It’s often hard to tell if David Fitzsimmons is being serious or being silly. Asked to describe the talk he’ll give on Wednesday (12/7) at Academy Village, the Arizona Daily Star’s popular editorial cartoonist replied: “Pedantic drivel cloaked in nonsense dancing around politics, religion and life and death.”
But his “dancing” humor often sugar-coats a serious message that might be missed if delivered in any other way.
His cartoons have become a habit with thousands of Tucsonans whose morning routine isn’t complete until they see what Fitzsimmons has to say on the Star’s editorial page. Fitz, as he often refers to himself, has also developed a successful second career as a standup comic who tosses out zingers and quick sketch cartoons and caricatures.
His Academy Village talk, free and open to the public, will begin at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Great Room of the Arizona Senior Academy, adjacent to the Community Center at Academy Village, an active-adult community located off Old Spanish Trail six miles southeast of Saguaro National Park East.
Known as the “Fastest draw west of the Potomac,” Fitz has opened for PBS’s Mark Russell and has performed his “exceedingly silly” chalk talks in every conference meeting room, theater, school and clubhouse west of the San Pedro. No one in the audience is safe.
“My presentations mix scholarship with nonsense,” he says. “I talk about you, the audience, my life history, the history of social commentary art, humor theory and the value of free expression.”
Still, he’s not about to quit his day job. His cartoons are syndicated to over 700 news outlets. He has been reprinted in The Washington Post, The Denver Post, The Los Angeles Times, the European press, The International Herald Tribune, the International edition of Newsweek and China Daily. A Pulitzer Finalist in 1988, his award-winning cartoons have drawn fire and praise, he likes to say, “since Geronimo was a paperboy way back in 1986.”
After graduating from the University of Arizona he freelanced and then landed a mapmaking gig at The Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. He then step-stoned his way to The Virginian Pilot-Ledger Star where he was an illustrator and graphic designer. He left that paper to take a job drawing editorial cartoons for The Daily Press in Newport News, Va., and he’s been at it ever since.
“I love drawing cartoons,” he cheerfully insists, “even after 5,000 daily editorial cartoons I still like the daily challenge to fill in the blank with a strong, memorable comment scrawled in ink.” He feels he’s succeeded when a reader enshrines one of his cartoons on a refrigerator “because it struck a nerve.”