Good News and Bad News Come with Huck-Konopacki Labor Cartoons’ Latest Book
There’s good news and bad news about TORN, the latest book of cartoons from Gary Huck and Mike Konopacki. The good: It’s a doozy! The bad: It’s their last one.
After 37 years of syndicating Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons to unions and newspapers, these Wisconsin-bred practitioners of pushback, parody, and in-your-face outrage against enemies of the working class sent out their last monthly package in February.
It was a great run while it lasted, as some high-profile admirers have attested over the years:
Howard Zinn, legendary historian: “I have learned to admire enormously the way they present new insights on American society in dramatic form.”
Christian Clark, Emmy Award-winning writer for Sesame Street: “Huck and Konopacki’s cartoons are a prescription for radical civil disobedience, an antidote to the abuses of the Powers That Be. When it comes to class consciousness, these guys are awake!”
Peter Gilmore, retired managing editor, UE News: “Huck and Konopacki created the soundtrack of our lives: the laughter, weeping, shrieks and guffaws provoked by their deft blows against the bourgeoisie. I’m forever grateful they’re on our side.”
Jane Slaughter, former editor, Labor Notes: “Huck and Konopacki are the cleverest, funniest cartoonists I know or know of. How deep is that well of creativity? Don’t their brains get tired? Their funny bones and righteous anger apparently do not.”
Clay Bennett, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist: “They have gallantly shoved their pen-weapons up the butts of bosses. Huck and Konopacki have truly earned their place in the anals of labor history!”
Clearly, Gary and Mike aren’t just your run-of-the-mill entrepreneurs. They carved out their corner of the labor movement with sharp insights and finely honed commitments to union principles, human rights and political activism. Their shared vision, talent for art, and working-class roots ensured that they didn’t just draw a good line, they walked it.
Gary grew up union. His dad, a factory worker, was a labor leader in Racine, Wisconsin, where bustling factories have since been shuttered. Gary pinpoints the genesis of his career to an art project in the second grade: he had to draw a picture of his father’s work.
In the 1970s, Gary illustrated pamphlets for striking Racine teachers and later became the cartoonist for the newspaper, Racine Labor. The mid-1980s brought him to his cartooning job for UE News, the newspaper of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. He recently retired.
Mike grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, another town afflicted by plant closures. His father managed the commercial art department for the now long-gone Mirro Corp. A University of Wisconsin grad, Mike became a Teamster, drove a school bus part-time, and pursued a freelance career.
He got his official start cartooning in the late ’70s for the Madison Press Connection, a newspaper by workers striking the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. He went on to work almost exclusively for the labor movement, including a law firm specializing in labor strategies, local and international unions, and Press Associates Union News Service.
Gary and Mike met at a 1979 cartoonists’ convention and launched Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons four years later. Each month they’d send subscribers a package of labor and political cartoons lampooning the rich and famous and championing the poor and obscure.
Their cartoons became so much in demand that they published seven collections, in volumes spanning the Reagan/Bush era to Donald Trump. Wherever there was a strike, an organizing drive, a victory rally, or a spirited protest, H/K cartoons were inevitably purloined for all kinds of propaganda. Gary and Mike can still take pride in the fact that they are two of the most ripped-off cartoonists in the United States.
Freelance projects also kept them busy. Gary’s gag cartoons, “Oddservations,” for the alternative press and Mike’s monthly tabloid, Wage Slave World News, supplemented the syndication along with workshops for budding and seasoned trade unionists and artful agitprop for union T-shirts, buttons, leaflets, posters, and picket signs. Wherever the movement was, whatever the movement needed, they were there.
They still are! They’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Though their syndication has ended, Gary and Mike are available for workshops, strike projects, and special artwork.
Kathy Wilkes is a longtime labor writer and editor.