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Cartoonist Frank Shiers, Jr. has illustrated more than 30 years of Washington's political jungle
On Monday afternoon in the Bel-Red Starbucks, political cartoonist Frank Shiers Jr. was worried. In any given week, he produces five editorial comics for his client base of local newspapers: some statewide and applicable to every client, and some specific to certain publications.
Shiers was worried about one of the latter, regarding a police pullover on the San Juan Islands. On Christmas Eve, sheriff’s deputies stopped a car towing a hay cart of carolers. It might have ended as a routine stop, but the ensuing confrontation between the driver and law enforcement turned the incident into an odd drama that pit holiday cheer against public safety. The challenge Shiers faced was to give his opinion on the incident, represent it in a single picture, and poke fun without poking the bear, so to speak. He thought he’d arrived at his solution — draw Santa Claus at the sheriff’s office counter, naughty list in hand — but he was concerned even that might antagonize the department.
“Mainly I’m afraid of being spiked,” Shiers said.
It’s an old term for content cut from newspapers, harkening back to the pre-digital days when editors would impale the questionable items on nails.
Shiers has been at this for more than 30 years, starting with his college work for Washington State University’s Daily Evergreen. But he was drawing long before, tracing Walt Kelly’s seminal strip “Pogo” as a child. He was fascinated with the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and became enamored with American politics during Nixon’s first successful bid for the presidency.
“Back then I followed (editorial comics) casually,” he said. “Some I liked, some I didn’t like so much. Rarely for their content, mostly for their art.”
Favorite artists over the years have included Mike Ramirez and Dave Horsey who, like Shiers, started cartooning professionally at the Bellevue Journal-American. Shiers freelanced for Opinion page editor Karl Thunemann, producing an editorial cartoon, a comic strip and a media article for the kingly sum of $5 a week. In time, he was able to begin self-syndicating to the North Kitsap Herald, followed by others. He serves more than 10 papers today.
“I learned… my happy place is not the business side,” he said. “I’m happy at the drawing board. And I learned you have to send the bill to get paid. There was a long stretch of time to the point of getting paid.”
Shiers has never made his living from his art, he said, instead putting bread on the table as a journalist, talk radio host, teacher — he stopped this interview at one point to say hello to a former Cherry Crest Elementary School student — and, currently, a news anchor for KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. It’s more a point of pride that he’s paid for his work as an artist and said he wouldn’t continue doing it if he weren’t. But it’s also the work he believes he’ll stick with the longest.
“I think there will be a time that I stop working in radio,” Shiers said. “I don’t think there will ever be a time, unless I’m physically incapable, that I’ll stop cartooning.”