by SC Staff Writer Jan Holly
Doug MacGregor has spent the last 40 years vigorously exercising his 1st amendment rights as an editorial cartoonist. He looked back on his career and on the legacy of his famous forebears at the Democratic Club of the Islands meeting, Feb. 21 at the Community House.
MacGregor is most well known in this region as cartoonist for the Ft. Myers News-Press, having joined its editorial ranks in 1988. Although he now devotes much of his time to authoring children’s books, his cartoons still appear monthly in the newspaper.
MacGregor credited the Norwich [Connecticut] Bulletin with jumpstarting his career. “They paid me $175 each week to draw cartoons. If they had paid me just $25 less, I would have qualified for food stamps,” he said.
Taking his audience on a slide-show journey through the history of cartooning in America, MacGregor cited Ben Franklin as creator of the first American cartoon, which was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. “Franklin’s ‘Join, or Die’ cartoon depicted the colonies as a severed snake that would come back to life if its pieces were rejoined,” he said. “It urged the separated colonies to join together for war.”
Stopping off in New York City, he recalled the legendary cartoonist Thomas Nast, “who gave us the elephant of the Republican Party and the image of Uncle Sam. Nast had a field day with Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall,” he said.
No history of cartooning would be complete without a nod to ‘Ding’ Darling, “who is right in our own back yard,” MacGregor said. “He won a Pulitzer for cartooning, and his cartoons appeared on the front page of the Des Moines Register. What a guy.”
MacGregor takes particular pride in one of his political cartoons, about President Ronald Reagan. “I called it Big Ron’s Body Shop,” he said. “It pictures a machine that transforms Democratic Donkeys into Republican Elephants.” The cartoon was featured on the cover of the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, 1982 edition.
One of MacGregor’s cartoons, about President George H. W. Bush, ended up in the former president’s hands. “He called me—a guy in Ft. Myers—from Kennebunkport. He said ‘I got your cartoon. It’s great.’ It was a thrill. But that’s the kind of guy he was, very personable.”
MacGregor called President Donald Trump “a nightmare and a dream at the same time. My deadline is Thursday at 9 a.m., and my cartoon runs on Sunday,” he said. “But between Thursday and Sunday, Trump keeps tweeting, and his tweets change, so I have to be careful.”
MacGregor confesses to receiving occasional telephone calls from angry readers. “I hold the phone and let them talk, and then we agree to disagree. But I believe an editorial cartoonist is supposed to make you think,” he said.
Responding to a question about being labeled by Trump as “an enemy of the people,” MacGregor said, “It’s a worrisome thing. [Journalists’ murders in] Norway and Maryland were scary. Being an enemy is a risk. But drawing an editorial cartoon is the 1st amendment at its best. The cartoonist can say so much in just seconds.”
In answer to another question, MacGregor praised the News-Press for its support of his work. “In all my years at the News-Press, never once was I told that I couldn’t run a cartoon. That’s a true statement, not fake news. I was blessed to have a publisher and editor who had the guts to stand up for me.”
After MacGregor’s presentation, the Democratic Club of the Islands changed its name. By a majority vote of 97 percent to 3 percent, the club is now called the Progressive Club of the Islands.
The Progressive Club of the Islands invites Islanders to its upcoming events: Happy Hour, 4 p.m., March 7, at Traders Café; a general meeting, featuring Maria Cardenas, Catholic Charities Case Worker for Immigrations Services, 7 p.m. March 21, at the Community House; and a pot-luck meeting on April 18, also at the Community House.