Seth Boyes joined the Dickinson County News staff in March of 2017. In his first week at the DCN, he covered a train derailment near Graettinger. The tankers carrying ethanol burst into flames. Seth's photo of the event won first place for Best Breaking News photo at the 2018 Iowa Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show. Since, Seth has won nearly a dozen awards for writing, photography and multimedia content. Seth graduated from Iowa State University in 2009 with a degree in Integrated Studio Arts. His original cartoons run regularly in the Spencer Daily Reporter and the DCN. Both he and his wife Janet hail from Clear Lake and have come to expect summers to be full of the hustle and bustle of tourists and visitors.
There's just never enough time these days to finish all the editorial cartooning I'd like to do. Typically a topic will pass into the realm of old news before I even block in the color, but the ongoing strikes at John Deere facilities did provide me a chance to take two swings at an issue. Production workers at John Deere facilities in multiple states recently took up the picket line after UAW – often known as United Auto Workers, but with a much broader inclusion now – rejected John Deere's most recent deal. Reports say workers feel they're owed a larger slice of the company's record earnings, especially during a year that included a pandemic.
Obviously, a lot of Iowa's economy relies on agriculture, and John Deere has a major role in that field (put possibly intended). But I think most in society would agree that the workers helping create those green and yellow icons of mechanized production should be fairly compensated. Now, I was briefly employed in a steel door factory during my college years. I imagine labor in a John Deere plant is probably more taxing. But that's just it, I don't know for sure. The workers on strike do, and from their perspective, trickle-down economics isn't quite doing it at the moment.
Maybe that's why I've heard so little opposition (well, no opposition come to think of it) from outside John Deere.
This particular cartoon didn't take that long, but it had a few bumps along the way.
After perusing the John Deere product line via their website for some reference images (and the model in this cartoon is an amalgam of several tractors), I had to go searching for images the company probably wouldn't put on its website – John Deere's stuck in the mud. That was an important step for me, because I needed to see what a machine like that actually does to the dirt and mud when they get stuck. And it isn't like a car. Granted, there were varying degrees of stuckery to be found on the internet, but I tried to hit a balance where the viewer could still recognize the shape of the tractor while realizing it had sunk its wheels.
The composition largely stayed the same after the sketch phase. I wanted to try out a technique I'd seen other artists use and toss a photo in as the background or a texture to save time, but I didn't like it in the end. I had taken a panoramic of some clouds outside the office a few days earlier, and there was plenty of blue sky and fluffy whites to crop down a usable area, but it just didn't read right visually. I think it became too busy. There were a few other texture issues that needed some work. The corn stalk stubble wasn't originally going to have a heavily inkline at all, but the visual wasn't clear without them. I even had trouble adding the words "Labor strike" to the crop row in such a way that they stayed legible.
The mud was also a visual challenge at points. I used a scattered brush to give a random pattern and then rendered that as best I could. However, it ended up reading like there were too many dirt clods, which in turn actually made it look like the tractor was speeding through the dirt – and an interpretation like that pretty much defeats the point of the cartoon. So I went back and lumped some of the clods into the nearest muddy pile. An extra layer of shine on the lumps helped some, but some white hashing on the slopes did more than the dots and squiggles did.
On the upside, the handling of the silhouette in the tractor's cab worked out just like I planned, and the atmospheric perspective of the rising hill in the background also turned out as I imagined (notice the stalks work without an inkline at that distance). And with the photo of the sky no longer serving as a background, I was able to keep the puffs of exhaust and put a curve in them to take the viewer's eye back toward the front of the tractor – completing a visual circuit to hold the viewer's attention.
In the end, this cartoon took close to three hours to complete from sketch to signature. A funny aside – while I was recording my digital work for the above timelapse, I forgot to stop the recording when I went home for the day and came back to a 16-hour, 30 GB video file. So, there was like 15 hours of my desktop with nothing happening. One friend joked it was perfectly fitting for a cartoon about a strike.