“I was never into politics.”
It’s an unlikely statement coming from the man whose newspaper cartoons were a regular source of internet outrage. But Sean Delonas, the former cartoonist for the New York Post, says he was only interested in what made him laugh. “A lot of people think I’m incredibly political, incredibly right-winged,” he says. “But since I left the Post, I really don’t pay attention to the news that much outside of the weather. I’ve never been really that political.”
Delonas took a buy-out from the Post in 2013, ending a decades-spanning run as the paper’s dedicated cartoonist, drawing five, sometimes six cartoons a week for 23 years. That amounts to nearly 6,000 cartoons. Now, he’s published a collection of 201 of those cartoons, re-drawn in color, called The Ones They Didn’t Print and Some of the Ones They Did. “I figured it was a good way psychologically to close the book on my career at the New York Post,” he says.
Delonas admits he never really wanted to be a cartoonist. “I did want to be a professional fine artist, and not a cartoonist, but then I just kind of fell into the cartooning.” His father drew cartoons as a hobby, and Delonas remembers poring over those cartoons, collected in a book his father made himself. He and his father would sit at the kitchen table at their home in upstate New York, and later, New Jersey, drawing together. He would buy comic books — Spider-Man, Batman, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan — and copy the illustrations.
In 1989, at the age of 29, he entered the New York Academy of Art. After just one year there, he heard through a fellow classmate that the New York Post‘s then-cartoonist, Bay Rigby, wanted to go home to his native Australia for three months. Delonas agreed to fill in, and although he had never had a cartoon published — he had been doing illustrations for small newspapers — he was hired. Rigby never came back.
Delonas estimates that over half of the cartoons in The Ones They Didn’t Print were actually ones the Post didn’t print, either because an editor found them too “over the top” or just didn’t find them funny. But some of the most controversial panels — particularly ones depicting Arabs as terrorists or gay people as prancing, feather-boa-wearing freaks — were published in the newspaper. Others were not.
One of Delonas’s most infamous cartoons was published in 2009, when a 200-pound pet chimpanzee was shot by police officers in Stamford, Connecticut after it attacked the owner’s friend. The cartoon shows two police officers who have just shot a bleeding chimpanzee. One cop’s speech bubble reads, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
The cartoon was widely perceived to be racist, implying a connection between the chimp and President Obama. Delonas insists that wasn’t his intention. “What a lot of people didn’t realize was that the president doesn’t write bills,” he says, “Congress writes bills. The monkey was supposed to be Congress.” Still, Delonas says in hindsight, he wish he could take it back. “I felt very badly about that.”
Most of all, Delonas feels remorse for the way he portrayed gay people in his cartoons, particularly earlier in his career. “I did a lot of cartoons [depicting gay people] that I think were really bad, and it wasn’t because I was anti-gay. It was an easy laugh at their expense, which is actually much worse than if I had been anti-gay. The gay organizations and stuff like that, GLAAD, they were very legitimate in their complaints about me.”
For a period of time in the early 2000s, Delonas was the frequent target of online ire, particularly from Gawker. He would be approached by media outlets a couple times a year, but turned most of them down.
“I’ve always been very shy, so I didn’t do many interviews when I worked at the Post.” Today, Delonas lives in Pennsylvania with his two dogs and his son, with whom he co-wrote a children’s book in 2006, when his son was ten years old.
When he worked at the Post, his favorite stories to riff on were animal stories. “I love animals, I just think they’re funny,” says Delonas, who’s a vegetarian. “I always just try to come up with funny ideas. When it came to serious political commentary, I really was not a big cartoonist to do that. There are a lot of editorial cartoonists who are great at that, I just wasn’t one of them.”