There are certain feelings that every editor is bound to experience: the joy of making a great catch, the frustration of dealing with a difficult project, the excitement of taking a selfie with a favourite punctuation mark — wait, maybe not that last one.
That is, unless you’re Bespectacled Editor, the passionate, wry heroine of Iva Cheung’s webcomic, An Editorial Cartoon.
Through her minimalist line art, Iva has held a mirror up to the editing profession. The scenes she sets up — sometimes real, sometimes fantastical — are both hilarious and highly relatable. She has a gift for cutting through the details to the emotions hiding underneath. I may never have worked as an indexer, but when Bespectacled Editor finds herself in an indexing predicament, I still recognize the truth of my own editing experiences in her situation.
To celebrate ten years of the webcomic, I interviewed Iva about the history, reach and future of An Editorial Cartoon.
Behind the bespectacled editor
Iva Cheung (she/her) is a Certified Professional Editor, cookbook indexer, plain language trainer and health policy researcher. She has won the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, President’s Award for Volunteer Service and Karen Virag Award. She’s the illustrator of An Editorial Cartoon and Angry Jelly Donut and a contributor to the essay anthologies Midlife and Midlife No. 2.
An Editorial Cartoon turns 10
Laura Bontje: Have you always had an interest in comics?
Iva Cheung: When I was a kid, Gary Larson’s The Far Side was always the first — sometimes the only — thing I’d read in the daily newspaper. But I didn’t write or draw comics until I started this monthly cartoon, mostly because I didn’t think I had the skills. Turns out you don’t really need any!
(By the way, if you’re a publishing type and don’t already know about the index to Wiener Dog Art: A Far Side Collection, google it. Definitely my kind of humour.)
LB: What prompted you to start reflecting editorial life in comic form?
IC: I’d been blogging about editing and publishing for a while when I’d accumulated a series of topics that didn’t fit well in a text-only medium. These included scenarios that editors would immediately recognize and relate to and that might have been asinine to write about — but that felt natural to satirize as a cartoon.
The web comic, as a format, is enormously flexible in the way it lets you subversively comment on reality by imagining and exploring the absurdist extremes of that reality.
Mostly, though, I wanted to make my friends laugh, and I posted the cartoons to my blog in case they helped other editors laugh too.
LB: Over the last decade, your comics have covered a variety of wacky, woeful, and wonderful scenarios featuring editors. Do you have a treasure chest of ideas waiting to be illustrated, or do you come up with your concepts month by month?
IC: Hahaha — well, “treasure chest” is a bit generous. I have a small collection of half-baked ideas I know I can dip into if inspiration doesn’t strike, but they’re either pretty terrible or incredibly labour-intensive, so their existence spurs me to try to come up with a better idea for the month.
LB: Is your protagonist meant to be you, or is she her own character?
IC: I think Bespectacled Editor is meant to be all of us. And she can say things some of us can only think.
LB: How (if at all) has creating art about the work of an editor influenced your work as an editor?
IC: Well, now I only take on projects I can mine for content.
I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
I don’t know that making the cartoons has influenced my work as an editor directly, but their main impact is that they’ve connected me to a rich community of editors around the world, and I’m so grateful to have the privilege to talk shop with such vibrant, knowledgeable people.
LB: When you look back on the last ten years, are there certain comics you’re particularly fond of?
IC: Some of my favourites are “Passive voice,” “APA style” and “Branding,” but the one I enjoyed making the most is probably “Doppelgänger” because it’s so esoteric and absurd. Every time I see it, I have to laugh and ask myself what’s wrong with my brain.
LB: “Branding” is one of my favourites too! It and “Capital projects” are such perfect reflections of the situations I encountered in non-profit writing and editing.
There’s no doubt that your comics appeal to editors. Have you ever been surprised by An Editorial Cartoon’s reach outside the editing world?
IC: I’m also a health researcher, and I tend to keep my research world and editing world separate, so it always surprises me when my health research colleagues post or refer to my cartoons (usually ones about plain language) — although that happens rarely.
I’m aware that my comics are sometimes so “inside baseball” that you really have to be an editor or indexer to even know what they’re talking about, let alone find them funny.
LB: Last year, your sketch for an #Inktober prompt about an angry jelly donut caught the eye of author Steve Kleinedler and turned into a picture book collaboration. How did your experience with comics affect your illustration process for Angry Jelly Donut?
IC: For me, the two processes were complementary: with Angry Jelly Donut, I got to play with colour and facial expressions, whereas my cartoon is usually in black and white and relies on body language and posture to convey information. I think the different styles exercised (and frustrated) two different parts of my brain.
This spontaneous project started as a fun way to goof off with a friend, but Steve and I had the idea of turning Angry Jelly Donut into a fundraiser for The Trevor Project and Indspire by selling hard copies and merch.
I don’t think either of us expected actual children to read Angry Jelly Donut, but I have friends who tell me their toddlers quote the book to them all the time, which I find utterly delightful.
LB: Aside from continuing to produce your comics, do you have aspirations to publish any other illustrated work?
IC: This is such a hilarious question to me because I’ve never really considered myself a visual artist. My illustrations are quite poor on a technical level, but I think they’re funny because I really lean into the mediocrity and jank. So, no, I don’t have any plans to publish any other illustrated work for now. If this cartoon somehow makes it another ten years, maybe we’ll get a volume 2 — assuming AI and the climate wars don’t destroy us all first.
Keep the laughs coming
This year, Iva Cheung released the book An Editorial Cartoon, a compilation of the first ten years of her comic. One dollar from each copy of the book supports Indigenous editing and publishing initiatives through the Indigenous Editors Association.
Tell us, readers: what’s your favourite comic from An Editorial Cartoon? Drop a link in the comments!
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