‘Times-Picayune’ Cartoonist Kelley Draws on New Orleans Experience

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By: Dave Astor

Since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Times-Picayune staff cartoonist Steve Kelley has continued to draw regularly for the paper’s print and online editions–but he has been doing it from California, not Louisiana.

Kelley visited the West Coast late last month to host a charity event, and was scheduled to return to New Orleans on Aug. 28. But that was the day before Hurricane Katrina was due to slam the city.

“The newspaper told me to just stay put,” said the former San Diego Union-Tribune staffer, when reached Tuesday by E&P Online.

After the flood devastated New Orleans, Kelley continued to draw cartoons even though he couldn’t initially make contact with his editors. And getting the cartoons to his editors wasn’t easy, either, given that The Times-Picayune server was down. Now Kelley, who has been staying with his longtime girlfriend in San Diego, is sending the cartoons from his personal AOL e-mail address to a Yahoo address set up by the newspaper’s photo department.

Kelley said the waters pouring over the levees came close to, but did not flood, his New Orleans house — located on somewhat higher ground very close to Lake Pontchartrain. Neighbors who took a boat across the lake to inspect their house after the flooding also inspected Kelley’s house, and reported that it was mostly OK. “A couple of doors were blown open but it wasn’t looted,” said Kelley, who emphasized that he was luckier than many city residents.

The cartoonist — whose work is distributed by Creators Syndicate — said he keeps up with post-hurricane news by reading newspapers, watching CNN, and visiting The Times-Picayune’s NOLA.com site. Kelley said Times-Picayune staffers have been doing “great, great work.”

What has it been like drawing cartoons from a distance? Kelley said in some ways he’s used to it — noting, for instance, that he comments on Iraq despite being thousands of miles from that country. And Kelley has access to a wider range of media reports in California than he would in blacked-out New Orleans. “But it’s harder to get as profound a sense of the suffering from watching on TV,” he said.

Kelley has lived in New Orleans for three years. He said that this familiarity has also helped the hurricane-related cartoons of Mike Luckovich and Walt Handelsman, Kelley’s predecessors at The Times-Picayune.

In his Aug. 31 cartoon, Kelley drew a close-up of a man saying: “Katrina wiped out our house, our car, and most of our belongings…but nothing important” — as the picture widened to show the man with his wife and kids. On Sept. 10, Kelley showed the directors of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security being directed to a bus under the caption: “Forced evacuations we’d like to see.”

Kelley is not sure when he’ll be able to return to New Orleans. He said he might try to find a place near the city to live temporarily, and that he would like to personally inspect and get some items from his house.

(Another story that includes comments from Kelley is posted at EditorialCartoonists.com, the Web site of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.)

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