IT’S 5pm, and I can sense a bearded presence beside me.
It’s Peter Lewis, a faintly lined pad and a felt-tip pen in hand, hoping to bounce a few ideas around from the day’s news list, because the first three or four ideas he has had for a cartoon have fallen over because the story has evaporated – it happens sometimes – or because the creative juices are not flowing quite how they should.
We’d have our discussion – rarely staying on topic – and with luck he’d have a better idea of where his cartoon was going, and I’d be reinforced in my belief that I was glad it was him, and not me, who had to coalesce a whole pile of disparate ideas into a single, easily identifiable image, and one that was usually expected to be funny as well.
No easy task, especially when you turn out something like 200 daily cartoons a year, along with various other tasks, including small “pocket toons” that would sometimes run with news stories and the “fact toons” that ran on the Topics page.
Over the years, Lewis became very much one of the most recognisable public “faces” of the Newcastle Herald, and it’s safe to say that his cartoons rapidly became reader favourites.
Fairfax Media’s Newcastle/Hunter group managing editor, Chad Watson, said Lewis drew an exclamation mark on the stories that resonated the most with readers.
“His drawings go to the very heart of a story and often give them a new life of their own,” Watson said.
“He sends up the ludicrous, stirs up the big end of town and sticks up for the little folk.
“While humour is his hallmark, Lewis is arguably at his most provocative when commenting on serious issues. He has the rare ability to distill complicated subjects with a few strokes of his pen.”
Lewis took his pen to some controversial figures over the years, and while some of those subjects would pull you over in the street and have a whinge about their portrayal, it never ceased to amaze me – and him – as to how many of them would then ring to request the original, which could then be found hanging in pride of place in their office or den.
Former mayor Jeff McCloy, for one, could open a gallery with his Lewis depictions.
Thirty years is a long time to spend honing a craft, but on reflection this week, Lewis said he had achieved all he set out to do, and had enjoyed doing it. Who could ask for more?