Scott Stantis’s father spent his career in local television, and Stantis grew up admiring those seigneurial TV personalities who are giants in the cities that they serve even if nobody’s heard of them one state over. Stantis drew on this affection when he composed the editorial cartoon honoring the late John Drury that ran in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune.
What Stantis didn’t draw on was any particular sense of Drury himself. Stantis didn’t grow up here, and for the past 11 years he’s been the cartoonist for the News in Birmingham, Alabama. (He also draws one cartoon a week for USA Today, and a daily comic strip, Prickly City, that the Tribune used to carry.) Stantis keeps tabs with Chicago because the city fascinates him and also because he sends the Tribune the occasional Chicago-based cartoon. He’s been doing that for years and more frequently in the past couple of months, since Bruce Dold, editor of the editorial page, called and encouraged him to.
Aside from the semiretired Dick Locher, the Tribune hasn’t had a staff editorial cartoonist since Jeff MacNelly died seven years ago. Various cartoonists have thought they were within an inch of getting the job, and all were wrong. Oddly, Stantis isn’t one of them — even though he’d like the job and would happily come to Chicago for it, he’s done a lot of cartoons for the Tribune already, and he believes that he and the Tribune are on the same wavelength politically. I told him it sounded as if he and the Tribune are in one of those office sitcom relationships where everyone but themselves can see it’s a match. Except in this case, he said, one of us can see that too.
Ideally, he said, when something big happens in Chicago the story won’t be complete until the city finds out in the morning what Stantis had to say about it. MacNelly didn’t play that role — he lived in Virginia and stuck to national issues. And in fact nobody’s played that role in Chicago media since Mike Royko, and it could be that nobody will ever play it again. That show might be over.