Scroll down for a list of links to some of Fournier’s cartoons on the Tribune’s Web site
It all starts at his breakfast table. Joe Fournier conjures up an idea for a cartoon while eating a bowl of cereal, then scribbles a script and a couple of sketches on a piece of paper.
After a few days in his studio, which is nestled in the basement of his North Oak Park home, Fournier has a minute-long cartoon ready to be posted on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site. Fournier-a musician, illustrator and animator-is helping reinvent the editorial cartoon.
“One thing you can’t do with a piece of paper is animation,” Fournier says.
The Beye dad, and alum, has been contributing artwork to dozens of publications over the years, from the Chicago Sun-Times to Playboy magazine. This summer, with a nudge from another Oak Parker, Fournier got into animating political cartoons. At ChicagoTribune.com, you can find a 60-second look at Richard Daley through the sketches, music and voice of Joe Fournier. The Chicago mayor’s pitch for the 2016 Olympics keeps getting derailed by el trains crashing and burning off tracks behind him.
Recently, Fournier, 45, took on national politics. He started with a cartoon of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin channeling Barney Fife. Then came Barack Obama and John McCain pairing up to go trick-or-treating. And, in Fournier’s mind, Obama and McCain can play a video game together, too.
The cartoons have garnered response from across the nation, both negative and positive. Fournier isn’t sure what his next cartoon will parody. But he does point out that Vice President-elect Joe Biden has a voice similar to Mike Ditka’s. And George Bush and Dick Cheney will need a proper good-bye.
Trained as a musician
Fournier grew up in Oak Park and attended Beye Elementary School. He studied music at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin, focusing on saxophone studies and contemporary composition. While studying music in India, he almost cut a finger off on his right hand. As he was recuperating, he started drawing. He had some artistic talent, but started honing it after the accident.
“It was something I always wanted to try,” he said. “I wasn’t some idiot savant that got kicked in the head by the pool.”
He pulled together a portfolio and started showing it off to publications. To Fournier’s surprise, everybody hired him. One of his first big breaks was with Playboy.
“I said ‘OK,’ this seems like a way to avoid working for a time,” he said.
Busting onto the Web
Fournier has always dabbled in caricatures. At one of his art shows in Oak Park, he got the push to develop such illustration from another Oak Parker, Charlie Meyerson, a senior producer for ChicagoTribune.com. Meyerson knew of other Tribune papers that had success with animated commentary and encouraged Fournier to take a local, animated approach to political commentary. That led to Mayor Daley, first pitching the Olympics, then having a few beers in Wrigleyville for the Cubs.
Meyerson was impressed with the results-and with Fournier’s humbleness and willingness to take suggestions. He started posting Fournier’s cartoons to the Tribune’s Web site.
“He’s a renaissance man, artist, musician, animator, comedian,” Meyerson said of Fournier. “There’s no ego, although he has every reason to have one.”
Fournier works freelance out of his home studio full-time, drawing caricatures for the Tribune’s opinion page and producing the short cartoons. He draws upon the talents he learned in music school in composing the short cartoons, pulling together the drawings, music and voices.
“He may appear to be doing very separate things, like cartooning or drawing, or music,” said Gerard McBurney, a friend who lives in Oak Park and is creative director for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “But actually all these are very closely connected, and they inhabit a kind of fantasy world within him.”
“You’re hearing somebody who is existing in different media, but I think he’s always talking about more or less the same nexus of obsessions,” McBurney added.
Fournier also does the voices of Daley, McCain and Obama. The only voice he didn’t do is Palin’s, which a neighbor from Minnesota contributed.
Fournier is a perfectionist at heart, but because of the short shelf life of news, he has to abandon that trait and work on cartoons while people are talking about certain events.
“It’s got a lot of flexibility,” he said of the animation process, “and because of that, I can turn the thing around fairly quickly.”
Fournier has been married to his wife, Julie, for 14 years, and has two children, Charlie and Sophie, who are 11 and 8.
He stays busy, having done art for an art gallery in Berlin. He also plays baritone saxophone in a band, the Joe Fournier Quartet, for which he has a CD, Calder’s Circus.
Fournier has won awards for his cartoons. One was for a piece called “Jar Jar Gets His Walking Papers,” about the unpopular Star Wars character getting fired.
“I didn’t feel strongly one way or another,” he said. “Turns out there were lots of people that were very violent about the character. To inspire that kind of vitriol is really something.”
Fournier remain unbiased in his animations about the recent presidential election, too, ribbing both candidates equally.
“I try to get outside of the things as much as possible,” Fournier says, “and I try to look at the silly things.”