Cartoonist celebrates decade of laughs

Tony 'Toe' Newman opens retrospective at Friday's art walk

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

When Gov. Sarah Palin defeated Tony Knowles in the November election, the political satirist inside Juneau resident Tony "Toe" Newman couldn't help being pleased.

He knew it would make for good cartoons.

"I'm looking forward to Palin," Newman said. "She's a striking-looking person, so she'll be fun to draw. She also seems like she'll be a dynamic sort of personality that may get into hot water or at least be visible."

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum will celebrate Newman with "Ten Years of Toe," a retrospective of the more than 400 cartoons he's had published in Juneau newspapers since 1995. An opening reception will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Friday as part of downtown's First Friday art walk.

The show will run through Feb. 24. It includes dozens of Newman's recognizable micron-pen-on-cardstock political cartoons.

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There will be no work from Newman's "Mudpie" series, a fixture in the Empire's old "This Week" section for years.

Many of the cartoons feature Juneau personalities or regular people on the street. Of course, a lot of them feature the big three: Ted Stevens, Don Young and Frank Murkowski. Stevens' staffers even asked Newman if they could hang a "Toe" cartoon in the senator's office, the cartoonist said.

"Ted Stevens is fun to draw," Newman said. "I just kind of imagine somebody who just took a drink of vinegar, because he always seems to have that look on his face.

"Don Young, he tends to not be a very visible guy, but when he is, he says terrifically quotable things.

"I'm going to miss Murkowski," he said. "You could argue that he was like a bull in a china shop, just didn't have a lot of finesse in the politics of working in Alaska. But I think he tried to do a lot. Knowles is the complete opposite: too much finesse, too much process. I wasn't too eager to see him return to office, because I knew he'd be tough to wring material out of."

Newman has no classical training as a cartoonist. He's been drawing for friends and family for years, taking inspiration from the cartoons in The New Yorker.

Ten Years of Toe

• What: A retrospective of Juneau cartoonist Tony "Toe" Newman.

• When: Opens with a reception from 4:30-7 p.m. Friday at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

• Admission: Free.

• More: For more on this month's First Friday gallery walk artists, see Hooligan inside.

"I picked that up a lot as a kid," Newman said. "I was really struck by the cartoons in that magazine, because they're very understated. They often just make you think."

Newman studied science and spent seven years as a science reporter. He met his wife, Linda, while working as the Los Angeles bureau chief for the International Medical News. They decided to move to Alaska, her home state, in 1994.

Newman was amazed there was no political cartoonist in town. He pitched a cartoon to Larry Persily, then managing editor of the Empire. But the paper had no space on its editorial page at the time.

Newman caught on with the Big Skinny, a brand-new street weekly which lasted a year in 1995-1996. When it folded, he moved to The Paper, a new 24-page weekly started by Persily and some other Empire staffers.

"He developed a following," said Persily, now the editorial page editor at the Anchorage Daily News. "People looked forward to it. As you think about opinion pages, it takes a lot of time to read editorials. It takes a lot of time to read letters. A cartoonist has to have a message that people are going to get. Papers have a long history of using local editorial cartoons, but it's hard to find them."

The Paper folded, and Newman moved to the Capital City Weekly. But that paper was less interested in political humor than in jokes about the weather.

It was a matter of time before Steve Reed, managing editor at the Empire, gave him a shot at the top of the daily's editorial page.

"I've been able to get into much more controversial subjects," Newman said. "People ask me from time to time, 'Why don't you do stuff on national topics?' I'm comfortable and I like living here. I like the people. There's just so much here."

There was controversy along the way. Newman wrote a cartoon comparing cruise ships' stops in town to a sailor dallying with different women in different ports. A cruise-ship representative called to complain, as did publisher Don Smith.

In 2001, when Interior Secretary Gayle Norton visited Alaska with a media throng in tow, Newman drew her running naked with caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Smith canned him, Newman said.

He returned a few months later, but he had lost his space on the top of the editorial page. He has since regained it.

"People have told me they think I'm liberal and I like to think of myself as moderate," Newman said. "If I've made fun of Republicans more than other people, it's because they're the folks in power. You rob the bank because that's where the money is.

"My main responsibility is to make jokes, to make people laugh," Newman said. "I like to think I would represent a joke making fun of both sides of the issue, if I thought it was funny."

"Toe" is still the first thing Persily reads when he logs on to the Empire's Web site on Sundays, he said.

"He would be the first to admit that his strength was more the politics and the jokes, rather than the actual drawing," Persily said. "But it was so great to have the option of a local cartoonist, someone who followed the issues and understood them and could make people laugh, smile or get grumpy."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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