1968, David Sipress – Cartoonist

I graduated from Williams as a history major in 1968. I went on to the Master’s Program in Soviet Studies at Harvard, but after two years I dropped out to pursue a career as a cartoonist. This may seem like a strange transition, but to me it has always made perfect sense. Since I was a kid, I knew that being an artist-specifically an artist who works with humor — was what I really wanted to do with my life. However, this career choice was not exactly acceptable to my immigrant, Jewish parents. When I got to graduate school — keep in mind this was the sixties, and in Cambridge no less — I was suddenly exposed to lots and lots of people my age who were making wonderfully free choices based only on desire. For the first time I asked myself what I really wanted to do. I started drawing even while I was still at Harvard, and six months after I dropped out my first cartoon was published in the Boston Phoenix newspaper, where I continue to publish a weekly cartoon today, thirty-six years later.
My interest in history has persisted — my wife is always stunned when I drag home a five hundred page tome on the English Civil Wars, or a huge biography of Julius Caesar. For me, history is the best kind of storytelling. I love it. I feel that my cartoons have benefited from my education as a historian, helping me to formulate ideas, and most of all, to write clearly and succinctly. In addition, I consider myself a historian of the art of cartooning (in some ways, this unavoidable for the cartoonist, as we are constantly trying to avoid repeating ideas that have been done before). My editor at the New Yorker says that a great cartoon is not only funny, it is also, “about something.” Many of my cartoons are about — directly or indirectly — perceptions of shared human experience that are rooted in my life-long love of history.