons for the Star, then moved on to the Yukon News.

The rest is history. Tremblay used his pen as his weapon, forcing thousands of Yukoners to think critically of people in power, with his satirical, tongue-in-cheek cartoons.

A collection of Tremblay’s cartoons at the Yukon News was published in a book called Take No Prisoners in 2004. About a thousand copies were sold, some of which have made it around the world. A friend told him a copy was found in an Australian garage sale, he said.

The book features some of the cartoons that earned Tremblay 19 regional and national awards during his career so far. Theseinclude the very first cartoon he drew for the Yukon News. In that cartoon, he mocked Riverdale residents who resisted a plan to create a low-cost apartment complex for seniors.

Inspired by a scene in the 1975 British comedy film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Tremblay drew a low-angle perspective of a foreboding knight pointing his index finger down at scruffy peasants, with the banner of “Riverdale Castle” hung on top of the castle behind.

“Knights of NIMBY” is etched onto the knight’s metal chest armour. NIMBY stands for “not in my backyard.” Tremblay won the British Columbia and Yukon Newspapers Association cartoonists’ award that year.

Another award-winning cartoon is of an RCMP officer sitting with binoculars on Disney’s Dumbo the elephant, flying. A caption beside the officer reads, “Don’t laugh. He flies for peanuts.” The comic references the cutbacks to the RCMP search-and-rescue plane in 1999.

The RCMP head at the time framed it and sent it to the police commissioner, Tremblay said, proud of the moment.

But there are also cartoons Tremblay isn’t so proud of. One is of former MLA Dave Sloan, who did not want to release a searing report on group homes in 1998.

Tremblay drew Sloan as Old Mother Hubbard, with ragtag children climbing through broken windows and sipping liquor bottles in a shoe-shaped home in the background. Sloan’s speech balloon reads “They’re good kids, really.”

Within hours after the paper was printed, Tremblay got a call from the group home’s director, who was upset with how the way the children were represented. Tremblay ended up bringing four boxes of chocolate to the group home and apologizing to the children, he said.

“The job is to poke fun, to point at the absurdity of things that are done or said. People are people and they make mistakes. Including me,” Tremblay said.

These days, he doesn’t lack for inspiration. Tremblay looks for any political move that is “odd and unusual” to (literally) draw attention to.

It’s especially an easy target for Tremblay when politicians say incoherent things. “It’s as simple as (Mayor) Dan Curtis saying he didn’t want to be a fireman, he wanted to be a firetruck,” Tremblay said.

Tremblay drew a firetruck with Curtis’s smiling face, with “Dan” written on its nose, which was the bumper of the truck. That cartoon was featured on May 15 this year.

Now Tremblay is trying his luck at other news agencies and is still job-hunting. It’s tricky these days because newspapers have to agree to your “political leanings,” Tremblay said.

He knows of political cartoonists who have been fired because of a mismatch of philosophies with editors, he said.

Why did he move? “Oh, for loooooove,” Tremblay said, obviously struck by Cupid’s arrows. It’s time for change, having lived in the territory for 42 years, he said. And he doesn’t regret it.

At least he did not have a midlife crisis, Tremblay said. “When you’re 40, you’re supposed to divorce your wife, pick up a 20-year-old and buy a Harley,” Tremblay said.

He did get divorced, he admits. “But I bought new pencils.”

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com

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