Cartoonist wielded razor wit with grace


POSTED: Saturday, February 14, 2009

CORKY Trinidad's artistic skill, clever wit and piercing perspective graced this page since his arrival from the Philippines 40 years ago. To readers, his cartoon commentary became an integral part of the Star-Bulletin, and to colleagues he was a cherished friend. American journalism lost a modicum of its character yesterday when Corky—Francisco Flores Trinidad Jr.—died at the age of 69.

Trinidad's cartoons began appearing in the Philippines Herald in 1961 and his cartoons soon were syndicated in the United States. Having been harassed by Ferdinand Marcos, Trinidad fled to Hawaii, where the Star-Bulletin became the rostrum from which he continued to lampoon the Philippine dictator.

He drew under the name “;Corky,”; from a “;Gasoline Alley”; comic strip character, and most everybody knew him as that. For years, he would arrive at the Star-Bulletin's office long before dawn, completing his cartoon before the early morning deadline for the afternoon paper and brewing coffee for a staff that would arrive later. The schedule allowed him to make his midmorning tee time for a round of golf.

If a caricature of a local politician or personality was needed on short notice, Trinidad would be given a photo and have it done in 10 minutes. When a Star-Bulletin colleague retired, a more elaborate drawing was presented for other staffers to sign their aloha along the sides.

Born in Manila and earning his journalism degree at the University of Ateneo de Manila, “;Corky”; became the best-known cartoonist in Asia soon after cartooning for the Herald. During the Vietnam War, he created the comic strip “;Nguyen Charlie,”; depicting a clumsy guerrilla for Stars and Stripes.

“;Americans have always been known for their sense of humor, for their ability to joke during a crisis, to laugh at themselves during trouble,”; he told a Stars and Stripes staffer. “;The Viet War was unpopular ... because it was one war where the U.S. was not laughing.”;

Trinidad would make his wry views known in cartoons against the Vietnam War, U.S. invasion of Iraq, in defense of Palestinians, civil rights, the disenfranchised, Hawaiians and the environment and insightful views of a multitude of local and state issues. He once explained that his cartoons reflected “;a theme I'd like to get off my chest.”; He took the resulting praise and criticism in stride, not allowing reactions to dampen his cheerful personality.

The “;Corky”; cartoons elicited more letters to the editor, both for and against, than any other item in these pages. The views were his own, independent from and sometimes contrary to the Star-Bulletin's editorial position, but his devotion to the newspaper was as strong as our awe and affection for such a valued compatriot.

Tomorrow's Insight section will include a retrospective of Corky's work, plus tributes from other cartoonists and colleagues.