Mike Peters was on a mission to cheese off Dayton the day he started at the Dayton Daily News in January 1969.
Fresh off the bus from Chicago, where he had been a staff artist at the Chicago Daily News, Peters got a jaywalking ticket shortly after leaving the now closed bus depot in downtown Dayton on a quiet Sunday.
“There was no one in the street,” Peters recalled. “It looked like a blank piece of paper.”
Dayton Daily News then-editor Jim Fain had hired Peters as an editorial cartoonist in a Chicago hotel as police outside tear-gassed protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
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Peters mentioned the Sunday article about him being hired to the officer who wrote him that jaywalking ticket.
“‘You break the law, you are going to have to pay,’” Peters recalled the officer saying.
The next day, Peters went to work.
The Thursday that followed, his cartoon featuring a kid in Mickey Mouse ears being arrested by two police officers while crime and anarchy break out around him was published.
Then Dayton Police Chief Grover O’Conner called, and Peters gleefully expected an earful of hostility.
Instead, O’Conner wanted a copy of the paper.
“He said, ‘It is the first time your liberal (expletive) newspaper ever showed us doing our jobs,’” Peters recounts the chief saying. “I was devastated.”
That cartoon was a miss, but Peters has fulfilled the mandate time and time again that he learned from his mentor, Bill Mauldin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist.
“Mauldin said, ‘Get people (ticked).’ Getting people mad is the best thing you can do every day,” Peters recalled.
Peter’s 50th anniversary with the Dayton Daily News will be celebrated when the Pulitzer Prize winner brings his exhibit “What a Hoot” to the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton. The show will feature more than 90 pieces of Peters’ work – from notebooks and sketches to editorial cartoons and comic strips – spanning his whole career.
You can meet him at a special reception kicking off the exhibition from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2.VIP Tickets for that event are $200 and include champagne, wine and beer; heavy appetizers and dessert; a personal meet and greet with Peters; and a numbered, limited edition, one-of-a-kind print signed by the cartoonist.
General admission is $20 and includes champagne, wine, and beer; heavy appetizers; dessert and a meet and greet with Peters. Tickets can be purchased on eventbrite.com by searching Mike Peters.
A special Dayton Daily News subscriber question and answer session will be held with Peters at the library the next morning, April 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Registration for that free event is available on eventbrite as well.
Peters now lives in Colorado and Florida, but has remained the Dayton Daily News’ editorial cartoonist.
His comic strip, “Mother Goose and Grimm,” appears in hundreds of newspaper nationwide, including this one.
He said he has always been grateful to the Dayton Daily News and his readers in the Miami Valley.
“I love my job and I love my job at the Dayton Daily News. I feel blessed that they still run my cartoon and like who I am,” he said. “When they say it is a gem, it really is a gem. I love Dayton and my kids love Dayton.”
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Through his editorial cartoons, Peters said he had strived to “make people laugh and mad at the same time,” because that is his job.
“Humor is my weapon,” he said.
Peters said positive feedback and negative comments are both signs that he is getting his point across.
He pointed to the time a local priest he had run afoul of mailed him a note from France while on trip to a church in that country. “He wrote ‘I am praying for your soul,’ but addressed it to the Devil incarnate,” Peters recalled of the day the note was delivered from the Dayton Daily News mail room. “What was bizarre is that it got to me. It was addressed to the Devil incarnate, but they knew to give it to me.”
A grandfather to six and father of three daughters, Peters said his only regret is not going hard enough on certain people.
He pointed to a cartoon he did when Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon in the White House depicting aliens from space proclaiming that there was finally a leader for them to meet. The next day, Peters said Ford pardon Nixon, and Peters regretted that cartoon.
“I‘ve gone light on people who I thought were nice people and they turn out to be not nice people,” he said.
Peters has been anything but light on President Donald Trump, who he considers an editorial cartoonist’s dream. He was working on a cartoon about Trump and the shower of scandals he has faced the day of this interview.
Times have changed and, Peters said, so has cartooning. With the explosion of digital media, some artists have left the industry.
Peters, however, sees opportunities and encourages artist to hang on and keep drawing.
“This Internet thing is going to be fabulous for us,” he said. “It is going to grow and grow and grow. And the more it grows the more content is going to be needed.”