Cover Story

I'll never duck a controversy

"I'll never duck a controversy" Continued...

Issue: "The Man Behind the Duck," July 26, 1997

Mr. Tinsley, who grew up in Louisville, Ky. (where the newspaper does not publish the work of its native son), discovered "early on" his interest in art. "As a matter of fact," he says, "probably too early on. It really kept me from doing things like taking notes in class and paying attention. I was always doodling and getting in trouble for it."

At home, the environment was conservative and informed. His parents discussed politics, read the newspaper aloud at night, and usually watched the evening newscasts. In high school, he found a stark contrast between his teachers' views and those of his parents. "I think in a lot of ways what kind of solidified my conservatism was my perception that all the opinion leaders for future generations were really liberal. There were very few exceptions. Going to high school and college at the time I did, and then working for newspapers from the time I was a senior in high school and on through college, would either make someone an arch-liberal or conservative."

From the beginning of his career, Mr. Tinsley noted the lack of balance in newsrooms, and the need for a strong conservative voice. Once he created Mallard and imbued him with decidedly conservative (Mallard would say common-sense) philosophies, Mr. Tinsley and Mallard found themselves the victims of that imbalance. Mallard, however, was not duck soup. Mr. Tinsley had done some work for The Washington Times, where the editors liked Mallard and published a few strips. From there, King Features called and Mallard was airborne.

As the counterweight to Doonesbury, Mr. Tinsley ridicules everything from condom distribution in schools to the NEA. And while Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau occasionally belittles religion, or at least its practitioners, Mallard represents Mr. Tinsley's own efforts to live out his faith. "As far as it relates to my strip, I don't want to be too narrow doctrinally," he says. "But at the same time, I don't want to come out there and do something that's so ecumenical and inclusive that it's the spiritual version of the Republican Convention last August that says nothing. I respect people of other faiths, but on the other hand, I'm a Christian, and I hope it informs, every day, the strip I do. Mallard can be a pretty grumpy, misanthropic kind of guy, but I shudder to think how he would be if the strip were not to some degree informed by my Christian faith.

"Mallard typifies the spiritual struggle that I have all the time. By my human nature, I don't much want to be the kind of person that Jesus expects us to be. I'm constantly amazed by God's grace and by the expectations we're expected to live up to. In the strip, Mallard kind of has that approach. He's Everyman in the sense that he really is disinclined to live the kind of life that Christians are supposed to live, and he has to overcome that, just kind of his natural human frailty."

Mr. Tinsley was raised a Presbyterian but joined a Baptist church when he was 16. He did not have a dramatic moment of conversion, but came to believe in Christ as his understanding unfolded. "None of the important moments in my life, like falling in love with my wife, have happened suddenly," he says. Mr. Tinsley and his wife, Arlette (who is expecting the couple's first child in November), are new to their town in Indiana and have not yet settled on a church there.

Conservatives are the iconoclasts of this generation, he contends, tilting at the liberal status quo, railing at the hypocrisies and pointing out the flawed thinking and theology of the Flower Children Who Are Now In Charge. "There's that strain that associates liberalism with the wonderful things about Christianity, associates liberalism with compassion, with charity and with concern for our fellow man," Mr. Tinsley says. "But quite frankly what I see from many liberals is a sort of trading of a personal conscience and personal sense of charity and compassion for what in the '60s and '70s was called a social conscience. Sort of like, I will turn those aspects of my life over to the government to manage. It'll make me feel less guilty if instead of giving to charity myself, or doing work for charity, or having compassion on my fellow man, if I just force somebody else to pay lots of taxes to salve my conscience."

His most controversial storylines were the Kennedy-Clinton spring-break trip in 1996, and the 1994 series on the anniversary of Woodstock. "Essentially I was making fun of this bunch of aging hippies who now are either burned out, living in an attic somewhere with cats, or else they're people who are the editors and publishers of newspapers and professors at universities. I got a lot of really angry mail about that."

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