One day a fifth grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in DeKalb County contacted the household to relay some urgent information: You need to know that your son has a dark side that I’m unaccustomed to seeing in ten year olds. The teacher found it disturbing.
In particular, the teacher was alarmed by his art work. His doodlings were a bit existential. Sometimes, he drew faces contorted in horrific expressions. Sometimes the themes were a bit twisted. “He’s quite good,” the teacher said, referring to his drawing skills. He caused no trouble in class. He wrote well and got good grades. But she was afraid the boy had a screw loose. He might need counseling, she gently suggested.
She was referring to Bill Richards, now the newest addition (along with a guy named Hullinger) to the news product of WXIA-TV. He’ll draw editorial cartoons for WXIA’s newfangled political site, the Bullpen. As he’s due to get (another) degree in May at UGA, he’ll draw a couple of cartoons a week for 11alive.com. His first offering is here.
This is what kills me: It wasn’t my idea. One day, WXIA’s manager of content Ben Mayer phoned me to ask if I thought Bill would want to draw cartoons for 11alive.com. The question caught me out of the blue. Bill has been drawing editorial cartoons for the Red and Black since his freshman year. Mayer was a fan. Mayer had cleared it with the bosslady before asking me for Bill’s contact info.
Bill does what few people can do: Distill a concise message into a single panel of art, and make the message funny, timely and edgy. Many would-be cartoonists can draw well. But many fail at the message and the humor. Yeah, I’m completely biased. But I’m pretty blown away by the frequency with which he delivers solid editorial cartoon material while toiling full-time as a college student.
His stint at the Red and Black has also toughened him up. For his first few years there, the newspaper’s website allowed the worst kind of personal attacks in the “comments” section of each story. My kid has been clobbered by the public in ways I’ve never been.
At the AJC, Mike Luckovich sets the standard. It’s no coincidence that Luckovich and Bill Richards share some stylistic similarities. They’re also both leftists. Don’t blame me — blame Bill’s grandparents, Dick and Judy Richards.
Speaking of– Bill appears in the following Luckovich tribute video produced by Dale Russell. It played prior to the First Amendment Foundation’s presentation of an award to Luckovich earlier this year. Bill provides some comedy relief.
I’ll skip the whole “it’s Fathers Day and lookit my kid working somewhat under the same roof as his old man” theme and go straight to the analysis.
It goes without saying that newspapers are providing fewer and fewer opportunities for anybody these days. When Bill Richards entered UGA, newspapers thrived. He aspired to draw for one professionally. Nowadays, he recognizes that career isn’t likely.
But he has a better chance now, working at a Gannett website, than he had before. Gannett appears to churn its best talent internally. Perhaps somebody will take notice of the doodlings appearing on 11alive.com, and won’t deem them too “dark.”
When Bill moved on to sixth grade, I discussed the concerns of Bill’s fifth grade teacher with his new teacher. Her take on the boy’s psychosis was quite refreshing, and straight outta John Lee Hooker: Don’t change a thing. Let that boy boogie-woogie. It’s in him, and it’s got to come out.
Bill has managed to enter his twenties without any therapy, except for the kind provided by an easel and ink.