Roy Carless, 1920-2009
Canada's Working Class Cartoonist
by Bryan Munn
Cartoonist and union activist Roy Carless died Friday, January 2, 2009, in Hamilton, Ontario. The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack.
An assembly-line worker turned fierce proletarian political cartoonist, Carless was known for sticking up for the little guy and sticking it to politicians and bosses of every stripe and nationality.
Born in Swansea, a village that is now part of the High Park region of Toronto, Carless began drawing cartoons while attending Runnymede Collegiate High School, publishing in the school newspaper. He quit school in Grade 10 and went to work in a General Electric plant, designing machinery and drawing for The Lamp Worker, GE's house organ. In 1948 he moved to Hamilton and began working on the assembly line for Westinghouse (later Camco). Cartoons he created lampooning his bosses and plant management eventually found their way into the newsletter of the Electrical Workers Union, and from there he began to moonlight as an editorial cartoonist, providing gags and illustrations to a variety of labour publications. His work eventually came to the attention of Duncan Macpherson, then the dean of Canadian political cartoonists and cartoonist for the Toronto Star, when Carless's wife Audrey secretly convinced Macpherson to look at some cartoons in 1966. Macpherson wrote Carless with advice and encouragement, eventually sponsoring his membership in the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists in 1971.
While continuing to work in the factory and acting as Chief Steward for his union, representing over 1500 workers in contract negotiations, strikes, and in front of the Workmen's Compensation Board, Carless freelanced for over thirty union publications in Canada and the U.S., including Canadian Transport and Canadian Dimensions. He also did work for NDP publications, and magazines and newspapers published by steelworkers, fishermen, and electrical workers. Blacklisted as a communist, Carless was often hassled by the RCMP and once had trouble crossing the U.S.-Canada border. Nevertheless, over the years he earned many awards and commendations, as well as letters and requests from some of the famous subjects he caricatured, including Tommy Douglas, Lyndon Johnson, Rene Levesque, Pierre Trudeau, and many Ontario politicians. His work was regularly anthologized in Best Canadian Cartoons and the annual Portfoolio collection, in addition to inclusion in several international salons and competitions. A
book collection was released in 2006, entitled The Carless Cartoon Collection: Not Bad for An Old Bastard.
While he began his career drawing in the unadorned big-nose, gag cartoon style, Carless's style evolved considerably over the course of his life. On Macpherson's advice, he developed his gift for caricature, and the cartoons of his most prolific period show a strong sense of composition, use of light, and texture. Carless began signing his work "Roi" (French for king) in the late 1970s, shortly after he quit drinking.
Involved in a car accident in 1987, Carless suffered head trauma and lost the use of an eye, eventually becoming unable to draw to his own satisfaction, and quit cartooning in 1990. In 2003 his wife convinced him to begin drawing again and he began publishing work in the Hamilton Spectator.
Carless's public persona was that of a cigar-chomping, cowboy-hat-wearing raconteur, anti-authoritarian and champion of workers' rights. He was also a devoted family man, and a self-educated debater and activist, who also happened to be one of the most unique post-War political cartoonists to work in Canada.
Roy Carless is survived his wife, Audrey Carless, his son Marc, and five grandchildren.
There will be a memorial at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, 51 Stuart St., in Hamilton at 1 pm, January 17.
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