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Ten Minutes With Matt Davies

Pulitzer Prize Winning cartoonist

Matt Davies has won the Pulitzer Prize and his editorial cartoons have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, Time, and Mad. Currently drawing for Tribune Media Services and The Hearst Newspaper Group, the London-born artist moved to Westport in 1983, but now calls Wilton home. Davies’ first children’s book, Ben Rides On, debuts this spring.

So how did you get involved in editorial cartooning?
I planned to study English Lit and creative writing, but decided to take a year, and go to art school at Savannah College of Art and Design. The South, especially then, was bizarre politically—not in your face, but occasionally something flared, especially racial issues. My political sense of right and wrong switched on. I started getting published—the Village Voice, the Norwalk Hour. Gannett Newspapers, including USA Today, hired me after a year of freelancing.

Not everyone agrees with you…
Early on, a right winger objected to a cartoon and called me. He was much more informed than I, much better at arguing. Until then, I’d never encountered a real right winger, only people who agreed with me. I learned—never weigh in on anything without knowing both sides. Listen to conservatives and liberals, and consider both. You might think, ‘They hate me’, but feedback helps you grow thick-skinned, and you can learn from it. It’s really a two-way conversation.

Who’s fun to draw?
W., Bill and Hillary Clinton, Obama. And Mitt Romney—he’s so Ken doll-ish. Cartoonists want the most hideous, out-there politicians. I think our country would fall apart with a President Cheney, but he would be cartooning’s future. Rick Perry—great looking, slightly crazy. Anyone crazy enough to run for President. It’s why cartooning was invented.

What is Ben Rides On about?
The story confronts bullying without trying too hard to make a point. Ben must decide whether to save his tormentor. Ben looks exactly like me as a kid. I thought long and hard about whether the character should be a girl or a minority, but I didn’t want to push an agenda. I decided, “First book—do what I know.” It’s semi-autobiographical—fantasy, but the essence is very real.

Your wife is from Westport, but you moved to Wilton.
We wanted a barn, something rural, but not too far away from anything. Wilton may as well be 100 miles from Westport. It feels like Westport used to—small town, but also cosmopolitan-ish. I’ve met many creative people here. I don’t wear a tie or look professional. Joey Pants once came over to me and an illustrator friend at Starbucks and asked, “What are you guys, filmmakers?” He sat right down. I love that about Wilton. It also has better schools, balancing insane, rigid teaching-to-the-test with vital creative areas like music and art. We came for the schools, but stayed for the beer, now that we can buy it here.