By Henry Pree
Walter Medcraft is the cartoonist for UM’s independent student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin. Medcraft is also an artist and a senior art/journalism student.
Fellow UM student Henry Pree interviewed Medcraft recently after his art show and below is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Let’s start with a little background. Who are you and what do you do?
A: My name’s Walter Medcraft. I’m an artist and I recently joined the Kaimin squad as their cartoonist. Oh, and I’m from St. Paul, Minnesota and I’m a student here at the U.
Q: I’ve noticed that the comics you’ve been doing for the Kaimin recently have had political and social issue undertones. How important do you think it is to do research before you publish these comics?
A: Yeah, definitely. I like to do research before I do my stuff, whether that be my comics or my art, to really make sure that the point comes off as clearly as possible. My cartoons are kind of my way of reporting. So, I wouldn’t want the information that I’ve put out in a newspaper to be inaccurate because that reflects badly not only on me, as an artist, but on the newspaper, too.
Q: When I looked into some of the Kaimin’s archives I noticed that the previous cartoonist didn’t really take as much of a political approach. He seemed to do more humorous stuff. I’ve seen you do both funny pieces and I’ve seen you do pretty serious stuff. I’ve even seen you blend the two, specifically with your vaccine strip. What made you want to take this more politically-driven approach?
A: I feel like it’s hard for me to talk about many other things. I like to make political cartoons and art because I feel like that’s what’s really relevant, like, what really matters, you know? I feel like kind of showing a different perspective in things is what’s important and spreads a message that you don’t have to look at everything the same way. It’s hard for me to watch all these issues taking place and not have any response to it. My response is art and I’m lucky to have an outlet like the newspaper and my Instagram, where there’s a following and people can actually see what I’m thinking about in response to these things.
Q: Aside from the Kaimin, itself, I’ve definitely seen that you’re most active with your art and cartoons on Instagram. Do you feel like social media has changed the direction or way that your journalism is conducted? Do you do certain pieces specifically for social media?
A: I don’t think it’s changed the way I go about doing my art. But I definitely like posting my art on Instagram because it broadens the audience that gets to see it. Otherwise it might just go to the Kaimin readers and a lot of my Instagram followers don’t read the Kaimin. So posting it on my Instagram gets it to all my followers from back home, Minnesota, Wisconsin, all over. So it’s really cool that social media can be a tool to reach people from all over the country and all over the world. I don’t think it’s changed the way I make art. It’s just kind of more there for exposure, I guess. But I’m definitely grateful for that.
Q: With journalism moving into almost an entirely online base, and with you not necessarily being a traditional journalist, do you feel like social media and online resources are also the direction your stuff is going?
A: Yeah definitely. I think there will for sure be a place for my art in the future, even after the printing press dies. I try and make my comics very readable. I want people to be able to read them easily and have their perspectives switched. Like with my Gabby Petito one, there’s hardly any dialogue but it really kind of weighs on you. I feel like people are looking for less words and people want to do less reading. Honestly, people are pretty lazy and that’s why print is dying and visual journalism and the entertainment industry is blowing up. So I think making comics that are easy to read, but still changing perspectives is really important and [that’s] something I consider when I make my work.
Q: So, you had an art show today, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. There were a lot of people there I’ve never even seen before. It really seemed like there were people from all social circles in attendance. Would you say social media played a role in the promotion of this art show and really getting people there?
A: Absolutely. I used mainly Instagram to reach out to people and most of the people that came were people that either already followed me or I had hit up using Instagram. I mean, I promoted the flyer in person and definitely some of those people showed out. But the majority of the people at the show were people that had seen my Instagram stories and posts. Yeah, I think the turnout would not have been nearly the same without my Instagram.
Q: Do you feel like you’re able to put art or comics on your Instagram that you wouldn’t be able to put in print?
A: Yeah, definitely. My social media is directly tied to me and my art. Even if I post stuff I’ve ran on press, it comes back on me, not the Kaimin or any other organization I might be part of. I take credit for everything on that page. But with my stuff in the Kaimin, it gets tied to the editors and the advisers and really everyone else who’s involved with the whole thing. And it’s a newspaper so I can’t put too many personal opinions in the Kaimin because I understand the importance of having an objective news source. So, let’s try and keep it that way.
Henry Pree is a student in the UM School of Journalism’s Social Media and Engagement class, which conducted Q&As this semester with more than 20 journalists as part of a research project on best practices for journalists on social media.