Kate Salley Palmer Moves Seamlessly from Cartoons to Children’s Books to Painting
Even before she could read, new Anderson Artists Guild member Kate Salley Palmer was drawn to the Sunday comics. “They were in full color on those giant pages, and they were just beautiful,” she said. “I could not get enough.”
While earning a degree in elementary education at the University of South Carolina, she wrote a cartoon strip for the student newspaper called Terrible Tom and the Boys. Though she taught briefly and took time out to raise her children, by the mid-1970s, the Greenville News was paying her five dollars per political cartoon and in 1978 hired her full time. This made her the first full-time female cartoonist in South Carolina and one of the first in the country. In fact, when she attended her first meeting of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, her peers wouldn’t let her into the business meeting until she proved that despite being a woman, she really was a cartoonist.
During 10 years at the Greenville News, she got lots of nasty mail, never more so than for a cartoon about comedian John Belushi’s death in 1982. The cartoon showed Belushi, dressed in the samurai outfit from one of his best-known skits on Saturday Night Live, at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter tells him to go on in because “the old man has a sense of humor.” Readers of the paper were outraged for three reasons: that Belushi was going to Heaven even though he’d died of a drug overdose, that Palmer had called God an old man, and that she’d said God had a sense of humor.
Mostly, though, her targets have been politicians. “I’ve always felt that politicians were ripe for satire,” she said. “Most are pretty self-important.”
She left the newspaper job when it became too difficult. “I was having a tough time getting cartoons approved in the second Reagan administration,” she said. “It was a battle every day that I didn’t want to wage.”
By then, though, her cartoons were syndicated nationally in 200 newspapers. She continued working on her own until transitioning into writing children’s books, first for Simon & Schuster and ultimately for Warbranch Press, a publishing company formed by Palmer and her husband. In total, she has written and/or illustrated about 20 children’s books, which she calls “poems set to pictures.”
She also published a memoir called Growing Up Cartoonist in the Baby-Boom South. Among her current projects are 150 watercolor caricatures of politicians and a graphic novel version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
And she’s learning to paint. She started in acrylics but soon moved to oils. She’s been taking classes at the Blue Ridge Arts Center in Seneca, painting there in an open studio, and trying to discover her style, which so far includes lots of color and values. Her inspirations include old family photos, landscapes, and still lifes.
For more information about Palmer, visit https://warbranchpress.com/index.html.