Tom Toles Tales

Let’s begin at the end. Mike Peterson has the Tom Toles farewell cartoon.
While The Washington Post presents the last week of Tom’s Toons where he manages to get in a couple of remarks about the environment, a long-time concern of his.


It was toward the end of his high school education that Tom began his lifetime career.

Toles’ older brother, George, who was studying at the University at Buffalo, decided to take one of his little brother’s cartoons to the offices of the student newspaper, The Spectrum. Toles was a junior in high school at the time. The cartoon that crossed The Spectrum editor’s desk depicted a head without a body, being squeezed by two hands. It represented angst. One week later, George brought The Spectrum home with Toles’ drawing looming large on its front page. “I guess maybe I was hooked right then on getting published,” Toles says. “I thought it was the greatest thing.”

above: 17-year-old Tom Toles’ first two 1969 contributions to The Spectrum

Tom illustrated various articles at the student newspaper; political cartooning was not his specialty, though politics inevitably seeped into his illustrations. But mostly it was illustrating a vast range of articles of interest to college student, which included a number of portraits and caricatures.


After college his portfolio got him a job on a local newspaper.

An English major, Toles had vaguely pointed himself in the direction of teaching, but his friend Jim Brennan urged him to take a stack of Spectrums down to The News and the Courier and see what happened. Courier-Express editor Doug Turner, who had an uncanny eye for raw talent, took one look and liked what he saw. Toles began inking caricatures for the paper while he was still a senior at UB.

He hired Toles full-time to do all manner of graphics needed by a daily newspaper—maps, illustrations, charts, graphs. Toles was quite happy for about a month, until Turner called him into his office and asked him to try his hand at political cartooning. “And then I became very unhappy, because I didn’t want to do it,” Toles recalls.

But do it he did, until September 1982 when The Buffalo Courier Express folded. In a cartoon that may seem familiar Tom said goodbye to the Courier Express readers.

Before the year was over Tom was drawing political cartoons for the crosstown Buffalo News, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bruce Shanks had died in 1980..

Tom added to The Buffalo News Pulitzer Prize tally when he won in 1990.
(Toles successor at The News, Adam Zyglis, would pull in a Pulitzer in 2015.)

As seen, Tom was not averse to sequential comics. He had even tried it at The Spectrum:

So it was not surprising when Tom decided to try comic strips, after all, as Allan Holtz said, just about every editorial cartoonist has dipped his pen into the comic strip world. Curious Avenue debuted on April 19, 1992 from the syndicate that was distributing his editorial cartoons.

That experiment lasted for two and a half years. But his Buffalo News editoons were being carried by a couple hundred newspapers and he regularly appeared in U. S. News and World Report. As 1999 profile said, Tom became “one of Buffalo’s hottest export products.” That late 1999 biography ended with Tom being mysterious about an upcoming project: “lets it be known that he’s indeed working on something brand new.

That project would be the daily cartoon panel Randolph Itch 2a.m., whose first Sunday (above) would harken back to the first Curious Avenue Sunday page. Also reminiscent of his earlier comic Randolph Itch’s dreams would only last for two and a half years. Around the time his comic panel ended so did his employment at The Buffalo News. In July 2002 Tom was hired to replace The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Herbert Block who had died the year before.

And it seemed more than fitting that Tom would be awarded the prestigious Herblock Prize in 2011.

Now, after 51 years Tom has retired. We wish Tom all the best, and for us we wish that on occasion Tom will get the urge to put pen to paper in the future.

all cartoons © Tom Toles or the respective copyright holders
Tom Toles/The Spectrum archives at University of Buffalo
The nostalgic Buffalo Courier Express Facebook runs an occasional Tom Toon
The Buffalo Spree profile of Tom from 1999
The Buffalo News archives need a subscription
Tom Toles editorial cartoons are archived at GoComics from 1995 to end 
Tom Toles books listed at Amazon





One thought on “Tom Toles Tales

  1. There goes the most distinct and well-aimed voices on the editorial page. Sheesh, I even like his high school stuff.

    Here’s hoping he can’t resist the lure of the blank page. Anything he does would be interesting.

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