DESPITE his abhorrence of it, editorial cartoonist Adrian Raeside might have been addicted to the B.C. Ferries Sunshine Breakfast.
A much-mocked staple of the ferry food lineup until it was pulled from the menu in 2003, the Sunshine Breakfast consisted of what Raeside refers to as something yellow that was supposed to be eggs, something masquerading as a sausage, and something that might have been a hash brown. "It was brown," he reports.
After eating the breakfast, it would sit in your stomach all day "like you'd eaten a brick," he adds.
The Sunshine Breakfast (which was more likely eggs, ham and a Hollandaise sauce) became the target of many of Raeside's editorial cartoons over the years, but he didn't realize how many until recently when he was compiling a selection of his work for the book No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales, 30 Years of BC Ferries Cartoons.
"I must have been addicted to drawing cartoons about the Sunshine Breakfast because I had tons of those," he notes.
Last year Raeside dug into his archives looking for one of his cartoons and found almost 300 about B.C. Ferries dating back to the beginning of his career in 1978. He didn't realize he had written so many on the same topic. After suggesting a ferry-themed book to his publisher, he then had to cull almost half from the 300 to put in the book.
"I realized as I was putting the book together it was kind of a weird, twisted history of B.C. Ferries," he says. "It was kind of fun to go back and research the various awful things that happened with B.C. Ferries, including the Sunshine Breakfast."
Asked why he picked on the ferries so much over the years, he admits with a laugh, "I just think I was lazy and it was easy."
However, his campaign was probably more inspired by his belief that the ferries are such a vital part of life on the West Coast. Now living in Whistler, Raeside has lived on various Gulf Islands over the years and used the ferries frequently.
"I think British Columbians really feel an ownership toward the ferries and dislike people meddling in them," he says.
Along with his fixation on ferries, Raeside is particularly fond of taking editorial shots at what he calls government hypocrisy and blatant waste (two of his pet peeves), and says observation and opinion are necessary.
"A good cartoon should try to come down on one side or the other," he says. "You will ruffle some feathers, it just goes with the job."
Once told by a reader he was "cruel" for drawing cartoons about a B.C. premier, Raeside responded: "As far as I know, no cartoonist has ever closed a hospital ward, or wasted $3 million on a garden party."
His cartoons are not physically harming people, he notes.
"In effect it's black ink on white paper," he says of his work. "How can we be vicious?"
A good editorial cartoon should be funny and point out the absurdity or the ridiculousness of something, he suggests, adding sometimes he can get away with more than an editorial writer just by inferring something in a drawing.
"There should always be a message to an editorial cartoon and it's very much my opinion," he says, but adds even if he is really ticked off about something he still takes care to ensure the cartoon is based on fair comment and not just hot-headed revenge.
Although some words and images are no longer politically correct, Raeside explains that editorial cartoons rely on stereotypes, and "You're always conscious of the fact that no matter what you draw there's always going to be someone who will complain."
Raeside doesn't regret any of his cartoons, and after 35 years of drawing, he says one of the hardest parts of his job now is just finding the tools he needs.
While many artists use computer programs to create their comics, Raeside still draws his cartoons by hand and notes with a laugh, "You can tell by the shaky lines."
So few artists still use paper and ink, he is having difficulty finding good drawing paper, ink and pens.
"The day I can't find decent drawing board is the day I retire," he states.
Despite his clear talent, Raeside has never received any formal art training and says, "I sometimes wonder if I had training whether I would have done this."
Artists who receive art training tend to be directed into a certain style or tend to be pigeon-holed, he notes. He believes it might have stifled his talent early on if he had been given formal instruction.
Growing up in New Zealand, Raeside enjoyed reading various cartoons and comic books, which later informed his own style. As a kid, he would often have drawing competitions with his neighbour on the chalkboard his mom put up in the kitchen.
He took his first art lesson in high school, but after the second lesson, "They threw me out and said I should take up woodworking instead."
The popular style in those days was abstract, but Raeside's work was more detailed and seemed to annoy the teachers. "I kind of liked woodwork too so it was OK, I didn't mind," he reports.
When he was a teen, his family moved to England and then on to Canada in 1971.
Raeside went to film school, but says, "In those days everyone would rather smoke pot than go to class. I didn't learn much."
After working an eclectic string of jobs, Raeside decided to try to sell a gag cartoon in his early 20s. The cartoon sold to a U.S. publication for $2, and it motivated him to try again. From then on he added a magazine here, a newspaper there and then the Times Colonist picked him up and more followed. His work, including his editorial cartoons and his comic strip called The Other Coast, has been syndicated in more than 300 publications for more than 15 years. He has also authored 14 books, including Dennis the Dragon, a children's series, and Return to Antarctica, the story of his grandfather's role in a 1910 race to the South Pole.
"I think I was too stupid to know that what I was doing really couldn't be done," he says of trying to make a living as a cartoonist.
"It's just one of those things that built slowly until the point where I actually realized I was making a living at it, and probably a good thing because I wasn't much good at anything else anyway. And it's always nice to have a job you can do in your housecoat and be drunk by noon and nobody knows," he says, laughing.
The industry has become more competitive in recent years with less space available on pages and large syndicates offering cartoons at wholesale prices.
"It's a competition and that's OK," says Raeside. "I never thought I'd be doing this 35 years after I started it so I'm not complaining by any means."
He stays critical of his own work in order to evolve as an artist.
"You're really only as good as your last cartoon," he notes.
Raeside scans the headlines every day looking for inspiration and an angle.
"I get my news the same way everybody else does," he explains, adding editorial cartoons are a little easier to draw than comic strips.
"With the comic strip you have to make up the characters, the scenario, the background, the gag, everything is created from scratch," he explains.
But for editorial cartoons, he's basically encapsulating a news article into a drawing with six words.
"The scenario is handed to you or it's out there, all you have to do is try to make something with it."
Every week, Raeside produces four editorial cartoons and seven The Other Coast comic strips. On average, it takes about four hours to draw a cartoon, working the idea to the finished coloured product.
He starts with a subject, finds an angle, works up rough sketches, finalizes the structure, and then composes the caption. However, there's no guarantee he'll finish with something that works.
Sometimes the cartoon will fizzle even after he has already inked it and is about to put the caption on, so he throws it away.
"Sometimes it's right there, sometimes you're basically beating your head against the wall," he says of the creative process.
Choosing cartoons for his B.C. Ferries book was also tricky, as well as time-consuming.
"It seemed to me it would be easy to put it together," says Raeside, noting he thought it would just take a day. "Well, actually it took ages."
Wanting to do more than just a collection of editorial cartoons, Raeside also included text for each chapter and a note explaining the inspiration for each cartoon.
No Sailing Waits and Other Ferry Tales, 30 Years of BC Ferries Cartoons was released in the spring and spent more than six weeks on B.C. bestsellers lists.
Raeside says he was surprised by the book's success, but doesn't yet have plans for a second instalment. Although he admits he still has plenty of ferry fodder and an urge to continue firing editorial cannons at what he calls "not even a moving target, they are sitting in a barrel waiting to be picked off because of the things they do."
He adds with a laugh: "The addiction is still quite active, but it's hard not to. I mean, really, it's hard not to."