The works of a long-time Colorado Springs political cartoonist get new life in Pikes Peak Library District show

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Courtesy of the Pikes Peak Library District.
Visitors at the opening reception for “The Names Change, But The Issues Stay The Same” view some of Asay’s works on display.

For over three decades, Colorado newspaper readers had a strong love-or-hate relationship with the work of Colorado cartoonist Chuck Asay, whose work appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Colorado Springs Sun, among others. 

Now, more than fifteen years after Asay’s retirement, an exhibit of his work hopes to spark more conversations and strong feelings. 

Titled "The Names Change, But The Issues Stay The Same," the exhibit by the Pikes Peak Library District draws from its archive of Asay’s cartooning work, including more than 10,000 digitized pieces it has available online.

Erinn Barnes, the library district’s photo archivist,  curated this exhibit, working closely with Asay himself. 

“It was really difficult to choose, because Chuck has so many great cartoons, but I really looked with an eye for what are some of the prominent issues people are wrestling with today,” said Barnes. “Issues with Ukraine are in Chuck's cartoons. We have Israel and Palestine. We have discussions about when does life begins; all of that, he was drawing 30 and 40 years ago.”

Courtesy of the Pikes Peak Library District.
Cartoonist Chuck Asay demonstrates his creative process to participants at a workshop in conjunction with a new exhibit of his editorial cartoons, March 6, 2024.

“The issues really do stay the same. (Just) the names change,” agreed Asay. “I could do it all over again just by changing the faces. “

For his part, Asay said he mostly deferred to Barnes’ choices for the exhibit. 

“I really like her selections, because Erinn and I might disagree a little politically, but she selected the cartoons that made her think, and probably I would've selected the cartoons that would make you mad. And so it was a lot better to do it the way Erinn did it,” said Asay.

Barnes, though, is sure people will still be able to find plenty to get mad about in the exhibited selection.

Asay noted that Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant used to say that the job of a cartoonist “is to kick butt and take names. And you put those in history” 

However, Asay views his work a bit differently; “I throw out good ideas and bad ideas. And bad ideas come from me, my own selfish view of things. The good ideas, I think, come from God, because I'm a Christian. And I get people angry because I tend to speak in metaphors and analogies.” 

While during his career, Asay sparked controversy with some of his cartoons, he credits his wife for reviewing his drafts and helping him to temper his final versions.

Courtesy of the Pikes Peak Library District.
Chuck Asay announced his retirement in 2007 with a cartoon in which he literally hung up his pen.

“My wife doesn't like confrontation and she likes me,” Asay explained. “She doesn't agree with everything I say, but she can help me moderate it to the audience, and that's what a good editor will do… They will see what you're trying to say and then they will help you say it, and that's what she does.”

Barnes believes this exhibit speaks to the larger mission of the library, which is to include a variety of viewpoints and to promote free speech.

In 1948, in reaction to the suppression of books and ideas in Nazi Germany, the American Library Association first promulgated the Library Bill of Rights, which affirms the principle that libraries protect the concept of intellectual freedom and the First Amendment. 

In recent years, libraries have mostly been in the news for protecting access to material about LGBTQ lives and ideas like structural racism, but Barnes sees sharing Asay's cartoons, some of which remain controversial decades after their publication, as part of that same tradition.

“Today we really are committed to free speech and representing free speech here at the library, and so I felt like my role was really to amplify Chuck's work and his voice and also help the community remember his place here in Colorado Springs and how his voice was often so prominent in many of our political conversations,” said Barnes. 

“We all have a part in this country,” Asay added. “This is a country where we have free speech and we see that being even attacked today, where people drown each other out and won't let each other speak. We have to listen. That's the bottom line.”

The exhibit of Chuck Asay's art, titled "The Names Change, But The Issues Stay The Same" is currently on display in the galleries of two of the Pike Peak Library’s branches in Colorado Springs — Library 21c and East Library — until the end of March. The exhibit will also be showcased at the Penrose Library later this year.