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Was I Sunk by Submarines?

In 2000, I got a great contract to draw five cartoons a week for Gannett’s Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii, the big daily paper in town. The biggest local story at that time was the sinking of a Japanese high school fishing boat. The boat, the Ehime Maru, was struck by a US submarine, the Greeneville who’s captain was Commander Scott Waddle. The submarine was on a mission to entertain celebrities, a common practice for the Navy, where celebrities get to play at steering the sub for PR purposes. On these joyrides, the subs would often do exciting “emergency ballast blows” which made the sub shoot to the surface and leap out of the water – it was on one of these dramatic, celebrity steered, leaping maneuvers that the Greeneville crashed into the Ehime Maru, sinking it immediately.

Even worse, as many of the Japanese high school kids were drowning, screaming for help in the water, the Greeneville and its crew did nothing to help them. It was later explained that this was because the sub had no procedure for saving drowning kids. This was a horror story that seemed to have no end as the Navy was very slow in releasing the embarrassing and damning details, stretching snippets of information out painfully over the course of weeks.

I was new as a daily cartoonist for the Advertiser and the sub disaster made me angry. I drew this cartoon.

The Advertiser killed the cartoon, refusing to run it because, as my editor told me, “Honolulu is a Navy town, Daryl. We’re very careful about criticizing the Navy.” That made me mad – this was the kind of local story that a local cartoonist exists for. I had just started my little syndicate, and I recall that this cartoon was widely reprinted on the mainland, something the Advertiser wasn’t used to seeing with a cartoon they killed, and I think that annoyed them.

So I drew this next cartoon, about no one on the sub attempting to save the drowning students.

The Advertiser killed this cartoon too. Again, it was too critical of the Navy.

So I drew this cartoon about “emergency ballast blows.”

This one was killed too. Anything that mentioned a submarine was going to be killed. This “Navy town” was feeling like a Soviet town. I tried a soft approach with this next cartoon …

Killed, still too critical of the Navy. It was clear that all of my submarine cartoons would be killed. I drew this one about reprimanding Commander Waddle …

No good. I felt like a cartoonist in China. The story was in the headlines for weeks and months, with little more than flowers and teardrops from another cartoonist in the paper, and my cartoons were running only on the mainland.

I was annoyed, so I started drawing submarines in local cartoons, on subjects that had nothing to do with the submarine incident. These cartoons got killed too, just because they included submarines. This cartoon was about a spending disagreement in the legislature about a court decision on Special Education funding, known locally as the Felix Consent Decree.

No, they wouldn’t even print a local submarine cartoon about Special Education funding. At this point, I think my editors were just as annoyed with me as I was with them. I was their new cartoonist who only drew a small percentage of “cartoons we can use.”

Then The Advertiser surprised me by printing one of the cartoons that I kept drawing about the submarine incident – maybe they printed it by accident, who knows, but this calendar cartoon suddenly showed up on the editorial page one day …

My first submarine cartoon was printed, a month after the tragedy!

Then I got a call from my sheepish editor, who clearly was making a call he didn’t want to make. He said, “Daryl, I just got a call from the Admiral in charge of the Navy at Pearl Harbor. He would like to have the original of your cartoon to hang in his office.”

I said, “Which cartoon? You killed all of the submarine cartoons except for that calendar cartoon you printed yesterday.”

“Yes, that’s the one he saw. That’s the one he wants. Can you send us the original of that one?”

I said, “There isn’t really any original of the calendar cartoon. I went to the store and bought a calendar, then I wrote on it in a ball point pen and scanned it, and I added the type, signature and cross-hatching on the computer. It doesn’t exist as a single drawing, like my other cartoons.”

The Ehime Maru.

That was clearly a disturbing response for the editor to hear. I think I ended up sending the editor a signed print or something, and I think I recall the editor proudly saying that the admiral had the print of this calendar page hanging in his office. I mentioned that the admiral might have also liked one of my killed cartoons, but that, again, wasn’t what the editor wanted to hear.

I understand the laments of other cartoonists, like Rob Rogers, who have a large percentage of their cartoons killed after a change in editors. Editors can be control freaks, and cartoonists get under the skin of control freaks. It was all the more frustrating for my editor in Hawaii  because he must have known that these were the cartoons that the Advertiser really should have been printing at the time.  Needless to say, I didn’t last long at The Honolulu Advertiser, which let me go in less than a year for “cost cutting purposes.” That was an excuse I didn’t believe at the time, because of all the killed cartoons; now I think it is likely true that I was canned for cost-cutting because the whole newspaper went out of business not long after that. Now the combined “Honolulu Star-Advertiser” runs my syndicated cartoons.

My last submarine cartoon was this one, of Commander Waddle. After all of the proceedings about Waddle, he turned out to be a tragic character, genuinely haunted by his responsibility for the horrible event. Waddle was given an honorable discharge and he went on an apology tour in Japan. I feel sorry for the guy. Here he is, like a cowboy at the end of a movie, waddling off into the sunset.

Ever since I was dropped by The Honolulu Advertiser, and after I left The Midweek, I haven’t had a problem with killed cartoons. and never killed a cartoon, even when The Washington Post owned Slate (and I worked for them for a year) the Post didn’t kill any of my cartoons.

Killed cartoons happen when a cartoonist and editor are stuck with each other, they don’t see eye to eye, and both think they are doing the jobs they should do. That may not happen much longer as all of the editorial cartoonists lose their jobs and become freelancers, working through syndication. When editors pick from many syndicated cartoons, some cartoons still don’t get printed, but no cartoons were killed by the editors.

Syndicates still kill cartoons, though. Maybe I’ll write about that later.

Read more about my time as a local cartoonist in Hawaii on my blog here.

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Baptists, Gay Marriage, Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, Bert and Ernie

As I was wrapping up my career as a toy inventor, I drew a newspaper comic called “TRUE!” and I got a call from the editor of a newspaper in Hawaii who was a fan of my TRUE! cartoons that he ran in his newspaper, The MIDWEEK.  The editor asked me if I would like to be a local, editorial cartoonist in Hawaii. I said, “Of-course!”

This was my first experience as an editorial cartoonist. The newspaper was unusual, it was a free weekly paper, and it was very popular. The paper had wrested the grocery store and automotive ads from the two dailies; these ads used to run on Wednesdays, so the Midweek came out on Wednesdays, stuffed full of grocery store advertising and coupons. It was delivered free to every address in Hawaii, so everyone read the paper, and I was the local cartoonist on page two for about five years from 1995 through 1999.

I was still living in California, and I worked remotely, pretending to be local. My wife went to high school and college in Hawaii and she helped me with the details. She translated many of my cartoons into Pidgin, and made lots of changes to the clothes the characters wore. We didn’t want the cartoons to look like they came from some crass, mainland Haole. It was great fun drawing local cartoons, and we traveled to Hawaii frequently to visit the in-laws. I love Hawaii – still, I was a mainland Haole. I was a “local” cartoonist with a secret.

Hawaii was the first state to have a vote to legalize gay marriage; it was a hard fought battle and I drew a bunch of cartoons on the subject. One cartoon caused a big fuss; it involved Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street moving to Hawaii to get married. I had worked with the Muppets for nearly twenty years and I knew Bert and Ernie well. Here’s the cartoon …

There was a group of loud, angry Baptists in Hawaii that was spearheading the fight against the gay marriage vote and my cartoon threw them into a frenzy. They were outraged that I would draw a cartoon that innocent children would see, featuring beloved children’s characters, promoting the terrible sin of homosexuality. (There are a lot of Baptists in Hawaii, and lots of Mormons too.)

The Baptists took their protest to The Midweek’s office building in Kaneohe. They surrounded the newspaper’s building with a loud and angry picket line.

My editor at The Midweek was Don Chapman; he was a great guy. Don called me when the protest was happening. He opened his window and held his phone outside so I could hear the protesters chanting, “SEND OUT THE CARTOONIST! SEND OUT THE CARTOONIST!” If I had been in the building, they might have sent me out, but I was secretly safe at my house in Los Angeles. I had been successful in fooling the angry Baptists into thinking I was local.

The Baptists were pretty nasty. I remember the leader of their group made some misogynistic statements about women, and how wives should be subservient to their husbands, so I drew the cartoon below about the local Baptists, which also made them furious.

The sad end to the story is that the Baptists won, and the first gay marriage vote went down to defeat.  Fortunately, it was a the first of many such votes and the tide turned, slowly, until the Supreme Court codified gay marriage.

Every so often I would flirt with someone finding out that I wasn’t really local. Hawaii’s now-Senator Mazie Hirono was the Lieutenant Governor when I was drawing for The Midweek. Her thing at that time was that she was going to cut Hawaii’s infamous “red tape” with an initiative she called “SWAT,” “Slice Waste And Tape.” Hawaii is over-regulated and getting anything done involves a maze of entrenched bureaucracy. Mazie didn’t make much progress moving this bureaucratic mountain, but she thought she did, so I drew this cartoon …

Mazie was plenty mad at me! She called The Midweek to get my phone number, then she called me up. She was ranting, in a heavy local accent, about how I had gotten everything wrong and how she was making great progress in cutting red-tape. Then she paused. I was in California with area code (818). Hawaii has area code (808). In the middle of her rant, Mazie says, “What’s wrong with your phone number?!” I could hear the wheels were turning in her mind. “Should be 808!  Not 818!” she blurted. The call didn’t last much longer.

Mazie never called me again. I think she was the only one who figured out my secret.

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Hawaii Missile Alert

The missile alert in Hawaii last weekend was pretty crazy, with people calling their loved ones to say goodbye, and others jumping into sewers.

I spent my first years as an editorial cartoonist working for newspapers in Hawaii doing local cartoons, first for the Midweek, then for Gannett’s Honolulu Advertiser – now my cartoons run in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Hawaiian politics are wonderful fodder for editorial cartoons. I miss those days.

I used to fill my cartoons with local details. My wife went to Punahou school with Barack Obama, back in the day, and she would translate my cartoons into pidgin so I wass able to fool everyone into thinking I was a local. The missile alert was a horror for Hawaii but was a bit of cartoon nostalgia for me.

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Texas Disaster

Back when I was a local cartoonist for the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser newspaper, there was a disaster where a negligent captain allowed his submarine to be controlled by a stupid celebrity who rammed into a Japanese High School fishing boat, killing and failing to rescue many of the kids. I reacted with cartoons strongly criticizing the Navy and the captain of the sub – but I missed the mark. The paper had a second cartoonist, Dick Adair who drew a memorial cartoon with leis floating on the water. Dick’s cartoon was better.

When a disaster first strikes, and people die, mourning should come first. I was thinking about that with the Texas floods as my colleagues were drawing gags and cartoons criticizing Trump’s visit to the scene, or cartoons championing the first responders, I thought I should take a step back and remember Dick Adair’s cartooning wisdom with a flowers on the water memorial cartoon, this time including a cowboy hat to signify Texas. Maybe readers and editors are in the mood for gags, but I’m in more of a somber, sympathetic mood.


RIP Dave Thorne, Father of Hawaiian Cartooning

I’m sad to report that my friend, cartoonist Dave Thorne, often refered to as the father of Hawaiian cartooning, has died at the age of 82.

Thorne was well known in Hawaii for his funny cartoons and his commitment to educating and reaching out to kids with his work. He would often travel around the island and give “chalk talks” to young people, inspiring them to grab a pen and start drawing.

Up until October of last year, Thorne had been drawing “Thorney’s Zoo”, a gag strip filled with funny animals, for Sunday’s edition of Honolulu Star-Advertiser. I can probably count on one hand the number of newspapers across the country that commission cartoonists to draw local comic strips. Thorn also taught cartooning regularly at UH Manoa for twenty-three years before retiring in 2001.

Here’s a video from 2011 of Thorne as he sketches for kids at the McCully-Moiliili Public Library in Hawaii:


There’s a nice Facebook tribute page up with people from across the country weighing in and drawing cartoons in Dave’s honor.


Cartoonists React To Trump And Birth Certificate

Barack Obama was born in the United States. He is officially an American. The President released his long-form birth certificate today in reaction to increasing calls, let by loud-mouthed clown and GOP front-runner Donald Trump, that he was somehow born on foreign land and not eligible to be our commander-in-chief. Trump has latched onto this birther issue, devolving himself as a serious candidate. Based on his reaction to the news today, I might have to change my cartoon to have Trump asking, “Where are Obama’s school records?” I laughed at Nate Beeler’s cartoon for the Washington Examiner, showcasing the resiliency of the birther movement… While Pulitzer Prize-winner Mike Keefe of the Denver Post suggests the birther’s next line of attack… Green Bay Press-Gazette cartoonist Joe Heller shows that the birthers will always find a reason to doubt Obama’s authenticity… View even more cartoons in our new Obama’s Birth Certificate cartoon collection: Obama's Birth Certificate political cartoons