Cartoon Machine thrives in Torontonian urbanity

Mike Winters Cartoon Machine GigCity EdmontonStand-up comedians and cartoonists are the only people in the world who can be counted on to tell us the brutal truth – no matter what. We’re lied to on a daily basis by the government, the media, corporations, even our neighbours and loved ones. Someone’s got to do the dirty job of being honest.

Good cartoonists might even be better at cutting through the bullshit. For one thing, they don’t have to face the fear of getting up on stage in front of drunks. They can be fearless in solitude.

Cartoonist Mike Winters does it effectively, hilariously and often uncomfortably with his weekly Cartoon Machine strip, appearing locally in Vue magazine. His satiric pokes at “urbanism” have found fertile ground in Toronto, where the ex-Edmonton and his incisive comic strips have thrived. His character “Wonderdick,” for example, is an archetype of the insufferable pretentious douchebag we see in big cities all the time. He blogs at “Vicinities Magazine” for a living, has to answer to his boss and archrival Queen Street Wes (who actually has a real Twitter account), along with other writers like “T.T. Cee” (the cartoonist in a wordless cameo role, right), can see the poetry in urban life, but in the end cares more for virtual than human contact. In short, someone you might know.

Wonderdick is not alone. Winters explores relationship hell with the equally insufferable “Pair Bond,” white collar sexual repression limbo in “Lil’ Office Dude” and media purgatory with “McScoop the News Dog,” whose top copy runs along the lines of “Charity Curling Event Celebrates Volunteerism.” In “Time Professor,” the cartoonist tees off on Back to the Future and its central relationship between a creepy old guy and a teenager. The results are far more horrific than the movie. The Hardy Boys are parodied in the “Question Bros.” Or maybe you’ll meet the magical “Wish Lynx,” which will grant a single wish – whose meaning is usually twisted into fatal consequences for the wisher. Winters says you should probably get your wish parsed by a lawyer before proceeding.

WonderdickIndeed, while quite intelligent at heart, Cartoon Machine usually aims for a gut reaction in the punchline – awkward sex, gruesome violence, or something just plain ridiculous. In the end, it’s funny, and more importantly, honest.

The book form of these comics is available for the first time right here – or on Winters’ website. What follows is an (mostly) unedited attempt to get up close and personal with the man behind Cartoon Machine.

August 23rd, 4:00pm

Original and brilliant! Just lemme know when ya wanna phoner. Or maybe we could do a take on the email interviews that so many modern ‘journalists’ do. Feh!

Monday 8:21pm

Hi Mike, sorry for the radio silence. Whatever works for you. Tomorrow is nuts but maybe an afternoon call from my work on Wed-Thursday? Thursday at, I dunno, 1pm?

Tuesday 9:33am

Weird. I was just going to msg you to do email after all. Let’s do it one at a time and see what comes up. We can fill in the ‘facts’ later. QUESTION 1, for T.T. Cee: Who the hell is Richard Florida?

Mike Winters Cartoon Machine GigCity EdmontonAh, so you want to get conceptual eh?

Not sure what that means, sorry.

Question 1 is for the character TT Cee?

Aren’t you he?

Well, he’s modelled on me. Just wasn’t sure if you want me to answer as him or me. TT Cee is a dick. I’m awesome.

TT doesn’t have a single line in your comic. How do we know he’s a dick?

Because he’s a favourite of Queen Street Wes and well… I’ll make sure he’s a dick in later strips.

Tuesday 9:42am

Queen Street Wes seems to be a reasonable enough guy, for an editor. Why does Wonderdick hate him so?

Wonderdick is simply jealous of Queen Street Wes: he makes more sense, is more successful and is liked by everyone. That said, he’s also humourless and patronizing, especially to Wonderdick, which is unseen by everyone else. And a reasonable enough guy with the caveat of *for an editor* sums it up well, too.


Mr. Sunshine Butt

Does Wonderdick get paid to blog for Vicinities magazine? What is their per-word rate? Is Mr. Sunshine Butt Wonderdick’s little brother? Where do the Question Bros come from?

Wonderdick is a staff writer at Vicinities and his “salary” more closely resembles an honorarium than actual pay. He saves money by only have one set of clothes, along with shameless freelance pieces here and there. Mr. Sunshine Butt pre-dates Wonderdick so they coincidentally look the same. I’m not as nearly diverse in my character modelling as I’d like to be. I like that cartoon because there’s an argument behind it: to be truly optimistic one has to be completely unhinged from reality.

Wednesday 12:06pm

Could Wonderdick have thrived in Edmonton?

Wednesday 3:41pm

You seem distant lately. Is it me?

Haha, just got back. Up in North York with a client all afternoon.

Time ProfessorWednesday 4:47pm

I think Wonderdick could thrive in Edmonton, at least in the 2000s. These days there’s a genuine grassroots push for improved transit in Edmonton that’s overdue, so it’s easy to see him leading the charge. And I think urbanism in Edmonton would be grittier, more hard-fought and possibly thankless in a city with lots of fake rubber balls on Ford F150s. Kind of hard to be a navel-gazer when motorists are actively running you off the road when you dare to cycle on almost *any* city street.

Wednesday 5:49pm

Will Pair Bond ever find true happiness?

Friday 10:45am

Absolutely not. I wanted to do a strip about the absolute worst in a relationship, where a couple has more basic respect for absolute strangers than they do each other. The only thing they *should* do is break up and they still don’t. I think we’ve all seen or lived it. That said, people ask me if this is based on my own life and I’m like, “Are you insane?” Things never got THAT bad!

Friday 10:50am

One more question, briefly: Why did you move to Toronto, and what is your job there?

Friday 11:06am

Moved for a job. A lot of media pals were working here already and I had lived here for a year in 2001 so it was a pretty easy decision. I work at a “media monitoring company” but don’t like to say where.

Mike Winters Cartoon Machine GigCity Edmonton