As a follow up to my last post, I wanted to throw up an interview that I did with veteran editorial cartoonist Las May about cartoonery in Jamaica. Like Limonious, Las May got his start with the Star’s Laugh With Us section and eventually became a household name in Jamaican editorial cartoons.
IN FINE STYLE: First of all, where’d you got your first break into the world of Cartoon?
LAS MAY: I am a graphic artist and illustrator but always liked cartooning. My first break came when I submitted a comic strip story to the Gleaner that was published in their sister paper, the Star. It was a story about life in the inner city of Jamaica – drugs, guns, poverty, etc. This was in the late 1980’s. The story was well received and I was then offered a position at the Gleaner. The rest is history.
IFS: Are you familiar with a magazine called National Gas from the mid-70’s that had political cartoons, some of which were reader-submitted? Was this a first of its kind (cartoon magazine/political satire) in Jamaica or was there anything that preceded it?
LM: I was in high school during the 1970’s and [was] familiar with “National Gas”. I am not sure if there was a predecessor, but knew it was quite popular at the time.
IFS: Was the “Laugh With Us” the first of its kind in Jamacia? Is there anything like it [reader submitted cartoon feature in a daily newspaper] in Jamaica now?
LM: I actually submitted a gag piece to the Star’s “Laugh with Us” during my final year in high school (1979). Of course I was elated back then to see my work in print. Ironically, I later had my own feature “gag cartoon” page in the Star in the early 1990’s. It was called “LasMay’s Laugh with Us”.
IFS: Are there any other major publications that would be similar to the ones mentioned above (LWU and National Gas) that are worth mentioning?
LM: There were a few publications (I can’t recall their names now) which went by the wayside. The major newspapers were the real outlets where one could access your daily dose of cartoons, the Jamaica Daily News, along with the Gleaner and Star newspapers in the 70’s, the Enquirer in the late 80’s and the Gleaner/Star and the Observer at present.
IFS: Would you say that Jamaica has a rich history of cartoons, either in print or otherwise? I see a lot of painted signs around Kingston that are cartoonish…
LM: I have never really researched the history of cartooning in Jamaica but I do know cartoons are very popular here. Most radio talk shows comment on our Editorial cartoons daily. I have been told by fans they simply turn to the cartoons to know what is current in the news, instead of reading the actual news.
IFS: Can you speak on political editorial cartoons, specifically when it comes to serious issues like what is happening now in Tivoli [when I interviewed May, West Kingston was in turmoil with the army searching for Christopher “Dudus” Coke]. How far is too far? Do you get much criticism for certain cartoons?
LM: Commentary in my cartoons are political and as such from time to time I take some flak. When I submit a cartoon, it may be vetted for libel, slander, insensitivity, etc. A decision may be taken not to publish it then. For the most part, I have a free hand and my cartoons are my own initiative. We have our political bias but I try to be balanced.
IFS: Can you talk about the language choice in your cartoons. Is it generally patois?
LM: There is no particular preference in language. For me it depends on the characters portrayed. Since patois is spoken by the majority of Jamaicans, it may be used heavily to create an “effect”. Limonious may have come to realize this, hence his later works. I think though, cartoons were always done in the language of the people, ie patois.
IFS: How important would you say humour is in Jamaican culture.
LM: Humour plays a big part in our culture. Every other Jamaican you meet might be a “comedian’. In fact, we were voted (by an international publication, the name eludes me) as the “THIRD HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD”. This is despite our crime problem.
IFS: Are there any locally produced cartoons that get published in any of Jamaica’s newspapers, or is there currently a locally produced comic strip that I may not know of?
LM: I think at present the newspapers mainly concentrate on Editorial cartoons and cartoons that go along with articles in their publications. I am not sure if there is any locally produced comic strips at this time.
IFS: Where did you study? Were you able to study Cartooning? Is that a thing?
LM: I am actually self taught when it comes to cartooning. I did study at the Jamaica School of Art (now, the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts) but as a Graphic Designer.
So there you have that.
Finally, I wanted to share this. When I was combing through newspaper after newspaper trying to find Limonious cartoons, I started to get really interested in the Jamaican-made cartoon culture of the 70’s and 80’s. I couldn’t help notice though, that none of the current newspapers (with the exception of the editorial cartoon) had any locally-produced strips. Nearing the end of my visit, I stumbled across a cartoon competition in the Star searching for new talent, which I thought was interesting.