Angelo Lopez came to California in 1974 and hasn’t left. It wasn’t a gold rush that brought him, but he did live the somewhat nomadic lifestyle of a prospector moving from place to place as a self-described “Navy brat.” Born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Filipino parents, he spent his youth on military bases on the U.S. East Coast and Japan. He admits to always wanting to draw whenever he could get his hands on a spare scrap of paper, which attracted him to the illustration program at San Jose State University. After college, like many people with artistic skills, he says he had “no clue how to apply my illustration skills to the job market.” He found stability working in the library system of Sunnyvale, California, but still pursued his illustration and cartooning passion freelancing for various papers. His work as an editorial cartoonist for the Philippines Today newspaper, which serves the Filipino-American community in the U.S., has garnered him three national Sigma Delta Chi Awards — 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What is the overall message or thesis from your body of editorial cartooning work, particularly the work you’ve done winning Sigma Delta Chi Awards?
What I’m trying to do is speak out for members of the Filipino-American community who aren’t heard much. They have a huge stake in the immigration debate today. In a population of around 2 to 3 million in the U.S., a fairly large group feel threatened by the rhetoric right now. Because of the poverty rate in the Philippines, a lot of people go overseas for work. One of the things that has been a problem for immigrants going overseas is the labor laws that protect native citizens are not protecting the immigrants. A lot of my cartoons deal with that and representing voices that need to be heard.
Your work for Philippines Today is of course heavily influenced by the topics of importance to that outlet’s audience: Filipino-Americans. How would those cartoons change in message, tone or style if you were publishing for a more general audience, if at all?
I would still be critical, but it depends on the editor. At Philippines Today they kind of give me carte blanche. I know my readers have knowledge of the issues. If I did these cartoons for the San Francisco Chronicle, I’d have to do more explanation.
I wonder if more people would try their hand (pun intended) at editorial cartooning but they think it requires some high-end, trained artistic ability. But what do you think is more important: the art or the message behind it? In other words, what’s more critical to hone: the editorial or cartooning?
I think they’re both equally important. I don’t think a cartoonist needs to be an amazing illustrator. Gary Trudeau wasn’t a great cartoonist when he started. But he developed his own distinctive style. I think a combination of basic skills and a strong opinion and good writing skills is important.
Realistically, it’s hard making a full-time living as an illustrator or cartoonist, particularly for print publications. If you could do it full-time, would you? Or is it always going to be a side passion?
Oh, yeah, I would love to. I don’t think there are enough Filipino-American newspapers in the country. For regular editorial cartoonists, there has been a steep decline in the number of us in the country. We’re very much tethered to the fate of newspapers. I’m not as good an entrepreneur as other cartoonists.
You credit New Yorker illustrator Peter de Sève as an inspiration when you were younger. What about his work captivated and influenced you?
I liked his humor, and he’s one of those people who come up with a lot of cool concepts. He was deeply influenced by children’s book illustrators.
People like Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera, famous muralists of the 1930s. On my Facebook page I’m connected with Andy Singer and David Cohen. They got me into political cartoonists of the early 20th century, people like Art Young and Daniel Fitzpatrick. I love the look of pen and ink and charcoal.
What’s your “dream” publication or gig?
If there were a lot of Filipino-American newspapers. I love doing cartoons for that community. My dream job would be for that community in all of those newspapers. The New Yorker would be fine, but I’m not really that funny a person.
You’ve also illustrated three books. Any more work like that in your future?
There’s a thing in Amazon called create space, and I’ve used it to make collections of my cartoons. I’ve always wanted to do a graphic novel. A couple years ago I did a web comic of my late cat, Jasper. I might do a graphic novel on him. I never knew how emotionally attached you could get to a cat.
Since it’s baseball season and you’re in California: Giants or Athletics? Angels or Dodgers? Sorry, but I’m assuming no one is a Padres fan at this point (says a long-suffering Mariners fan).
None. I’m a (Cincinnati) Reds fans. Any team that won a championship in the 1970s, I’m a fan of, especially the Celtics (basketball) and the Raiders (football). By the time I started watching football, Joe Namath’s years were over. But with YouTube, I can watch his good years. When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards and could name off stats all the time.
It’s not lost on anyone that satirists and comedians get some of their best material from those they find objectionable, especially those in power. Is that true for you? In a backward and unintended way, don’t you benefit from the misdeeds and misfortunes of others?
In some senses you’re right. What’s good for the cartoonist is not necessarily good for the country. But there’s always going to be something there. In the Philippines, with the extra-judicial killings (under authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte), I’m kind of running out of ideas. I’m tired of drawing skulls all the time. When you’re more infuriated or scared, it makes your cartoons more passionate. If other people were in power, I’d still be doing cartoons, but I wouldn’t be as passionate. My stock and trade is my opinion.
Tagged under: Freelancing