Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Graphic designer and Algonquin College professor Fred Sebastian admits he had mixed feelings when he saw some of his life’s work – editorial cartoons and illustrations produced for dozens of newspapers and magazines – recently swept away to join the national collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) .
“It’s a huge honor to have your work properly supported in this way,” says Sebastian, “and it makes you humble to have it archived alongside the work of so many people I admire. It’s also sad to see him go.
LAC has been collecting Sebastian’s work for its permanent collection for years. Its first acquisition dates back to the 1990s; a second installment went to the Archives three years ago, with notice that the archivists would be back for more. The final haul should keep them busy for a while – matching works to publications and publication dates, photographing newspaper or magazine pages, or browsing USB drives to select Sebastian’s copies of his work or digital originals.
Sebastian’s editorial cartoons and illustrations have appeared over the decades in media as diverse as the former Ottawa Sunday Herald (which became the Ottawa Sun in 1988), the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times and a long list of other print and digital media.
Examining some of the items in his collection before they were taken away was a “bittersweet” experience, he says. “On the one hand, there was quite a mess in the house,” he laughs. “But on the other hand, going through it all brings back all kinds of memories. Some of these pieces were created years ago, but when I get them back, I remember where I was, which one was a heck of a finish, and all sorts of other details.
As Sebastian was examining a box, he came across an old illustration he had created for Legion magazine, a publication devoted to Canadian military veterans. He was instantly transported as he sketched and listened to a local radio program that was interrupted to announce the death in 1991 of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury. “That’s what I meant by bittersweet,” he said. “It reminds you that those efforts and those years are far behind you.”
Sébastien started drawing when he was a child. His parents had given him pencils and paper – “I think more than anything else, they just needed some peace.” Some time later, they found him completely redrawing a picture in a coloring book. It was becoming clear to everyone that this would be something more than a hobby for him. Young Fred had a talent and as he got older it set him apart.
“When you’re young it can be a tough thing,” he says. “You’re trying to sort out yourself and your relationships with your friends, and here’s something I could do that seemed to create kind of a buzz and wow factor. My friends were asking me to draw their favorite hockey players, etc. C was truly rewarding, and clearly by the time I was ready to look beyond high school, my future was going to be art, art, and art!
Sebastian, a faculty member of Algonquin College for nearly two decades, is also a proud College graduate. Algonquin was amazing, he said. It gave him the tools he needed to transition into the industry after graduation. “My parents were worried that I would end up starving to death in some kind of artistic dead end. Algonquin taught me that it’s a career and showed me the avenues” – the art of tape drawing was just one of them – “to be taken into a lucrative business.
Sebastian graduated from the two-year Commercial Art and Graphic Design program in 1985, and it wasn’t long before the Sunday Herald picked up his editorial cartoons.
Simultaneously, Sebastian continued his education through its pages. The paper featured columns written by some of the most knowledgeable people in government – senior civil servants, advisers to ministers and the prime minister at the time – and he read them religiously, along with the news pages. “As an editorial cartoonist, I needed to know the events and ideas of the day to translate them into images. It’s more than just drawing cute characters. Reading these things made me a more understanding person.
As such, he became a sought-after artist. The Ottawa Citizen came asking for cartoons and illustrations, then the Star and other Toronto publications, and finally American newspapers and magazines. One of the advantages of the computer age in which he graduated was being able to transmit your work digitally.
Art directors used to prefer to work with illustrators or designers who were in the same city; if changes needed to be made to a piece, the artist and art director could meet and brainstorm until the job was done to everyone’s satisfaction. But once the internet worked, editors and art directors became increasingly comfortable working with remote artists.
“It created a level playing field for those of us who weren’t in New York, for example, but whose work was of a standard that caught the interest of The New York Times.”
Sebastian is a great storyteller, and he has no end of stories to tell about meeting Terry Mosher (the Montreal cartoonist best known to fans as “Aislin”), the ups and downs of working at freelancing and the joys of lifelong learning. While building his career and winning awards for his work, he earned a degree in Art History from Carleton University and a Bachelor of Education from Teachers College.
He joined the College faculty in 2002, first in the Graphic Design program and then in Interior Design. Today, he teaches the Bachelor of Information Technology program, a joint program between Carleton University and Algonquin College, and the Illustration and Concept Art program, which he created. He is proud of his students and hopes he can help them on their career path the same way his teachers have helped him.
“You are trying to plant a seed,” he says. “I always think back to when I was a student and my shortcomings at the time, and how hard my teachers tried to give me information that met my immediate needs but would also nourish me in the future. . I hope to be able to do the same for my students. It may take five years, 10 years, but suddenly the light will come on and they will say: ‘Ah! That’s what he was obsessed with!’ »