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Who’s Who: Ollie Simpkins

Sudbury Living Magazine December 12, 2016 Sudbury's Stories No Comments on Who’s Who: Ollie Simpkins

Ollie Simpkins was the editorial cartoonist at The Sudbury Star from 1948 until the early 1980s.

When he retired he started doing cartoons for Northern Life and Northern Ontario Business until his death in 1991.

Some of his work in the National Archives in Ottawa. The Greater Sudbury Public Library also has collection.

 

Attached is the transcript of a radio interview Gary Peck conducted with Simpkins.

ollie-037-1-3-68_-_transcript

The following transcript of
Ollie Simpkins’ interview
Memories and Music
(broadcast June 13, 1981)
was created by
Videoplus Transcription Services
in 2013.
Page 1
SCOTT TURNBULL: Good afternoon, and welcome to Memories and Music on CIGM FM, brought to you by the Inco Metals Company. I’m your musical host Scott Turnbull, and joining us now with an introduction to today’s guest, here’s Gary Peck.
GARY PECK: This week on Memories and Music, our guest will be Ollie Simpkins, a well-known figure in the community of Sudbury. Ollie has been associated with the Sudbury Star and Northern Life for a number of years, and of course, many in the community have enjoyed his editorial cartoons.
Break for music.
GARY PECK: Welcome to the interview portion of Memories and Music. Our guest today is an individual who’s well-known in the community of Sudbury, Ollie Simpkins, editorial cartoonist for the Sudbury Star for a number of years, from 1948 up until a few years ago. And now you’re working with Northern Life. At the onset, Ollie, welcome to the program.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Thank you.
GARY PECK: Ollie, perhaps we could begin by, by you sharing with us some biographical information. I understand, for example, that you’re not from Sudbury…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No.
GARY PECK: …but in fact western Canada.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan. I think most people know that.
GARY PECK: Right, and did you live there, what, throughout your youth?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Up to what period of time?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: From the time I was born up until the start of the war, ’til ’39.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Then I was, I was in the naval reserve, and then I was called up and sent out to the west coast for my training.
Page 2
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Which I took training there, I was a gunnery rating. And then I came-, a signal came through…
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …asking for photographers to go to Ottawa for the Rockcliffe air force photographic school, take a course. And it’s-, the odd thing was I didn’t know a thing about photography.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: But I did a little, I don’t know, would you say bluffing?
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And said I knew something about photography.
GARY PECK: I think a few people have done that now and again.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: They have, especially in the services.
GARY PECK: They added to their, their background experience.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true. So from-, turned out I became a photographer, instead of a gunnery rating.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that experience probably served you much better later on in life.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: It did, very much so, yeah.
GARY PECK: I would imagine it did. Ollie, what, what prompted you to come to eastern Canada?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well…
GARY PECK: The war was over, I assume, when you came?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, the war was over. As I said, I was stationed-, at the end of the war, I was stationed in Ottawa. I married my wife, I met my wife there and was married in Ottawa. And I…
GARY PECK: Your wife’s name is?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Edith.
GARY PECK: Edith, her maiden name?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Kissel.
GARY PECK: And she was from?
Page 3
OLLIE SIMPKINS: North Bay.
GARY PECK: North Bay area, I see.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And so I came to North Bay. And while I was in North Bay I met a chap through my wife that was-, worked on the Toronto Star. He was mentioning about openings, and my wife told him what I could do as a photographer and also cartoon. I was primarily more interested in the cartooning.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: So he said, why don’t you go up and see Thomson?
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And so I thought that was a pretty good idea, and I went up and saw-, took the train, went up to see Thomson in Toronto. And he listened to what I had to say, and he asked for some samples and cartoons, which I drew up and sent to him. And he said, fine, wrote a letter and told me they’re fine. And said, how would you like to go up to Timmins and work? So, sure, that’s fine. So I was sent up to Timmins. That’s where I started, and I was there-, that was in ’46.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And so I worked there until ’48, and then I got a better offer from the Sudbury Star.
GARY PECK: All right, now, before we get you away from Mr. Thomson in Timmins, you-, was your only encounter with him when he hired you?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, I met him-, he came down to the paper. That was before, you know, he had all these…
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: He had a few papers in-, he used to visit. In fact, the Timmins paper was his top paper.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: He had his office, head office there, more or less. He had his office in Toronto, but he’d come down to Timmins.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
Page 4
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And I met him there the odd time.
GARY PECK: Sure. What was he like?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Oh, as far as my-, I got along…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …as much as, you know, going, I got along fine.
GARY PECK: You had no difficulties…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, no, no.
GARY PECK: …in terms of your working relationship?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, not at all.
GARY PECK: What, what was your salary like, if I may ask? ‘Cause I…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well…
GARY PECK: In 1946?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, it wasn’t bad. I think it was about 35 a week, which considering the times, that wasn’t…
GARY PECK: That’s right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: It wasn’t…
GARY PECK: You think that you could get by with that almost as well as you’re getting by today?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true, with inflation, that’s true. In fact my wife says even better.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm. Now, for $35, Ollie, what did you do per week?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I drew the daily editorial.
GARY PECK: It was daily?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, daily editorial cartoon.
GARY PECK: So you had six of those a week?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right. And…
GARY PECK: Did you do any advertising layout?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, no.
GARY PECK: Not at all?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Strictly editorial at that time.
GARY PECK: Strictly cartoons.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
Page 5
GARY PECK: Now, was, was…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: When I’d finished my cartoon, my time was my own.
GARY PECK: And did you do your drawing in the…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I had my own…
GARY PECK: …at the newspaper office?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I had my own office there.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm. Well, we’ll get to that in a couple of minutes in terms of when your best time is for drawing, and really what, what the work is like. In terms of Mr. Thomson, was he the kind of individual who, who was receptive to, to ideas? If you were to sit down and talk with him, was he-, did he have a closed mind?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, he didn’t. And that’s what-, I was quite surprised. He was very, very receptive…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …as far as, you know, to listen to what you had to say. In fact, he admitted himself, I remember hearing him say that he’d, he’d got many of his ideas by listening to what other people had to say, no matter who, what position they were in.
GARY PECK: I think that’s a very wise approach, isn’t it?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: It is, very much so.
GARY PECK: Very foolish to think that others don’t have…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true.
GARY PECK: Perhaps that helps, that insight you provided us with possibly helps us to understand why he was so successful. I would think it might. Ollie, we’re going to turn the program over to our music host, and when we return, I’d like to talk about, well, your early years in Sudbury.
Break for music.
Page 6
GARY PECK: Today on Memories and Music, our guest is Ollie Simpkins. And Ollie has been an editorial cartoonist in northern Ontario continuously, I think we could say, since 1946.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: Commencing first with the Timmins newspaper in 1946.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: Working for or with, or both, Roy Thomson.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And his son.
GARY PECK: And son, for two years. And then moving down to Sudbury in 1948. Ollie, what prompted you to, to leave that $35 a week job in Timmins back in 1947?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, the financial setup was a little better than what I was getting.
GARY PECK: You were, you were enticed by the dollar, were you?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: The dollar, that’s right, the almighty dollar.
GARY PECK: That’s lured many people away from supposedly…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: My wife, too, she preferred to be a little closer to…
GARY PECK: North Bay.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …North Bay.
GARY PECK: Sure. Well, in 1948, what was the Sudbury Star like? Where was the building, for example?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: It was on the corner of Elm and Frood Road.
GARY PECK: Frood Road?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: The Odeon Theatre was there.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Now, was the Star a daily at that time?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, it was, yes.
GARY PECK: So you came in and you were expected to produce six editorial cartoons per week?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Was there any other work involved?
Page 7
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, there was commercial artwork, the odd bit of commercial artwork for the advertisers.
GARY PECK: But basically commercial cartoons.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes.
GARY PECK: Who was operating the Star then, Ollie?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: J. R. Meeks was the publisher of the Star.
GARY PECK: He was just starting, was he?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: You came in June and-, no, you came in August.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: In August, that’s right.
GARY PECK: And he had started that…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I think in June. I’m not…
GARY PECK: Just a few months prior.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I’m not sure. Yeah, I’m not sure, but, yeah.
GARY PECK: Right. Ollie, the writing or the drawing, I should say, of cartoons, what-, how does-, how did you go about doing it?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, first, like…
GARY PECK: What would your day be like?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, I’d start up-, I usually got up very early, fairly-, around say 5:00, 5:30 or so. And I’d get up and go through those papers, Sudbury Star. I usually took-, checked the ideas first, like local, anything that looked good…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …to make a local cartoon. If that didn’t, I’d try say provincial. And if that wasn’t-, couldn’t find anything there…
GARY PECK: Last resort you’d go national.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: National, that’s right.
GARY PECK: Did you have to go national, provincial that often? Or was there usually something of interest locally?
Page 8
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, I’d say it all depends what was going on in the city at the time. You know, there might be some sort of something council was trying to handle. If they’re having a hassle over it, it was good material.
GARY PECK: The political arena always would help you out now and again, right? They’d help you out on their own.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true.
GARY PECK: So you would be looking at the Star or the newspaper from the previous day?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: And sifting out some ideas.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Then I would figure out the idea. What I would do, I’d take a notebook and write down what I thought would make a good cartoon idea, and then take a scratchpad and start making out roughs, figuring it out. I can’t-, there isn’t a-, I don’t know any way of saying how you get the ideas.
GARY PECK: No, but I, I think I’m gaining some understanding of the process.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: You know, you figure out and…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: So I’d make the roughs, or else write them down. I usually wrote them down.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And then I’d go to the office, and then I’d take and make roughs. And then I’d take the roughs in to the editor.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And he’d okay them, or he’d check my cutline or whatever it was.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Usually my spelling, which I’m terrible at.
GARY PECK: That’s one of the reasons why you have editors.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: You’re not-, you don’t have to spell.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: So that was the way we-, it worked. Then I’d go back to my drawing board…
Page 9
GARY PECK: And put it together.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Now, Ollie, when, when was your deadline? Because I know deadlines are deadlines, and…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, it started-, it’s funny, the deadline bit, it started off it was ’til the next morning.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, no, I’m sorry, not the next morning. ‘Til-, well, yes, the first thing next morning, I can get, you know…
GARY PECK: Get it in.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …previous in. Then they cut it down ’til four o’clock the same day. Then it even got worse. It went down to one o’clock. Well, that was getting rough. But then when it came back, went back ’til, oh, about four o’clock again, you know, the same day. It was…
GARY PECK: All right, Ollie, let’s say today is, is Wednesday.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: Would you draw Wednesday’s cartoon, if you were working at the Star today, would you draw it Wednesday morning?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Wednesday’s cartoon, you mean the same day?
GARY PECK: That’s right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, I’d draw like…
GARY PECK: With the process they have today.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: With the process-, well, I always worked, like let’s say…
GARY PECK: A day ahead?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: A day ahead.
GARY PECK: All right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Today I’d draw for tomorrow, the first-, tomorrow’s paper…
GARY PECK: And when you left the Star, when would you hand that cartoon in for the next day?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Oh, around-, it all depends.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
Page 10
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I might finish it up and be an easy cartoon to draw, might finish it up at twelve o’clock or three o’clock, or maybe later. Any time until the next morning.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: First thing next morning, I hand it in.
GARY PECK: Deadlines, I think, are something that, that writers fear.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: And I think that cartoonists…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Oh, we do.
GARY PECK: …are worried about them.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Same thing, we have the deadline.
GARY PECK: Did you ever get into a panic where you’re, you’re getting close to that deadline…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes.
GARY PECK: …and you wonder…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Quite often.
GARY PECK: …what am I going to do?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Quite often, yes, you do.
GARY PECK: Now, how did you get out of those?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, you just…
GARY PECK: Just kept perspiring?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Exactly. That’s true, yeah.
GARY PECK: Eventually something would come together.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true, it was. Sometimes…
GARY PECK: Ollie, you’re sketching a cartoon, and I assume if you don’t like it or you don’t like the idea, I imagine it must have been many times when you’d just rip that off and throw it in the garbage.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: True, that’s right, yeah.
GARY PECK: And you can…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Start all over again, yeah.
GARY PECK: Did you ever-, well, cartoons can be very controversial.
Page 11
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: And I think that’s one of the reasons why they’re in newspapers.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: At least, that’s always been my perception. I, I enjoy editorial cartoons, and have always enjoyed yours. And I, I find that when they’re controversial, that’s usually when the interest is generated, of course. Did you have many situations where you would compose a cartoon that you felt was relevant, but perhaps you would take it to the editor, and for one reason or another, it would not be used?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, that happened.
GARY PECK: Would the reason be because of its controversy?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right, yes, right, or else he figured it might be-, the public might not understand it quick enough. You know, the simpler the cartoon-, when it’s too complicated like that…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …we try to simplify it.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm. How did you react as a cartoonist, in the sense that your work was being put on the backburner?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well…
GARY PECK: Did you accept it as part of the process?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I did. If the pressure was kind-, I used to try and give an argument.
GARY PECK: Yes.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: You know, if the pressure was too much. But if it wasn’t, I’d take as part of the job…
GARY PECK: Sure, you’d say, well…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I’ll go back and try this over again.
GARY PECK: But if it was close to the deadline, then…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: …then you were quite concerned about it.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: So you wouldn’t react to it personally at all?
Page 12
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Oh, no, not…
GARY PECK: It was part of the job and…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, no, not at all, no. Didn’t react that way.
GARY PECK: Sure. You just made reference to the fact that simplicity is very important.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true.
GARY PECK: When I look at some political, editorial cartoons across the country, some stand out in my mind, and I think one of the reasons is when they’re sketched, they’re very clean looking, if I can use that phrase. They’re-, the lines are very sharp and distinctive.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: And the message is, is very simple.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: In other, in some other cases, you have to read it, look at it, rather, from so many different angles to finally pull it together. Were you always conscious of that notion of simplicity, and worked towards it?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, you were, but the funny part is sometimes you could see. Like I’d say do a rough, I mentioned before.
GARY PECK: Yes.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And I’d take it over to somebody and say, what do you think of this, just to get the general idea. And they might say, oh, you know, they’d understand what it was, and other times say, what’s it mean? It’s a kick in the teeth.
GARY PECK: When they asked you, what does it mean…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, that’s right.
GARY PECK: …you knew you were in trouble.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: If your newspaper editor cannot understand it, what about John Q. Public?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Public, exactly.
GARY PECK: I can appreciate the, the difficulties you were encountering.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: Ollie, we’re going to take a break at this time. We’ll turn the program back to our music host. When we return, I’d like you to talk a little more about
Page 13
editorial cartoons, and possibly we can get into some type of discussion as to the reaction of those cartoons in the community.
Break for music.
GARY PECK: Welcome back to the interview portion of Memories and Music. Ollie Simpkins is our guest today. And as I indicated at the onset, Ollie is well-known in the community as the editorial cartoonist for both the Sudbury Star and now for Northern Life. Ollie, did you ever encounter situations over the years, well, going back to 1946 when you started with the Timmins paper, and ’48 in the Sudbury area, ever encounter situations where your cartoons were, were rejected?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I have.
GARY PECK: In a major way.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I had the odd time.
GARY PECK: For, for almost any kind of, any kind of reason?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, they’re too rough, maybe, you might say.
GARY PECK: Right, mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Libellous, could be that, put it that way.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: But then of course there’s times too that it wasn’t the political idea of the paper.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: You know, it wasn’t their political, what would you say…
GARY PECK: Not their political leanings…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Leanings, that…
GARY PECK: …that were being encouraged?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: During the course of a year, are there good times and quiet times, from your point of view as a cartoonist?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, there is. Actually, when there’s any elections…
Page 14
GARY PECK: You enjoy those?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, provincial-, it makes it a lot easier if there’s provincial and…
GARY PECK: Federal and local.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: The city, the city and the provincial and the national.
GARY PECK: You would find, I assume, that council meetings were, were fairly good for generating a few cartoons the following week?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: They sure were, oh, yes. There was always something…
GARY PECK: Who were some of the colourful, colourful individuals that you had an occasion to draw?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, one when I first came was Mayor Beaton. He was very colourful.
GARY PECK: Yes?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, I used to like to draw him. And he seemed to enjoy them very much. In fact, he phoned me one time and complimented me on the cartoons.
GARY PECK: Yet, I assume at times perhaps your cartoons were complimentary, and others, other times not so complimentary.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, but he seemed to enjoy them all. He never complained about any of them…
GARY PECK: Enjoyed the controversy associated with it.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …as well, and…
GARY PECK: So you’ve drawn, you’ve drawn a number of mayors then over the years?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true.
GARY PECK: I would think quite a few.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I have, that’s true.
GARY PECK: Ollie, the drawing of editorial cartoons can be controversial, but it also can be very rewarding. Would you, would you encounter numerous situations or many situations where people would call you up, compliment you? Or perhaps the contrary, on occasion they’d call up, critical of what you were doing?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes.
GARY PECK: Or what the Star was writing, printing?
Page 15
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true, there was complimentary and the reverse. But most of the times, they seemed complimentary, as I think…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Like they seemed to get madder and bothered more the editorials than the cartoons did. So it-, well, it works both ways.
GARY PECK: By and large they were…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, that’s true.
GARY PECK: …they were well received?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Any idea how many you’ve drawn?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, since 1946, it’s pretty hard to know. I’d need a computer.
GARY PECK: Are we talking…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I’d need a…
GARY PECK: No, I’m not about to volunteer to do it in my head. Are we talking six columns, or six cartoons a day?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: Continuously since 1946 until-, when did you retire from the Star?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Like ’70…
GARY PECK: Late ’70s?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Late ’70s.
GARY PECK: Late ’70s?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right.
GARY PECK: And in fact, at the end, you were doing a seven a day-, or seven a week? One for…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, not, not at the end, but during-, in between, about, oh, about five or six years ago, I was doing-, like for Eliot Lake paper…
GARY PECK: Right. And for Northern Life, you’re doing two a week?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, just the one a week for Northern Life.
GARY PECK: And…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And one a month for…
GARY PECK: Northern Ontario Business?
Page 16
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: The-, well, the drawing of, of these cartoons, ideas would, I suppose, come from almost any sources. Did you have people calling up and saying, why don’t you do a cartoon along this line?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, that’s happened, but you usually couldn’t use them, because probably you’d be sued.
GARY PECK: They were after someone else?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, that’s right, exactly.
GARY PECK: So you had to watch for that?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, true. I think it was-, as far as ideas, like a good thing, like for example if it’s Christmas, New Year’s…
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …you could tie it in, St. Patrick’s Day, spring, you know, different…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …different holidays. Like they were-, always came in handy. You know, you tie them in politically with something…
GARY PECK: Sure.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …usually if you could.
GARY PECK: Now, I think many artists, when they, for example, write a book, write a poem, song, once they’ve completed that task, they put it away. And they often never go back to it. Is it the same, is it the same with you? Once you’ve drawn your cartoon, it’s put aside and you’re thinking about tomorrow or today, the next deadline?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, Gary, yes, you do. You forget about them.
GARY PECK: Completely?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Somebody might call up and say, you drew a cartoon, oh, say last Thursday or whatever, last Friday or whatever.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And I can’t, can’t remember.
GARY PECK: No.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Or I have to stop and think about it, just what it was about.
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GARY PECK: Perhaps this is a difficult question in light of that, but do you have favourite cartoons that you drew, in the sense where they, they generated a fair amount of interest, or you were particularly interested, or you were particularly pleased with perhaps the idea that was being conveyed? Have you ever thought of any of them in those terms?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I have, yes. There’s some, you know, I’ve liked better than others.
GARY PECK: Could you…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I can’t, I can’t recall them. That’s one thing.
GARY PECK: No? That’s right, that’s what I was thinking in light of your comment.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I always liked Sir David Low. I don’t know that you ever heard of him. He was a famous English cartoonist…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …editorial cartoonist. Somebody asked him the question, what was the best cartoon he ever drew, and he says, I haven’t drawn it yet.
GARY PECK: Tomorrow.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: Tomorrow’s, eh?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Tomorrow and tomorrow, exactly.
GARY PECK: That’s, that’s a good, appropriate response. Ollie, did you have other jobs at the Star?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I used to do retouching photographs.
GARY PECK: What does that mean?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, like figures in the back-, foreground say, they wanted somebody-, somebody might have a tree or a lamp coming out of the top of their head.
GARY PECK: Their head.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Take, take that out or…
GARY PECK: Unless you didn’t happen to like the individual, you might leave it there?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right. Well, no…
GARY PECK: We’ll assume that never occurred.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, they-, usually the city editor asked me to…
GARY PECK: Right.
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OLLIE SIMPKINS: …retouch that.
GARY PECK: He didn’t ask you to put another lamp or…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, nothing like that. Or if they didn’t blend with-, like they had a dark suit on…
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …and the background was dark, so you cut it to…
GARY PECK: Did you ever get individuals who were blinking when you took their picture?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right, their eyes shut, you’d open their eyes, put in…
GARY PECK: So you’d get involved in a magical exercise and open them?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, once I remember putting in a couple of teeth. Somebody had a big smile with two front teeth out, so I put in the little denture there.
GARY PECK: Presumably they called you up and, and complimented you?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, I didn’t get that.
GARY PECK: Their dentist, probably. Ollie, when did you first learn, or become aware of your talent?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well…
GARY PECK: Because we certainly have to view it as a talent.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, when I was a young boy, I always liked to draw, and I just developed from there.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: As I say, I grew up out west, and I drew-, when a provincial election came along, I drew political cartoons for the local newspaper.
GARY PECK: This was prior to World War II?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: And you were-, were you a student at the time?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No, I’d just finished.
GARY PECK: So you were working for what newspaper?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Regina Leader Post. I wasn’t-, it was just the odd…
GARY PECK: Freelancing in a sense.
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OLLIE SIMPKINS: …political cartoon. Outside of being an election year, they didn’t use them. They used the American syndication cartoons.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm. But that raises an interesting point, this whole question of syndication, and I’d like to talk to you about that, and your feelings regarding it as a cartoonist, after this break.
Break for music.
GARY PECK: Welcome back to the concluding portion of Memories and Music. Ollie Simpkins, editorial cartoonist, has been our guest today. Ollie, when we, when we just broke the last section, we were just briefly getting into that question of syndication. How does this notion of syndication, wire service, use of the cartoons through the wire service, how does that affect cartoonists across the country?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, the big papers, it doesn’t affect the big papers. And I guess it’s a good thing for the small papers…
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …you know, that can’t afford an editorial cartoonist, in that way. But too, as far as the syndication, to make anything at it financially, they have to go to an awful lot of papers.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And as far as the Canadian cartoonists, there isn’t enough papers, you know. They can make money out of it…
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …but they can’t, you know, make anything large or…
GARY PECK: Sure. The one disadvantage, of course, is that the local cartoon often doesn’t appear.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s-, oh, yeah.
GARY PECK: You’re sitting at home, reading about an event in Alberta, when you live in another community.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true.
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GARY PECK: Very remote. That’s the one disappointing thing about it, I think.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And that’s the advantage of a local cartoonist. People know what the…
GARY PECK: Right on the scene. Right on the scene.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Exactly.
GARY PECK: Ollie, I’ve known you for a number of years at the Star. And one of our first conversations related to history, and you were talking to me about how much you enjoyed Pepys’ diary. And I gained an understanding that day that you have quite an interest in history.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s right.
GARY PECK: But I would assume that you also have done a fair amount of reading in terms of cartooning. Could you share with us some of the background history of, of cartoons, editorial cartoons?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, it goes way back. As far as I-, going back to this, this 17th century, when there was cartoons drawn. There wasn’t the newspapers, so they made them up into pamphlets and sold them. But then coming up into the 18th century, they’re starting to get a paper, the odd newspaper. Still they didn’t use them, still used the pamphlet. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 19th century that they were used as-, in the editorial pages of the newspapers. That was due to the printing process.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Then as far as history, they even go back further, even the Egyptian times had the cartoons.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: They’re not-, they were nothing to do with politics, or something funny like…
GARY PECK: Well, you generally don’t attack the pharaoh, I guess.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: No. What they were, they were animals. They used to draw cartoons about animals.
GARY PECK: Yes?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, cats playing chess or whatever playing the game…
GARY PECK: Well, isn’t that interesting?
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OLLIE SIMPKINS: The day…
GARY PECK: Is there or are there different schools, in the sense that American cartoons, one can describe them in a certain way, the same with the British, same with Canadian? Are they different?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I think they are. I think they are different. It’s-, although the Canadians are more like the British cartoons.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: More than-, but the Americans too are kind of-, well, we’re pretty close together too.
GARY PECK: Right.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: North American continent…
GARY PECK: It’s fairly subtle, if there are any?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, that’s true.
GARY PECK: If there are any differences.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: Ollie, who are some of the top Canadian cartoonists?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, without a doubt, Macpherson and Norris and Peterson. There’s three that I’d say were the tops.
GARY PECK: All right, Macpherson’s out of Toronto?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Right, and…
GARY PECK: Norris?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: …Norris was Vancouver.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And Peterson’s Vancouver too. Those are three of the tops that I know of.
GARY PECK: Now…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: There was, there was another one was very good quite a few years ago, he’s retired quite some time now, was Chambers, Halifax paper.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: He was very good.
GARY PECK: I assume that all cartoonists follow the works of the others?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Oh, yes, they do, sure.
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GARY PECK: And watch, read them, examine them with interest?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, that’s true. You always say, why didn’t I think of that idea?
GARY PECK: Right. Do you also compare styles when you’re looking at them, Ollie?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, true.
GARY PECK: Or is it mainly the ideas that you look at?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, it’s both.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: You compare styles and the ideas.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: That’s true, yeah.
GARY PECK: Well, Ollie, I, I recall…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And you know, there’s a funny thing, that cartoonists do think alike.
GARY PECK: In what way?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, I drew a cartoon-, I can’t forget this one, I can remember. It was Carter, you know, when he became president?
GARY PECK: Yes.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: I drew a cartoon of the White House and the portico in front of the White-, where it was just Carter’s teeth.
GARY PECK: Oh.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, a week later, I was going through Newsweek magazine.
GARY PECK: Mm-hmm.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And here was the same cartoon exactly. There was no way…
GARY PECK: No.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: It was a week later, you know, the…
GARY PECK: Yes.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: And it was written and drawn, some cartoonist from Dayton, Ohio. I think his name was Peters, if I remember rightly.
GARY PECK: Is that something.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah, it was the exact same idea.
GARY PECK: So they’re, they’re all alike?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Could be, but there’s no way that it was…
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GARY PECK: No. Isn’t that quite interesting?
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yeah.
GARY PECK: Ollie, I just want to-, we have to wrap up the program. And there are a couple of points I would like to make. One is the fact that you have been recognized in the community as an honorary citizen, and I would assume that you were quite pleased with that recognition, because it’s a formal kind of recognition.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Yes, I am.
GARY PECK: That was a few years ago, I believe.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Mm-hmm.
GARY PECK: And also one of the more recent developments was the fact that city council unanimously endorsed a recommendation that there be some blowing off of the dust, I suppose, from your cartoons, and an attempt made to assemble a number of them and either come out with a volume or volumes of those cartoons for centennial year.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, thank you very much, Gary.
GARY PECK: I think all of you know that, that there would be a lot of interest in it.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, thank you.
GARY PECK: And let’s hope that does come to fruition. You made mention of the top three cartoonists in your estimation. Well, and of course I probably have a bias because I do like a local, hometown cartoon appearing the newspaper…
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Thanks, Gary.
GARY PECK: …but I’ve always thought that you were top-rate.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Thanks.
GARY PECK: And I’ve known you as a gentleman whenever I’ve gone into the Star. And on behalf of our listening audience, Ollie, I’d like to thank you very much for providing us with some insight into what it’s been like over the years to, to draw cartoons. I think now that many in our listening audience have a better understanding of what the job entails.
OLLIE SIMPKINS: Well, thank you, Gary.
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GARY PECK: Thank you.
SCOTT TURNBULL: A most interesting guest, Ollie Simpkins. And Gary Peck will be back with another guest next week on Memories and Music at one o’clock, brought to you by the Inco Metals Company. I’m Scott Turnbull. I hope you’ve enjoyed the program. Good afternoon

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