For those of us that enjoy comic art, especially political satire, this summer has gotten off to a lousy start.
In late June, we learned that Brunswick News Incorporated dropped veteran political cartoonist Michael de Adder from its pages. Days later, DC Entertainment confirmed that it would remove MAD Magazine from newsstands and rebrand the 67-year-old satirical staple as a nostalgia product.
I’ll talk about MAD next week. This week, I’ll focus on de Adder’s dismissal by Irving-owned BNI, and how its timing is leaving many with a foul taste in their mouths over perceived censorship issues.
A few weeks ago, de Adder circulated a biting, edgy cartoon about the American border crisis and the Donald Trump administrations policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Centring on a real-life photo of a deceased father and daughter who drowned at the U.S. border while trying to cross the Rio Grande, de Adder depicted President Trump driving a golf cart up to the face-down couple and asking: “Mind if I play through?”
To hear BNI describe it, the cartoon was never offered to any of the company’s three newspapers. On the other side of the equation, it probably wasn’t worth even submitting it to them, since de Adder has subsequently claimed that most of his Trump-themed cartoons were systematically turned down for inclusion in any BNI products.
At any rate, BNI subsequently terminated its contract with de Adder, a native of Moncton. He claims that a BNI official called him up and simply told him that his services were no longer required, without any further explanation. BNI later insisted that the company wished to bring in a new cartoonist to fill its op-ed pages, and used the phrase “false narrative” to describe the concept that the “playing through” cartoon was responsible for de Adder’s dismissal
Before I go any further, I should point out that this is hardly the first time de Adder has caught my eye with his edgy, inventive cartooning work. Nor is it his first brush with controversy for what some of us would consider an inappropriate image.
In 1997, three years before he signed a full-time contract with the now-defunct Halifax Daily News, de Adder’s distinctive style popped up semi-regularly in The Chronicle-Herald, running roughshod over Nova Scotia political leaders of the day. Early gems included the space-themed “Grit Trek” series and one of the most delightful and bizarre editorial cartoons I’ve ever seen, “The Birth of the Sable Gas Project,” which reworked Sandro Botticelli’s classic painting “The Birth of Venus” into a crowd of greedy politicians desperate to rework the burgeoning natural gas project to suit their own agendas.
Fans in our neck of the woods might remember de Adder for one of the uglier cartoons ever drawn of Rodney MacDonald in the first year of his tenure as Nova Scotia’s Premier. In 2006, amid a flurry of allegations that MacDonald’s marriage was dissolving, de Adder drew a smiling premier with a pair of boxer shorts on his head, insisting to a throng of media microphones: “Oh, those are just rumours.” It struck me at the time as one of the most tasteless things I’d ever seen in The Daily News, beneath even the most gut-wrenching images drawn by de Adder’s predecessor at the Halifax tabloid, the brilliant Theo Moudakis.
Another misfire arose earlier this year, when de Adder depicted soon-to-be-dumped Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould as a bound-and-gagged boxing opponent for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Following an outcry, de Adder announced that he would no longer depict women in violent situations – a pledge that, honestly, any cartoonist or satirist should embrace.
Whether any of this undercurrent of edginess was responsible for de Adder’s firing is muddied by BNI’s Irving ownership and its hesitancy to ruffle Trump’s feathers. Further complicating things is de Adder’s claim that the company axed several cartoons depicting New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, once a member of Irving’s board of directors, but had no trouble running several images of Higgs’ predecessor, Brian Gallant.
My point is that BNI should have recognized what it was getting in Michael de Adder: An unbiased political observer with a knack for getting to the heart of a story. They should also recognize that he has created some of the most beloved and virally-shared caricatures of our modern era, including heart-tugging tributes to the likes of Gord Downie, the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, and those lost in the 2014 Moncton police shooting, to say nothing of his lovingly-rendered images for his You Might Be From Nova Scotia/New Brunswick/Canada If… book series.
Soldier on, Mr. de Adder. In an age where real-life madness reigns and newsstand MAD-ness is fading away, we need your honesty more than ever.