By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you and your family join Assumption Church?
Scott: We moved to the Loop in Chicago in 2009. While looking for a church we stumbled upon Assumption. To confirm shallowness I have to admit we were first taken by the beauty of the church. To this day I cannot believe we get to attend mass in such a gorgeous place.
Gordon: What do you find most rewarding about being a parishioner of Assumption Church?
Scott: The fellowship has been wonderful. From the moment we first started coming we felt embraced by the congregation. We have made many friends we know we will have for the rest of our lives. Father Joe’s sermons are always moving and thoughtful. I find that I think back on them for many days.
Gordon: When the Assumption annual Italian dinner and auction occurs, you must be one of their favorite donors. Your autographed drawings, personal caricature of the bidder and lunch with you and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass have sold for an average of $4000 each. How many drawings have you donated to the Assumption annual auctions?
I am amazed at how well my cartoons do at the auction. Seriously gobsmacked and deeply flattered. I suppose I have been donating my cartoons for at least four years now. I plan to keep on donating them as long as they can benefit the church.
Gordon: I understand that you were an Episcopalian who once studied for the Episcopalian priesthood but eventually converted to Catholicism. Could you provide an overview of the issues that contributed to your conversion?
Scott: It was two fold. Firstly, as I studied under an Episcopalian priest with his own church I was disappointed to learn just how much of his time was spent trying to grow the church. I was deeply shaken when he said “I am going to make this church a real player in the diocese”. Naive as this sounds I felt the focus of the vicar should be the spiritual needs of his congregation. Maybe worldly things would come, maybe they wouldn’t but the focus had to be on health of the soul of the congregation.
This led to some time without a church. My wife, Janien, is a cradle Catholic. We were married in the church, (with a special dispensation from the Bishop). I had always felt very at home in the Catholic Church. I fought that feeling for a long time. (I wish I could say why but I can’t recall a single rational reason). Finally, I went to mass at what became our church in Birmingham, Alabama and it seemed so right. I made the decision to join RCIA classes. A year later I was confirmed. Ever since my life has been better. In every way. I found my spiritual home and Assumption is an extension of that.
Gordon: Many of our Chicago readers are aware of your talent as the editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune. Others may remember your work in USA Today and other newspapers. However, my initial introduction to your work was Prickly City..I will always remember when Winslow the coyote had a crush on Condoleezza Rice. Do you remember the origin of that idea?
Scott: I could go and tell about a long, thoughtful process but the truth is I was probably up against deadline and I thought it was funny. That is where a lot of my work comes from. Plumbing the depths of my mind under stressful conditions. I guess that says more about my mind then the gag you actually asked about. I would like to add that since joining the church there is a definite undercurrent of Catholic teaching. I’m rather proud of that..
Scott: Obviously shock and disgust. I have had death threats directed at me and, more terrifying, my children. It’s all part of expressing an opinion in a forceful and high profile way. I would be lying if I said I don’t think about my own security a little more than I used to but, ultimately, I won’t live in fear. As a Christian I have the added advantage of knowing there are worse things then death.
Gordon: I admire your courage in addressing abortion in several of your editorial drawings. Everyone should read Elizabeth BeShears' article on your editorial leadership in addressing this challenge. Were there any criticisms sent to the Chicago Tribune for addressing abortion?
Scott: Oh, you know there was! It is one of those issues where people feel emboldened to call you every name in the book if they disagree with you. I am willing to listen if they are civil but I inform them at the beginning my God and my church inform me that only God has the right to kill people. I have been equally strident in my opposition to the death penalty .
Gordon:What do you suggest that other Catholics and Catholic parishes can do to end our government's disregard of the dignity and value of human life?
Scott: I suppose you could start by voting your conscience. Demand that any person who claims to represent you in this republic share a belief that life is precious. Abortion is a tougher issue because of Roe v Wade but we can stand against the death penalty as barbaric and just plain immoral.
Gordon: Are there any topics that the Chicago Tribune will not let you address and are there any topics that your family would prefer that you not address?
Scott: I am so lucky to have a family that encourages me to express my views in just about the most public way one could. (I have to believe there are times when they wish I would just shut up but they know me well enough to know that’s an impossibility).
The Tribune gives me a pretty free hand when it comes to subject. There are a few they want me to stay away from but not too many.
Scott: I don’t know the answer to that. As far as I am concerned, if there is a vital public interest involved I feel it’s fair game. There are things I wouldn’t draw today but things change. Lately I have been asked if I would draw the prophet Mohammed. Today I would answer ‘no’. (Why would I go out of my way to offend just for the sake of offense?) but tomorrow may bring a situation where drawing him would be the right thing to do.
Gordon: Your work often reflects a marked conservative political viewpoint. What influence did Professor William Loiterman at Angeles Harbor College have on your political perceptions?
Scott: Great question! Dr. Loiterman took a great interest in this young, goofy guy and saw something a lot of people didn’t. He was a great teacher in every sense. He would take the time after class to discuss further ideas and theories. For someone who was searching he was a magnificent guide.
Gordon: There is one of your cartoons that, as a Chicagoan, has been forever seared in my mind, and, at least in my opinion, is one of your most powerful images.
When did this concept originate? How may times have you commented on the violence in Chicago in your work?
Scott: Far too many times. Violence, particularly on our Southside, is a tragedy of dizzying proportions. I pray and I draw and, sometimes, I lose heart.
Gordon: In your opinion, what are some initiatives that Chicago should take to reduce the epidemic of gang violence?
Scott: Serious enforcement of gun laws would be a start. Better schooling. Encouraging nuclear families. Those are a few ideas. Not very original, I know.
Scott: That started pretty soon after I started at the Tribune. I had a blog at my former newspaper, The Birmingham News, and enjoyed the opportunity to expand on the ideas expressed in my cartoon.
Gordon: As Susan Gold reported in Assumption Spotlights, you and your wife Janien recently celebrated your 34th wedding anniversary by hiking the Grand Canyon. This may be a somewhat unusual wedding anniversary celebration. How often and where do you and Janien generally go hiking?
Scott: Not often enough! Janien is a walker. We joke that, when we have out-of-town guests she drags them on death marches. We walk a lot here in the city. (We don’t own a car here).
Gordon:Do you have any suggestions for students who may be interested in pursuing a career in cartooning?
Scott: Draw! Draw everything and all of the time. Become a good artist first then you can distill that knowledge to a cartoon. It’s harder than it looks.
Gordon: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I suggest that our readers also read the exceptional interview with you by Angelo Lopez in Everyday Citizen that provides a comprehensive background on your art and career Your super fans may also want to check out Taking a Stantis on Amazon.