"His [George Danby's] new book, 'The Essential Danby,' is a beautiful album of wry to wicked cartoons aimed at politicians from the presidential to the parochial, from D.C. to Bethesda to Bangor – where Danby has been a cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News since 1986." —Beth Solomon, The Georgetown Dish
"This collection, introduced by Sen. Angus King, provides a beautiful perusal of how consistently incisive and important George Danby has been to Maine journalism over the turn of the millennium." —Dana Wilde, centralmaine.com
Blog Post: George Danby to Take Part in Banned Books Week
Check out the blog post here!
‘The Essential Danby’ a book long in the making
By John Holyoke
BANGOR, Maine — With all due apologies to death and taxes, the rise of the sun, the ebb and flow of the tides, add this to the list of constants: Six mornings a week, the Bangor Daily News will proudly feature an editorial cartoon by artist George Danby.
Danby’s work first appeared in the BDN in 1974, when he was a student at Bangor High School, continued after he syndicated his work while drawing for papers in New Haven, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, then became an every-day feature in 1985, when he returned to his hometown to accept a full-time position.
“One of the reasons I got a job here as a high school kid was I had a knack for drawing [then Gov.] Jim Longley,” Danby says. “I had a thing about drawing his little half-glasses with dark eyes. So that really was the reason why I probably got this gig over here. And I took it from there.”
Did he ever.
Over the past 40 years, Danby estimates he has drawn more than 20,000 cartoons, which have been featured in the BDN, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times and countless other publications.
So what’s a cartoonist to do while still in the midst of such a productive career? That’s simple: Release your favorites in a book.
Danby said preserving some of his work in a format that his two teenage children could enjoy helped inspire him to undertake another project.
“Everybody that’s a political cartoonist has put out at least one collection,” Danby says, “[But for me] it’s been all about meeting the deadline every day. Then, as my kids came more into the picture, I started thinking it would be nice to house a collection just to leave behind for my kids, even. To stop just talking about it and get down to doing it.”
That’s exactly what he’s done.
And on Oct. 16, Islandport Press will release that collection, “The Essential Danby.” A book-launch celebration will be held at the Bangor Public Library on that date, from 6 until 8 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
In the book, Danby culled those 20,000 cartoons down to about 200 that are featured. He says that process wasn’t too tough, because he has been saving the cartoons he’s particularly proud of for decades, tucking them away in archival boxes.
“It’s a pretty good, broad selection,” he says. “You can see the style changing [over the years].”
Danby said progression is natural among artists, and after several years spent learning to deal with daily deadline pressure, he was able to let the art take over later in his career.
Danby said he hopes readers will see a celebration of what he calls “an American invention,” the editorial cartoon.
Nowadays, Danby is typically in his office by 6 a.m., and often doesn’t head home until he has put in a solid 12 hours. And he feels lucky to be able to say he’s one of very few cartoonists who still do things the old-fashioned way.
“I’m probably the last of 50 people [in the country] who take pen and ink and scratch on a Bristol board and create a cartoon, and then throw some color on it [on a computer],” Danby said, admitting that the coloring process isn’t as old-school as it might be.
Danby’s also proud that the BDN has played a role in the history of political cartooning in Maine.
“[Former BDN cartoonist] Vic Runtz and I were the only two full-time political cartoonists in this state. Ever,” he says.
BDN publisher Richard J. Warren says having Danby onboard has been a boon to the paper.
“There are few newspapers with their own editorial cartoonist,” Warren says. “George Danby’s unique style and incisive wit have enhanced the pages of the Bangor Daily News for nearly 30 years [as a full-time cartoonist]. Remarkable!”
Danby is quirky, and is as apt to poke fun at himself as he is to skewer politicos in his cartoons. Encounter him in the hallway near his dimly lit closet of an office at the BDN, and your conversation is likely to be short … and oddly funny.
Interview him, and you’ll receive more of the same.
“I’m 57,” he says, when asked his age. “But don’t say that. I’m only 50 in print.”
The BDN office is full of Friends-of-Danby, those who enjoy his work, laugh at his jokes and pay tribute to him in fittingly offbeat ways.
An example: A few years back, on his birthday, a dozen or more co-workers staged “Danby Day,” during which each donned the same outfit the artist wears to the office every day: Blue button-down Oxford shirt, khaki pants.
Danby loved it.
But focusing on the funny side of Danby is ignoring the qualities that have made his work so indispensable over the last four decades.
Two things to remember: Danby has been a news nut since he was a kid. And he can flat-out draw.
When he was still a teen, Danby remembers regularly hopping off the bus in front of a Rexall Drug Store and buying every newspaper the store sold.
“When most people were watching TV — although I did watch TV — going through these papers was like my television show at night,” Danby says. “I was obsessed with it.”
Reading and music were his passion, and he says Mr. Paperback, the now-defunct chain of bookstores, was his “Mecca.”
“I’m still the same person,” he says. “It’s still books, magazines, newspapers and music. I haven’t really advanced that far.”
His drawing, he’ll admit, has.
When he was a young child, he began copying characters from the “Peanuts” strip. When he started drawing editorial cartoons, he emulated others who were masters of the craft.
Then he worked on becoming a true original.
“By the time I was  … I knew everybody’s style and dissected it,” he says. “I knew where everyone worked and how they worked and how they operated. Then my style came from this eclectic group of all of these cartoonists.”
After so many cartoons — and illustrations for the OpEd page, which he also produces six times a week — Danby admits that some days are better than others.
“All that immediacy [of daily deadlines] is so great, it’s a blessing,” Danby says. “But the curse is that it is so fast, by a certain time, it’s all got to be done.
“Some days you have a great drawing but not as good an idea,” he says. “Other days you have a great idea, but not the best drawing. You work through it.”
Six days a week. Fifty-two weeks a year. Decade after decade. You work through it.
Eventually, if you’re lucky … and talented … you end up with a book. And you still get out of bed in the morning looking forward to what you’ll do that day. Retirement?
Don’t even ask.
“I’m getting older, but I have a lot of energy. I don’t want to retire, play golf and watch ‘The Golden Girls’ on TV every night,” he says.
But while he hopes to continue doing the work he loves — the only work, save a bit of teaching, that he has ever known — Danby is willing to admit that no matter how many more years he draws editorial cartoons, the journey has been pretty special.
“It’s been a pretty good run,” he says, softly, as is his nature. “It’s an unusual thing. It’s a cool thing.”
This article first appeared in the Bangor Daily News on October 9, 2014.