Devon Manney is a 21-year-old artist, currently studying animation at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. His editorial cartoons, published weekly by the Daily Trojan, deal with a wide array of socio-political issues, including campaign pandering, modern mass media, and the reprehensible Oompa-Loompa masquerading as the GOP’s presidential candidate. His cartoons, illustrations, and films can be found at his website, devonmanney.com.
1. First of all, congratulations on winning the Locher Award, Devon! It seems you primarily work on longer animated pieces - how did you start creating editorial cartoons? Was there something that inspired you to start working in the form, or something that particularly appealed to you about political cartoons?
Thanks so much! When I first got really into drawing it was about 2004 –– which meant I was surrounded by caricatures of Bush and Kerry at all times. Without really understanding politics (as I was only 9), I naturally started to doodle my own little caricatures and gags of them as well, and that was I suppose my first real exposure to political cartooning (in a limited sense). Visual art has always been my primary means of communication, and the more and more I’ve grown up, and become invested in the political atmosphere, the more I thought about new ways I could communicate my political critiques through drawing. It’s been a very natural evolution.
2. Since you began drawing cartoons, you’ve focussed a lot on the current election, and recently on the NRA and gun violence. What are some other issues that you’re hoping to cover? What draws you to certain issues?
Everything I draw usually has its origins in a deep, gut-reaction. When I wake up and see 50 people have been killed in a hate crime in Orlando, my heart hurts and my entire being becomes numb for a while. To draw editorial cartoons, to me, is to be able to wrap your hands around all of those immediate, visceral feelings and try to wring out a point-of-view that is emotionally honest without losing a sense of pragmatism. And I think that (hopefully) results in a greater diversity in the art itself –– my heartbroken gut-reaction to Orlando is different than my incredulousness at the bile Donald Trump spews, and so the cartoons I draw for each requires different writing, different compositions, and even a different artistic style altogether.
3. What artists or genres of art have inspired you stylistically, or influenced your approach to creating cartoons?
From a cartooning standpoint, my main influences are from the comic strip/graphic novel world. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a strong enough writer to compress my thoughts in a perfect single panel, but I also really enjoy the timing of writing for the multi-panel form. People like Kris Straub, Dave Kellett, Bill Watterson, and Craig Thompson (among so many countless others) are probably the most prominent personal inspirations on that front. Discovering Richard Thompson’s work has also had an immense influence on me –– his draftsmanship, humor, and ability to express human complexity in such a simple way is otherworldly –– he’s in a league of his own. David Low’s work also never fails to blow me away.
4. Your cartoons are varied in tone. Most have a great sense of humor to them, but you also have made serious cartoons, as well as scathing attack cartoons. What is your favorite reaction to provoke in your audience, and why?
The best reaction I could ever hope to have is for a person to look at what I’ve drawn and go, “Huh, I’ve never thought of [insert issue here] that way before.” I don’t know if what I’ve drawn or will draw will ever change or influence someone’s opinion on an issue, but I think that’s the goal I’m always striving for with political cartooning. That I can draw something simple, evocative, emotionally honest, and have that stick with someone who may not have considered that particular viewpoint.
5. There’s been more of a focus on animated editorial cartoons lately, and a lot of artists are doing amazing work with the medium. One of the cartoons in your Locher portfolio included animation. What do you think the most exciting potential of the animated political cartoon is?
I think in a journalistic landscape that is inevitably growing more and more digital, animated content is certainly one way cartooning can push into new territory that cannot be expressed in print. I think the true power of animated political cartoons are still somewhat underexplored, but it will be interesting to see where it goes over the coming years!
6. You do a lot of different kinds of work - illustration, design work, cartoons, but it seems like your animated work is your main focus. What do you like most about working with animation?
I started teaching myself animation when I was about 10 or so because I really loved to draw, and animation presented an opportunity tell stories with those drawings in a way comics or storybooks couldn’t. As years went by, I found that working on my skills as an animator actually helped strengthen my ability in all other artistic areas as well –– I became a better filmmaker, a better writer, a better actor, a better cartoonist –– animation has basically formed my entire artistic foundation.
7. Your current big project is Cradle, an animated short film about a returning veteran readjusting to life in the U.S. Could you tell us a little bit about this project, and what you hope viewers will get out of the narrative?
Cradle is my thesis film at USC, and it’s been my driving passion for the past year or so (along with the next year until I graduate)! The film follows a young veteran who, after losing his arms in Iraq, struggles to find normalcy again in the states. He not only has to learn to live with prosthetics, but also must adjust to excruciating phantom limb pain, learn how to help his wife Rachel, and care for his newborn daughter Amelia. It’s a story that I hope will provoke thought and interesting discussions about phantom limb pain, societal attitudes towards amputees and veterans alike, but the film’s main focus is much more universal –– a young family coming together in the aftermath of tragedy, and overcoming all obstacles. After developing and re-writing the project constantly since fall 2014, I’m finally starting the animation process and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out!
8. Thanks, Devon! Where can we follow your cartoons and upcoming projects?
This interview originally appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of the AAEC's The Notebook.