Consider This | Saluting ‘Sideburns’
In mid-July 2019, Stan Burnside was given notice that his daily cartoon, “Sideburns”, would no longer be published in The Nassau Guardian as it had been for the past 17 years. While that decision surprised many Bahamians who enjoyed the daily column, it was perhaps a tremendous relief to many politicians who were lampooned in the cartoon for their foolish behavior and, at times, inane statements.
Therefore, this week, given his many years of cartooning in the major dailies, we would like to consider this…what will Stan Burnside’s “Sideburns” legacy be to our society?
Prolific body of work
Stan Burnside has enjoyed a very long history of publishing his “Sideburns” cartoons in the major Nassau dailies. He started in 1979 (40 years ago) at The Nassau Guardian, then moved to The Tribune in 1992. His second stint at The Nassau Guardian lasted 17 years, beginning in 2002 and ending on the last day of July this year. During that time, Stan published approximately 11,000 cartoons under the banner “Sideburns”, a creatively clever derivative of his last name, Burnside.
Stan is also credited with a superlatively impressive body of work among the very best visual artists that the country has ever produced.
Fair but fearless
Sideburns was an equal opportunity critic, a hard-hitting cartoonist who captured in a single image, the essence of everyday events. It made no difference which political stripes the subjects of his cartoons bore. Stan’s father, the late Dr. Jackson Burnside, noted this in the Foreword of “It’s Der Real Ping”, one of two books that Stan wrote containing his “Sideburns” cartoons. Stan’s other book was entitled “Off der Top”.
Dr. Burnside also observed: “Your characterizations and illustrations are provoking and stimulating. You are human, and good or bad, you make a bold attempt to be fair. You are mindful that your primary clear duty is to record for posterity the good, the bad and the negligible. We know that you do not make history here, but your drawings and records will live longer than the memory of the activities and personalities.”
Sideburns had an uncanny ability to cause us to laugh at ourselves and at each other. Bahamian politicians, often the target of his satire, frequently fumed at the pointed accuracy of his cartoons. As Dr. Burnside observed in the same foreword, “Your drawings are frank and open. Some of us will see your drawings as fresh and exciting, other will see them as insulting and caustic and get ‘mad as hell’. However, if the event is current and a reality, the good as well as the ridiculous and absurd should not be carelessly and callously noted or left ignored.”
Influencers in his life
Stan Burnside recently admitted that he was deeply influenced in his craft by Jeannie Thompson’s column “Satirically Speaking”, the writings of Eugene Dupuch as Smokey Joe and conversations with Carvel Francis Sr.
Diverse subjects featured
On a daily basis for many decades, “Sideburns” skillfully and creatively captured a moment in our history in a single image, affirming the age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
“Sideburns” cartoons featured our national heroes, prominent artists, including subjects of his favorite avocation, Junkanoo, and its many heroes like his brother, Jackson, and close friend and long-time competitor, Winston Gus Cooper.
His cartoons never hesitated to highlight and applaud successful Bahamian sports champions and icons, leaders of industry and civil society, prominent priests and pastors and senior citizens who recently departed their earthly sojourn. Sideburns was so respected and enjoyed enormous credibility because he always spoke truth to power and never hesitated to call it as he (and so many other Bahamians) saw it.
A gentleman par excellence
Above all, despite his critical characterization of events or personalities, Sideburns was never mean-spirited. He is a gentleman who is deeply respected and admired by so many with whom he came into contact. Over the years, the cartoonist has always demonstrated a keen interest in assisting young Bahamians who are interested in pursuing a career in art.
In mid-July, shortly after receiving the news that The Nassau Guardian had decided to discontinue the “Sideburns” cartoon, in order to avoid any confusion or misinformation regarding this development, he wrote the following note to his family and close friends:
“I write to inform you, before you hear it on the streets, that The Nassau Guardian has decided to terminate my employment from the position as their Editorial Cartoonist.
“Don’t feel sad for me; I have had a long and successful run, not say bragging.
“From 1979 to the present, over 10,000 of my cartoons have been published by the Guardian and Tribune newspapers.
“I leave with my head held high and my dignity intact.
“I did it my way! Now, it’s time to put all of my energies into the next phase of my life.
“As always, I am listening to the whispers of God.
“My last cartoon for the Guardian will be on July 31, 2019.
“I wanted to share this news with you, my loved ones.
“Peace, Light and Love.”
That missive clearly demonstrated that Sideburns opted to leave on a very high note. No anger, no bitterness, no excuses, no regrets.
How Sideburns is viewed
In the introduction to “It’s Der Real Ping”, the late Jackson Burnside III, Stan’s brother, noted: “The political cartoonist, like the journalist, is an opinion maker who uses satire, humor and candor to present in visual imagery the events of the day. The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is particularly true when the political cartoonist goes beyond his personal opinion and attitudes and creates a statement which represents and provokes the common agreement of his audience. When the cartoonist presents an image that causes the public to spontaneously say ‘that’s just what I was seeing’, his work elevates beyond mere draftsmanship to a functioning fine art.”
Upon learning of his imminent departure from The Nassau Guardian, noted jurist and former Attorney General Sean McWeeney, QC, wrote Stan the following note:
“Stan, I’m sorry to hear that you are parting ways with the Guardian. It’s their loss. And, sadly, the country’s loss as well. You’re right though: it’s been a long haul. When you add the years you spent with the Tribune, you’ve amassed a record of cartooning that is unlikely to be equaled; a record that you can rightly look back on with a great sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.
“It’s amazing what you were able to do on a daily basis with a single image, conveying what it would take the politicians you so brilliantly lampooned thousands of words to get across. Bottom line: your legacy as the pre-eminent political cartoonist of the modern era is secure.
“You don’t have any equal in this sphere of journalism and political and cultural commentary. And I doubt you ever will. I don’t know what your future plans are, but I hope they include a pictorial book showcasing the ‘Best of Sideburns’. Newspapers fade while books tend to endure a whole lot longer. Whatever you do with your many and immense creative gifts, will, I’m sure, be done brilliantly and well.
There is no doubt that Stan Burnside’s legacy through his medium of “Sideburns” is indelibly etched in Bahamian history. Arguably, no one has been as critical of the country’s four prime ministers and politicians on both sides of the political divide as Sideburns has. Not one was given a pass. When they deserved critical commentary, they knew that they would receive it from Sideburns. And rightly so.
Isn’t it ironic though, that just when we least expect it, and when we most need them, the strongest voices in our society are silenced?
But we are neither discouraged nor disappointed by this development. While The Bahamas has lost one of its strongest political, social and cultural voices, we are confident that Sideburns’ body of work that started 40 years ago will be deeply embedded in the Bahamian psyche and consciousness for many years to come.
We, therefore, take this opportunity to salute my friend, my brother and a real national hero. Our admiration for your talent, your unique insight into the Bahamian society and your impressive and unique body of work that clearly shows the best – and most absurd – of our national psyche cannot be adequately expressed. We thank you for your service to our nation and for the contributions that you have made to nation building. We look forward to your continued contributions in the visual arts.
Perhaps the best way to salute you is to, once again, remind our readers of your wish for all of us, as embodied in your final cartoon:
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected].