ON SATURDAY NIGHT in Philadelphia, CNN host Jake Tapper is set to return to his home town — where he once dreamed of becoming a professional cartoonist — to pick up an esteemed honor from one of the oldest professional cartooning organizations around.
Tapper will take the stage to accept the Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinary honor (better known as the ACE Award) from the National Cartoonists Society during the group’s Reuben Awards ceremony, where such cartooning luminaries as Lynda Barry, Glen Keane, Stephan Pastis, Hilary B. Price and Mark Tatulli will vie for what is commonly called the Golden Globes of comics.
Since ascending at CNN, Tapper — who as a boy had a published comic-strip feature in a neighborhood Philadelphia paper, and who drew another comic strip while at Dartmouth — has found increasing opportunities to create high-profile cartoons. Three years ago, he contributed a cartoon to Roll Call for the publication’s 60th anniversary. A year later, he guest-rendered Scott Adams’s “Dilbert,” and last year, he wrote the foreword and created original art for the parody book “MAD About Trump.” He also creates topical animations (“State of the Cartoonion”) for his Sunday show, “State of the Union.”
Despite all that, Tapper tells The Washington Post: “All my cartooning achievements are so modest; I assume this [ACE] award will be the highlight.”
Ahead of the Reubens ceremony, Comic Riffs caught up with Tapper to talk comics, his home town — and his favorite politicos to caricature:
MICHAEL CAVNA: How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of such past ACE honorees as Tom Wolfe, Pete Hamill, John Updike and “Weird Al” Yankovic?
JAKE TAPPER: It’s a great honor, and what amazing company! I often say that I am a failed cartoonist, so it is nice to be a successful failure.
MC: Could you speak about how, while you were growing up, you became a comics fan — were you reading comics books and/or the Philly newspaper comics pages? And when did you first think you might like to cartoon professionally — perhaps even pursue it as a line of work?
JT: I learned all about comics in Philadelphia. I first thought about cartooning as a potential career when I was in eighth grade and I had a comic strip called “Vacant Lot” in a local newspaper called the South Street Star.
Tony Auth, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial cartoonist, was a mentor and friend. My pals from grade school and I would go to Fat Jack’s [Comicrypt] in Center City to read old MAD magazines, plus Spider-Man, Batman and Daredevil. I would buy “Peanuts,” “Tintin” and later “Doonesbury” collections at the B. Dalton in Head House Square/New Market.
MC: Did you have any particular cartoon heroes growing up — and have you ever interacted with anyone who’s on your personal Mount Rushmore of comics?
Auth was unbelievably kind as a mentor to me as a young aspiring cartoonist. Getting to know Trudeau — and being mentioned in one of his Sunday strips! — has been a real treat.
MC: Which political figure in the headlines these days is the most fun for you to draw? And whose likeness is perhaps proving the most challenging to get down?
JT: Trump’s profile is most fun to draw. I’ve struggled with Jared Kushner and Nancy Pelosi.
MC: What living president is the most fun to caricature?
JT: Obama, I think. Though both Bushes are fun as well.
MC: President George W. Bush published a book of his amateur paintings. Would you ever publish a book of your cartoons — be it illustrations, comic work or political cartoons?
JT: Who would buy such a thing?
MC: If we were to peek at your script notes or reporter’s notebook, would we ever find cartoon doodles scrawled in the margins?
JT: Absolutely, but these aren’t the kinds of things I have to share. They get thrown out.
MC: Do you have a remaining cartooning dream — a fantasy gig or comics opportunity — that you still haven’t achieved, and if so: Do tell.
JT: In another life, I’ve come up with some sort of original strip influenced by “Pogo” and others and it’s a wild success, and every city has a thriving newspaper or three with giant comics sections.