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An editorial cartoonist and a columnist: M.G. Lord is a rare combination of the two for Newsday and Copley News Service, and she has also authored the 'Prig Tales' book.

An editorial cartoonist and a columnist

M.G. Lord is a rare combination of the two for Newsday and Copley News Service, and she has also authored the |Prig Tales' book

M.G. Lord used to draw five editorial cartoons a week for Newsday before starting an illustrated column for the paper.

"I like to describe myself as a recovering political cartoonist, having once done it five days a week," said Lord, who now draws either two or three cartoons a week -- "depending on my level of irritation" -- in addition to the column.

Lord said she didn't like doing so many cartoons because "you become reactive, you perform, you just do something funny off the news. You don't have a chance to think about it."

While Lord doesn't want to draw more than two or three cartoons a week, she also doesn't want to do less. "I don't think I would be happy if I weren't doing at least two cartoons a week," she said.

The Copley News Service cartoonist/columnist added, "I'm still obscenely productive in a given week. It's just cast in a less confining way."

Lord has also been busy in another medium. Late last year she wrote and illustrated the Prig Tales: Your Guide to Surviving the Self-Righteous Nineties humor book. In it, Lord warns readers of the dangers of prigs.

She stated, "You've probably seen these people racewalking to work at 6 a.m. with their personal fitness trainers, downing ungarnished San Pellegrino water at cocktail time, or working the talk-show circuit in their cashmere blazers and tortoise-shell hair bands to denounce nearly every popular television program for its anti-family content."

Prig Tales, published by Avon, is Lord's second book. Her first, Mean Sheets, was published by Little, Brown in 1982.

Two years later, Esquire named Lord to its register of "The Best of the New Generation: Men and Women Under Forty Who Are Changing America."

Speaking of magazines, Lord's work has appeared in The Nation, GQ, Savvy Woman, and Self as well as The Washington Post Book World.

Mary Grace Lord was born in Southern California in 1955. She once described herself as "the rotten kid who did drawings of the teacher behind her back." This prepared her for political cartooning. Lord went on to attend Yale University, where she became friends with Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists Garry Trudeau and Bill Mauldin, who taught a seminar for aspiring cartoonists.

"Bill said, |Look, sweetheart, you're funny. There are no women doing this, so I'll get you a job,' and that's how it started," recalled Lord. With Mauldin's help, she was hired by the Chicago Tribune as an editorial artist.

If she had not been influenced by heavyweights like Mauldin (of North America Syndicate) and Trudeau (of Universal Press Syndicate), Lord said it's likely she would have chosen another career. "I'd probably be a very successful lawyer by now. I would probably be a partner in a big Wall Street firm," she joked.

After a year at the Tribune, Lord was hired by Newsday as its first female cartoonist. She said there are two reasons why there are very few female cartoonists working for U.S. dailies.

"Part of it is conditioning," Lord commented. "You sort of have to get angry every day and petulant and peevish. Women are not taught to get angry every day. And also, frankly, it's a sexist field. I had a profoundly sexist and unpleasant editor at one point in my life who I am delighted to say I no longer have. But he introduced me very abruptly [to the fact] that everybody was not going to be like Bill Mauldin and think it was charming for a woman to be doing this."

During the 1986-87 academic year, Lord was awarded a resident fellowship in the humanities at the University of Michigan. At the end of the fellowship, she found herself wanting to write more and draw less.

"I was beginning to have my mid-life crisis," said Lord. "I came back and thought about doing it [drawing a cartoon] five days a week. I like writing funny, and I found that the captions with my cartoons were getting longer. It wasn't practical. It made more sense to write something and embellish it with drawings."

Then she talked to her editors about the possibility of also writing and illustrating a weekly humor column.

"I figured if I said to them I didn't want to draw five times a week I would suddenly and very swiftly become unemployed," said Lord. "When I advised them I would like to write a column, they were surprisingly receptive to the idea."

But that would leave Newsday without a cartoonist a few days a week. Then the paper hired the Creators Syndicate-distributed Doug Marlette from the Atlanta Constitution, giving it a cartoonist every day and Lord her column, too.

"Cartoons sort of distill a funny thought into a single emblematic moment in time," she said. "With prose, you get narrative, you get to develop an idea. They're very different as far as the approach goes."

As both a cartoonist and columnist, Lord is a rarity, but she quipped that this may change as newspapers tighten their budgets. "The way things are now, with everything so grossly understaffed, they're going to make writers start drawing, whether they like it or not," Lord said.

Before taking her leave to go to the University of Michigan, Lord was with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Now she's part of the Copley package.

"One of the advantages to being in the Copley package is that I don't worry about papers canceling," said Lord. "When I was syndicated by the L.A. Times Syndicate, if the Bakersfield-Rosedale Runner would cancel, I would take to my bed for a week. I personalize everything a little too much. I like having Copley worry about that."

Lord also said she likes being part of the Copley package because of the other cartoonists. "The other artists are really very good," she stated. "Everybody is pulling his or her weight." The Copley cartoonists include Bruce Beattie, Chris Britt, David Catrow, Mark Cullum, Bob Englehart, Bob Gorrell, Steve Kelley, Gary Markstein, Mike Ramirez, and Mike Thompson.

"In a perfect world, I'd like to have my column syndicated individually but I'm very happy to have my cartoon as part of a group," said Lord. "It's very hard to get a column syndicated, especially one that has pictures in it. I had people say, |Let's develop it a little more,' but I thought I would be developing it for the rest of my life."

Whether as a columnist or cartoonist, Lord describes her style as wry.

"It's not slapstick or buffoon-like," she said. "I don't, as a writer or an artist, affix a red nose to my white face and stand on my head. I like it to be jokes based on language, things that are a little more sophisticated."

As for books, Lord hopes to do more of them.

"I like doing illustrated books," she said, "unlike a cartoon, in which your ideas are so compressed into four-by-six-inch rectangles. There's room in a book to spread out and to have narrative."

Prig Tales grew out of a column Lord did more than a year ago while sitting under a hair dryer reading US magazine. From an article she learned "celibacy was in, mind-altering chemicals were out, and the hottest places to meet singles were at these gatherings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous."

The more Lord thought about prigs, the more she remembered them from school. And she remembered how much she disliked them.

"The ultimate job for a prig-in-training is hall monitor," Lord said. "There's an enormous amount of antipathy between hall monitors and the people who sit in the back of the room and draw pictures of the teacher. So it isn't that I suddenly discovered prigs. It's that I discovered it's a trend and these people have been getting on my nerves all my life."

Prig Tales defines a prig as "a born-again nonsmoker who neither drinks, dances nor has sex -- unless absolutely necessary" or as "a God-fearing social animal who wears state-of-the-art running shoes and demands a tasteful life and tasteless food."

In addition to writings books, Lord said she's also writing her own rules.

"I've decided I'm not going to play by the macho five-cartoon-a-week rules because that seemed silly," Lord said. "I'm not going to play by the rules that say a columnist has to do two columns a week. I'm going to play by my strengths and so far I've managed to do it without getting anybody too irritated."

PHOTO : Cartoons commenting on the savings and loan crisis in the U.S. and the war in the Persian Gulf.

PHOTO : A Lord column illustration.

Chris Lamb is a South Daytona, Fla., resident who writes periodically for E&P.
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Author:Lamb, Chris.
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Apr 6, 1991
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