The Times--which aspires to become a dominant regional newspaper with national stature--has run through several cartoonists in recent years, and has failed to lure big-name cartooning stars to Fairview Avenue. Currently, the Times' cartooning is done by Eric Devericks, essentially a glorified intern hired last summer fresh out of Oregon State University.
Devericks, by all accounts a nice guy, is clearly not ready to play in the big leagues. His work tends toward embarrasing brick-to-the-face literalism, and it isn't funny.
But Devericks was not the Times' first choice. The paper went several years without a cartoonist prior to bringing him on, and during that period tried to recruit some of the biggest names in the profession. In the mid-'90s the Times courted Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a UW grad and 1995 Pulitzer winner. Times bigwigs also made a play for Michael Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times, the 1994 Pulitzer recipient. And, word has it, they went after Horsey at one point.
Theories abound as to why the Times failed in its quest. Some say the paper's internal culture, which emphasizes loyalty and teamwork, puts off independent-minded cartoonists. Others believe the Times doesn't care enough about editorial cartooning. Brian Basset, the Times' cartoonist between 1978 and 1994, says of the current Times leadership, "I don't think cartooning is that important to them." Having a talented and opinionated cartoonist is increasingly seen as a liability, he believes, because such cartoonists generate controversy. Current Times editorial page editor James Vesely did not return a call.
The Times also has a bad reputation in the insular cartooning world. Chris Britt, who the Times hired after Basset, was not backed by then editorial page editor Mindy Cameron when a cartoon he did about AIDS sparked controversy, and Britt was out. "It was a disaster for Chris; he was hired under the impression he'd have more freedoms," Basset says.
Others say the Times isn't willing to shell out the dough required to hire a star. Luckovich, though, who grew up in Seattle dreaming of being the Times' editorial cartoonist, says that the Times "really didn't come up short"; rather, he simply decided he had "too good a situation" in Atlanta. It was "a tough decision," the widely syndicated Pulitzer winner says, asking, somewhat wistfully, if the job is still open.