Living in Corky's world was joyful and inspiring


POSTED: Saturday, February 14, 2009

A great man died on Friday, a man unafraid to speak truth to power. Armed with a brilliant mind, an artist's pen and a degree in journalism, he commanded international attention for his opinions on issues of worldwide importance. Computer failures, campaign spending, Korea riots, Japanese investments, Lebanon, Palestine Nation, Exxon Valdez, Chile elections, Persian Gulf doctrine, El Salvador, Iran Contra, Camp David summit, world hunger, death of the ethics bill, savings and loan bailouts ... all are titles of editorial cartoons representative of Corky's world. Born and educated in the Philippines, Corky demolished cultural and racial barriers, becoming the first Asian political cartoonist to enter American journalism and national syndication. Before he turned 30, his works were published internationally. Corky created the syndicated comic strip “;Zeus!”; and the Pacific Stars & Stripes daily cartoon “;Nguyen Charlie”; during the Vietnam conflict. His book “;Marcos, The Rise and Fall of a Regime,”; begins with the words, “;Ferdinand E. Marcos. You either spoke the name in reverence or spit it out in contempt.”;

Forty years ago, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin hired Corky. The paper is to be commended for supporting such a talented professional through turbulent times in the sometimes controversial stands necessarily portrayed through the art of the editorial cartoon. During John Flanagan's executive editorship, he wrote about the cartoonist's job, asking Corky to comment on the best thing about cartooning. Corky's response: “;I get paid for doing something that I'd be put in jail for in many other places in the world.”; He also said cartoonists shouldn't be labeled liberal, conservative or middle of the road. They shouldn't be labeled at all. “;They should be free.”;

The Star-Bulletin gave Corky his freedom. For example, in “;Corky's Hawaii,”; his daily cartoon in the news section, he depicted the Contemporary Gallery at the News Building with all artworks draped, bearing the words “;Censored by HNA employees.”; The caption read, “;Maybe they think First Amendment rights apply only to newspaper ads.”;

Corky and I met in 1982 at an Arts Council of Hawaii meeting in the maze known as the Prince Jonah Kuhio Federal Building. Just finding the entrance to the building is a challenge, and once inside, all the upper floors appear identical. Imagine the joy in finding the door through which a diverse group of colleagues in the arts were gathered. After taking a seat at the conference table, I focused on the faces. There sat Corky. Our eyes widened with mutual recognition and respect. We spontaneously leaned forward, clasped hands across the table, and grinned from ear to ear, in an involuntary meeting of the minds.

That meeting led to his first art show in a pocket-sized gallery known as Ramsay Downtown, which had opened a year earlier as a studio and display space for my quill and ink work. Corky's exhibit would be an official “;Silver Jubilee Event of Hawaii: 25 Years of Statehood, a Lifetime of Aloha.”; An item in the rival daily newspaper announced that “;Corky Trinidad of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, surely one of the country's finest political cartoonists, will be honored tomorrow beginning at noon with a retrospective showing of his cartoons.”; When Corky arrived at the gallery the day before the opening reception, he brought a slew of original cartoons, none of which was matted or framed. With extremely limited time and supplies, installing that show with Corky is a vivid memory. We worked well into the night, happily designing and executing his exhibit, becoming great friends in the process. The following day, Corky was true to the words written by his colleague Ben Wood, who mentioned in his column that Corky would be on hand to sign a poster book of his renditions of Hawaii's first golf game between King Kamehameha and Captain Cook. This book, titled “;The Original Rules of Golf from Saint Andrew's,”; was an instant classic. Incidentally, Corky loved golf, but would never reveal his handicap.

Most folks know a little about a few things. Corky knew a lot about most things. While producing an arts and writers conference, I called on Corky to speak as one of 32 authoritative voices. Bud Smyser, late editor of the Star-Bulletin, gave the luncheon address and stayed to listen to Corky's presentation. He said that he always threw out his first idea as “;too obvious,”; realizing that other “;cartoon commentators”; would think of it, too. From the dais, I could see Bud nodding and smiling at Corky's words. Later, Bud and I concurred that Corky was a genius.

Corky was a family man, with five children with wife Hana, working a fulltime job in his field of choice, creating two cartoon commentaries for publication five days a week under a deadline he never missed.

In 1999, Corky was about to celebrate 30 years at the Star-Bulletin with a solo show in the News Building gallery, which didn't materialize because of changing times at the newspaper. Corky asked if I would host the show in my gallery, which had relocated to Chinatown. The main gallery was booked but the Gallery Cafe was rescheduled to accommodate “;Corky's World.”; The reception was planned personally to honor my friend. I will never forget Corky's facial expression when he saw the suckling pig on the platter.

Corky and Hana reciprocated with a dinner at a new upscale Philippine restaurant with family-style service. As the food arrived, Corky said, “;Don't ask what it is, just enjoy it,”; and we did. Hana Trinidad was then a professional dance director, choreographer and performer. Her popular troupe was famous for its Tinikling, where bamboo poles are held at either end and clapped together as dancers step rapidly and rhythmically between the sticks, with quite a show of artistry.

The new millennium inspired Corky's third gallery show in Chinatown. “;Corky's Icons”; featured fine caricatures of some of Hawaii's favorite people, like Channel 2 newscaster Joe Moore and chef Sam Choy, owner of the Breakfast, Lunch and Crab restaurant. Almost everybody depicted appreciated Corky's witty portrayals.

At his birth in Manila, his “;lola”; nicknamed him Corky, after a character in “;Gasoline Alley,”; the internationally syndicated comic strip. How fitting that Corky was to become a world-recognized cartoonist in his own right. During a lifetime of conceptualizing and creating, Corky manifested through his art and writing the mind of a gifted, analytical thinker, leaving a legacy for generations to follow. Mabuhay and aloha, Corky.


Ramsay, among the foremost pen-and-ink artists in the United States, is president of the National Society of Arts and Letters. The Ramsay Gallery in Chinatown has hosted several showings of Corky Trinidad's work. Ramsay lives in Kula, Maui, and Honolulu.