Cartoons & Calculus
By Kirk Sibbald
Photo provided by the Globe and Mail
Generally speaking, day dreaming and doodling are not advisable ways to spend your first year of university. Brian Gable (BA’70) may beg to differ.
Having now served as the Globe and Mail’s editorial cartoonist for 23 years, Gable’s early propensity to doodle now makes perfect sense. But Gable admits his life could have taken a considerably different path if he had not struggled with calculus so much.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Gable acknowledges that a career in the arts was never something he even remotely considered as a youngster. Sure, he enjoyed scribbling images in the margins of his notebook, but who did not? In his mind, it was strictly a way to pass time.
In high school, he took every possible course except for art and entered the University of Saskatchewan with his eyes set on a career in architecture. It would be, he figured, an ideal way to incorporate his doodling tendencies into “a legitimate profession.” Those plans, however, did not last long.
“It never once occurred to me that one could realistically have a vocation as an artist,” said Gable. “It was as a pre-architecture student though that I encountered a discipline named calculus [...] and it immediately became obvious to all the world that architecture would be much better off in my absence.”
His enrolment in the university’s pre-architecture program was not all bad. While flaming-out in calculus, Gable was also taking courses in studio art, a requirement of the pre-architecture program at that time. And soon, “without any specific expectation as to how [I] would make a living,” Gable immersed himself in fine arts courses.
“It was a wonderful feeling,” he remembers. “Calculus was a distant memory, and every day of classes brought something new and interesting.”
Gable got his feet wet as an editorial cartoonist after his obsessive doodling during an English class piqued the interest of a fellow student. It turned out that this student, David Crone (BA’71), worked for The Sheaf, and he suggested that Gable submit some cartoons to the student newspaper.
“It was at that particular moment in my life that I discovered my years spent reading MAD magazine were at least as important as the time I’d spent reading A Tale of Two Cities and Howards End,” said Gable.
His first cartoons for The Sheaf focussed on the usual university-related issues during the 1960s—the lack of student housing, expensive textbooks, and concerns that “The Man” was tearing apart all social integrity.
Although he now looks back on his early cartoons with a critical eye, at the time he believed those scribbles were brilliant commentaries filled with insight and inspiration. However, he says this “youthful blindness” is oftentimes a necessary precursor to success.
“If most 18-year-olds could truly perceive the level of the work they were producing, few would have the courage to keep trying,” he wryly noted.
Although Gable said it was “extremely bourgeois and entirely uncool” to consider one’s career options in the late 60s, he nevertheless became a high school art teacher following his time at the U of S and one year of study at the University of Toronto.
Gable’s first teaching job was in the eastern Ontario town of Brockville. It seemed his life’s vocation was finally taking shape until one week, on a whim, he began submitting editorial cartoons to the local newspaper, The Brockville Recorder and Times.
“I kept at it for three years and somehow caught the attention of the Regina Leader- Post, which was looking for an illustrator and graphic designer and occasional editorial cartoonist,” he explained. “I thought I would give it a try.”
After seven years at the Leader-Post, he joined the Globe and Mail as a full-time cartoonist in 1987 and has been there ever since.
Although working for Canada’s largest national newspaper brings about occasional wrath—including the odd libel suit and irate politician—Gable says the letters of encouragement from readers help put everything into perspective.
“I’m reminded that journalism, politics and democracy make my job possible, and I realize how phenomenally fortunate we are to have a culture that values all three.”
Having used a computer as the sole medium for his drawings since 1999, Gable said he is fascinated by the capabilities of digital animation, drawing and photography. And because the newspaper industry is changing rapidly and placing an ever-increasing emphasis towards online efforts, he believes his work will soon be forced to evolve as well.
“The future for editorial cartoonists may unfold in any number of ways, which are difficult now to predict,” he said.
Gable lives in Toronto with Anne Steacy, a writer and artist, and said he returns to Saskatoon often and marvels at transformations in the city of his “MAD-reading, notebook-doodling youth.”
Cartoons courtesy of the Globe and Mail and The Sheaf archives