You could call Patrick LaMontagne an editorial cartoonist. You could also call him a digital artist, specializing in whimsical animal paintings. The 50-ish southern Alberta native said he's both in equal parts, and considers himself lucky to make a living combining things he loves in a career he never planned for.
"I had talent but no skill when I started--but I did have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I did my first editorial cartoon at age 27, when a friend who was a columnist at the Banff newspaper said they were looking for someone. It was a part-time gig but I learned a lot. That's where it all began for me," said LaMontagne of his 25 years in the cartooning business.
"Until COVID-19 happened, weekly community papers were most of my business. When I started, I was turned down by major dailies across Canada, and that's been the luckiest thing that happened for me. I've been able to make a good living because I self-syndicated early on. There's only a handful of staff cartoonists still working in Canada."
All in a Day's Work
Up at five most every morning sketching for national and local papers including the Calgary Herald and the Great West Newspapers chain in central and southern Alberta, LaMontagne spends a few hours on each cartoon, which he has created digitally since 1998--no pencil or paper in sight.
"I draw and colour on computer. I don't know the world of charcoal, pencil and paint," he said of the roughly five-inch by five-inch likenesses of politicians or scenarios that make up the story he's telling. "I can use the same light or heavy pressure as traditional cartoonists, and deal less with hazards of the job such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in the hands."Though his regular outlets can say yay or nay to any given cartoon, Rocky Mountain Outlook in Canmore is LaMontagne's one steady customer. For 20 years, LaMontagne has been supplying the weekly paper with a unique cartoon for that market alone.
"I realize I am extremely privileged to be able to work with an editorial cartoonist each week that delivers a tailor-made cartoon for my readers," said Rocky Mountain Outlook editor Tanya Foubert. "This is not always possible in news media at the moment, given the financial challenges our industry is facing."
"The Outlook is able to have a hyper-local cartoon each week thanks to Patrick's sharp and quick wit. His take on current and local events is food for thought and does get a reaction – from those challenged by it and those who get a good laugh," Foubert said.
From Christmas, the economy, the Fort Mac fires and hundreds of cartoons on COVID-19, LaMontagne doesn't shy away from cultural or political statements. But he does steer clear of religion and cultural perceptions/stereotypes. Also, Donald Trump. "American cartoonists have Trump covered. Canadian papers focus on Canadian politicians," he said.
"It's like a written editorial. It's nice to get a comment saying '"I really liked today's cartoon". But sometimes I get negative responses from people who don't understand that an editorial cartoon is part of the opinion section of a newspaper. One guy sent a rant that I was more liberal than conservative, but I like to hit back against hypocrisy wherever I see it. And I'm always going to poke holes in the argument for western separation, because I don't support it."
Video essay shows off year of work
While many cartoonists will choose a dozen or so cartoons for a 'Best Of' or 'Year in Review', LaMontagne decided to create a video essay for 2020, a timeline of cartooning COVID-19. It's a selection of just some of the more than 360 cartoons he's done over the past year, about five minutes long, with music and narration. See it here
A trade of an earlier era
Editorial cartoons are the domain of a rare club of artists that is a reminder of decades past and the golden age of newspapers--think the Godfather of Canadian editorial cartoonists Terry Mosher of The Montreal Gazette, working feverishly to represent the mood of that city during Pierre Trudeau's reign or during the time of Quebec's quest for separation.
But the world of editorial cartooning has changed right along with the newspaper industry and the internet, LaMontagne said, and he feels for young cartoonists just starting out.
"I didn't think of drawing growing up, and I never studied art in college either--I'm completely self-taught. The normal route for training is to get a degree, network with professional associations and gain experience to create a portfolio," he said.
"People said the industry would be done with ten years ago, but I'm still here. I like the routine and freedom it gives me to do what makes me happiest--the animal paintings," added LaMontagne, who has licensed animal images that now appear on t-shirts, iPad decals, puzzles, calendars, magnets and coffee mugs. The Calgary Zoo sells his prints, and he's even done a few commissioned paintings of pets on canvas.
Beyond the opinion page
Most recently, LaMontagne has also found a new outlet for his animal print art in the form of face masks--another way the artist has adapted during COVID-19. His bear snout or roaring lion's mouth make a unique cloth face mask and join other creative offerings (from fashion designers the world over) for non-medical face masks.
And he's not done yet. LaMontagne writes blog posts regularly on his own website (lamontagneart.com) and said he's even written psychological thrillers with a Stephen King influence.
"I don't agree with the cliché about not working a day in your life if you love what you do," LaMontagne explained. "What I usually say is you're going to work harder than you've ever worked in your life for something you love to do--longer hours, fewer days off and a lot of sleepless nights. But you'll do it because it's worth it to you."