Cartoonist Las May launches book
His caricatures have made us think, cry, reflect, sometimes 'cuss', and of course, laugh 'til we weak.
The work of Lascelles 'Las' May has kept readers of The Gleaner and The STAR captivated for more than 25 years. It is an integral part of their daily read. And now Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora can own some of those memorable sketches as May launches his first collection of works, Las May's Classic Editorial Cartoons. May said the time is right for the book.
"This book was in the making for a number of years," he said. "There is a particular chapter in the book on the Manatt-Dudus issue, and with the West Kingston enquiry going on now, I think it was the right time to get the book out."
Copies of the work are already in major bookstores ahead of the official launch. There is plenty to see in the collection, with chapter topics including crime and violence, religion, sports, and, of course, politicians.
"It's some 300-plus pages," he said. "I try to cover all the areas I think people will appreciate."
But how did May get started? He was born and raised in Trench Town and also lived in Franklyn Town. He attended Trench Town Primary and then the comprehensive high. Even though he always loved art, he did the science subjects.
"I actually wanted to do something in the medical or science field," he admits.
But after high school, he joined the Youth Service at the Ministry of Health's planning and evaluation unit, doing charts and other design work.
"The persons in charge at the time recognised the artistic value in me," he said. "They recommended me to a place that did screen-printing and sign production."
That place was Art and Fabric, where he began as a graphic artist. May then did a two-year programme at the then-named School of Art (now the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts).
After working at Art and Fabric for about five years, May started his own screen-printing business. It only lasted for about two years, but May, who always wanted to do comics, submitted a comic story to The Gleaner Company, which ran for a number of months in The STAR.
"It was a story about ghetto life and this kid who got involved in 'gunmanship', and things like that," he said.
After the story ended, the company offered him a job as The STAR's cartoonist in 1989. Another popular cartoonist, Clovis, was The Gleaner's cartoonist at the time, but when he took his talents to the Jamaica Observer, May took over.
It's nothing short of phenomenal that he comes up with a topic every day The Gleaner is published.
"I actually follow the news extensively," he said. "I read all the newspapers, listen to all the television and radio news and talk shows, and there I get ideas. (Whatever is) the news of the day or the stories that are popular at the time, I try to get ideas from that and develop them into the editorial cartoon."
He has received his fair share of criticism, though. One particular cartoon in which he portrayed the current prime minister with a pierced nose and navel stands out in his mind.
"In hindsight, it seemed a bit harsh," he said, while stressing he did not regret doing it. "But I think this was the incident where she came out and said her husband gave her her own credit card to shop, and I drew her waving a credit card in her hand. That is tame to some of the international cartoonists."
May admitted that he has received threats for his drawings, but is undaunted. For him, it's nothing personal.
"I always try to be fair and balanced, even though sometimes I get a lot of flak from a lot of these politicians because some of them think maybe I have a vendetta against them," he said.
Technology has obviously changed over the decades, but May still relies on his trusty pencil to do his drawings. Afterward, he fills in the ink, scans the cartoon, and off it goes. He jokes that deciding on the topic is what takes the longest time. Despite drawing cartoons for nearly 30 years, May still enjoys it.
"I love what I do," he said. "When I get the idea and I put it on paper, I laugh at my own work sometimes. If I can make myself laugh, I know the fans out there will get a laugh from it."