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Tom Toles

(b. 1951)
American
Born: Hamburg, N.Y., U.S.

Thomas Gregory Toles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who was born in Hamburg, N.Y., in 1951. He began drawing in earnest while a student at Hamburg High School, when his older brother George submitted some of his work to the Spectrum, the student newspaper at the State University of New York at Buffalo. They accepted it and continued to run his drawings while he was still a high school junior and senior. Toles then attended SUNY Buffalo and served as graphic arts editor of the Spectrum until graduating magna cum laude with a BA in English in 1973. That same year, he began his professional career at the Buffalo Courier-Express, where he initially provided caricatures and other graphics before being encouraged by the editor to draw editorial cartoons. In 1979 he was appointed graphics/design director of the newspaper, and in 1980 he became its first full-time editorial cartoonist. When the Courier-Express folded in 1982, Toles moved to the Buffalo Evening News, where he remained for the next 20 years. In 2002 he left the News for a position replacing the late Herbert Block, a.k.a. “Herblock,” at the Washington Post.

Toles’s cartoons are syndicated in approximately 200 newspapers throughout the United States and have been collected in several books, beginning with The Taxpayer’s New Clothes (1985). He has also done work for the New York Daily News, The New Republic, and U.S. News and World Report. In addition to his editorial cartoons, Toles created a daily and Sunday comic strip called Curious Avenue (1992-1994) and a daily and Sunday single-panel cartoon called Randolph Itch 2 AM (2000-2002). He also authored and illustrated a children's book, My School is Worse Than Yours (1997), and is a drummer, singer, and songwriter in two Washington, D.C.-area bands, Suspicious Package and Lethal Bark. The latter performs in his stage musical, Catapult Love, a work in progress created in collaboration with actor Katie Goodman and co-writer Soren Kisiel.

Toles was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1985 and 1996. He won the award in 1990. Among his many other honors are the 2003 Overseas Press Club Thomas Nast Award and the 2005 National Headliners Award. He was named Cartoonist of the Year by Editor and Publisher in 2002, by the National Cartoonists Society in 2003, and by The Week in 2005. In his acceptance speech for the 2011 Herblock Prize, Toles described the award’s namesake’s work with words that shed light on his own methodology as well:

“You can swathe the message in humor and graceful line, but it is the toughness and honesty of the message that makes the point. And makes people think.  And makes the enemies. Political art can [be] messy. Like all art. Like music. Like democracy.“ [1]

In a 2012 interview in Investigative Post, Toles noted:

“I try to bring two things to cartooning, which I always have: Keep it honest, say what you really think, and try not to think too much about what the audience is expecting. And secondly, just bring, via the writing and via the art, bring my own quirky personality out there – just make it clearly Tom Toles’s style.” [2]

Toles married Gretchen Saarnijoki in 1973; they have two grown children. The couple are co-recipients of the 2016 Charles E. Burchfield Award, presented by the Burchfield Penney Art Center in recognition of their work on behalf of environmental sustainability and in support of the transformative power of the arts.

The Burchfield Penney Art Center has mounted two exhibitions of the artist’s work: Tom Toles (April 27-June 17, 1990) and Caustic Ink/The Political Cartoons of Tom Toles (January 19-March 25, 2007; included a 68-page catalog).

For examples of Tom Toles’s cartoons, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/toles/. For an hour-long 2010 video interview with the artist, see http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2506.

 

[1] Tom Toles, “Winner’s Speech,” n.d., http://www.herbblockfoundation.org/herblock-prize-winner/737. (Accessed 5/7/2015)

[2] Jim Heaney, “Interview: Tom Toles,” n.d., http://www.investigativepost.org/2012/08/25/interview-tom-toles/. (Accessed 5/7/2015)