'Randolph Itch 2AM".

Tom Toles is a U.S. political cartoonist. Between 1982 and 2002 his cartoons appeared in the Buffalo Evening News. It was here that he created the gag-a-day comic 'Curious Avenue' (1992-1994), about a bunch of streetwise kids, and later the gag-panel 'Randolph Itch 2 AM' (2000-2003) featuring a youngster with insomnia. Between 2003 and 2020 Toles was the house cartoonist of The Washington Post. His cartoons were syndicated to over 200 U.S. newspapers and were often controversial for their left-wing opinions and active efforts to fight climate change and global warming scepticism. Toles received many awards throughout his career, including the 1990 Pulitzer Prize.

Early life
Thomas Gregory Toles was born in 1951 in Hamburg, New York. His father was a freelance writer for the Buffalo Times, but struggled to remain financially stable once the paper folded. The family was poor, so Toles often fled into his imagination. While his older brother George was in college he published some of Toles' cartoons in the student newspaper Spectrum at the State University of New York in Buffalo. By the time the teenager was old enough to go to the same college himself, his cartoons were still appearing in this magazine. During the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s Toles wasn't shy to express his left-wing opinions. Some of his cartoons sparked heated controversy and discussion at the campus. Not surprising, considering Jules Feiffer and Pat Oliphant were among his graphic influences. Nevertheless he managed to graduated cum laude in 1973, majoring in English.

Cartooning career
After graduation Toles considered becoming a teacher, but a friend convinced him to send some of his cartoons to local newspaper Courier-Express. He was instantly hired in 1973 by its ambitious editor Doug Turner. Turner was reorganizing the editorial office and especially wanted a biting political cartoonist. At first Toles merely worked as a full-time graphic design director, but Turner more or less pressured him to become an editorial cartoonist. While others would have been excited by such an offer, Toles was terribly unsure whether he would be able to pull something like this off? He worried that he didn't have the right drawing style, ideology or ability to reach deadlines. It took until 1980 before he felt somewhat comfortable as a cartoonist. Unfortunately the Courier-Express was discontinued in 1982, whereupon Toles joined the Buffalo Evening News. He would stay with the paper for the next 20 years. After winning the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1990, Toles' cartoons were syndicated all over the nation. In 2002 he left the Buffalo Evening News to succeed the late Herblock as new house cartoonist of the Washington Post. At the Buffalo Evening News Toles himself was succeeded by Adam Zyglis.

During a lecture speech at the Amphitheater on 31 July 2015 titled 'Cartooning: The New Front Line of Self-Expression', Toles outlined his own personal "Five Secrets of Editorial Cartooning". At first one should learn to draw, though a cartoon isn't meant to be realistic or sophisticated: "It's all about conveying a message." Therefore Toles too draws in very simple, but eye-catching style. He often includes a tiny alter ego in the margin of his cartoons, further commenting on the drawing itself. Second of all, a cartoon should be funny, but never simply for the sake of being so. As his third point cartoons ought to be carefully thought out, done their research and not take arbitrary or overtly biased points. In short: they should be fair from your own point of view. As his fourth and fifth commandments Toles believes cartoons should be to the point and not "whore the cartoonist out."

Toles' cartoons are notable for their unapologetic left-wing tone, which makes him a hated cartoonist in some ultraconservative right-wing circles. Some of his cartoons have caused controversy over the years. He was staunchly opposed against the 2003 war in Iraq, although the Washington Post supported the war. On 29 January 2006 he drew U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a doctor checking a limbless soldier and declaring him "battle hardened". The cartoon led to an official letter of complaint from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon who felt the image of a "service member who has lost his arms and legs in war (...) beyond tasteless." Toles replied that their interperation was off base and unfair. He was supported by fellow cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, who felt that the Joint Chiefs were hypocritical to condemn Toles' cartoon, while defending the controversy over the cartoons portraying Prophet Muhammad in the Danish magazine Jylland-Posten as "freedom of speech".

Tom Toles is also known for his active campaigning against global warming sceptics. In 2016 he and Michael E. Mann co-published 'The Madhouse Effect', a book explaining the importance of action regarding environmental matters and debunking many myths about climate change denial. Mann and Toles co-wrote most of the content, while Toles provided illustrations. 

On 8 October 2020 it was announced that Toles would retire. He submitted his final cartoon to the Washington Post on 30 October of that year. 

Curious Avenue, by Tom Toles

Curious Avenue
On 19 April 1992 Toles launched his first newspaper gag comic, 'Curious Avenue' (1992-1994), which ran throughout the week and on Sundays in the Buffalo News and The Los Angeles Times, among other papers, and was syndicated by Universal Press. The bitterweet comic strip revolved around a group of young mischievous children who are much smarter than their age would suggest. Toles based most of the characters on kids he remembered from his own childhood, though the cast members Aurora and Timon were based on his own children. 'Curious Avenue' failed to catch on and was cancelled by 31 December 1994.

Randolph Itch 2 AM
Between 3 January 2000 and 13 July 2003 Toles created the Sunday gag cartoon panel 'Randolph Itch 2 AM' for the Buffalo Evening News. Each episode features a youngster, Randolph, lying awake at night or having nightmares about future events. His worries range from unprepared exams, embarrassing dates or forgetting to bring something important the next day. The series was autobiographical. The cartoonist himself frequently suffered from depressions and insomnia. At age 21 it was so problematic that he often crossed off days on his calendar because it would be "one less day he had to go through." Unfortunately Toles had to drop 'Randolph Itch 2 AM' when he left the Buffalo Evening News to join the Washington Post.

Illustration work
In 1997 Toles wrote and illustrated the children's book: 'My School is Worse than Yours'. The story revolves around a girl, Raven, who thinks her school is the worst ever. Throughout the book she gives examples why this is the case - wackily visualized by Toles - and dares the readers to argue with her.

Other activities
Since 2008 Toles is drummer in the rock bands Lethal Bark and Suspicious Package, the latter a musical group starring various newspaper journalists. Suspicious Package was specifically created for the U.S. Presidential Elections. He appeared as himself in a March 2010 episode of 'The Real World: Washington D.C.' on MTV. Since March 2016 he has his own Twitter account.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning (1990), the National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award (2003), Overseas Press Club Thomas Nast Award (2003), National Headliners Award (2005) and the Herblock Prize (2011). He and his wife Gretchen Saarnijoki won the Charles E. Burchfield Award (2015) for their work on behalf of environmental sustainability and support of the transformative power of the arts.

Legacy and influence
Tom Toles' cartoons have been an influence on Signe Wilkinson, Zapiro, Andy Singer and Adam Zyglis.

Curious Avenue on the Stripper's Guide

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