You're one of the few rare conservative political cartoonists...
And getting rarer, along with political cartoonists in general. It's tough to see great cartoonists being let go by their home newspapers. But it's happening more and more frequently.
We last did an interview in 2011. The field has been shrinking for everyone, but you've been keeping busy since then.
At that time I wasn't doing much in the way of political cartoons, mostly gag cartoons. I blame it on my day job for keeping me so busy. Commuting into and out of DC every day was also cutting into my available time. As I got near retirement age, I decided to give the political cartooning a new push to see if it would keep me occupied in retirement. That happened to work out better than I thought, so I hit the virtual retirement button last June.
You started a political newsletter/blog Confederacy of Drones in 2017, retired from your full-time job in 2019, been hired as an editorial cartoonist by SC's Aiken Standard, provided an illustration for an anti-Trump book, and now you've done the illustrations for the polemical children's book "Help! Mom! The Swamp is in my School".
The blog was something I always wanted to do but just kept putting off. As they say, starting's the hardest part. Over a couple of beers, a friend of mine provided encouragement for a collaborative effort and Confederacy of Drones was born. Beer is amazing. The blog let me exercise my editorial satire, political cartooning and general snarkiness. On a whim, I approached the Washington Examiner. They were very open to discussing my political cartoons and ended up using a few and even gave me an opportunity to do several covers for the magazine. From there I did work for The Hill, local Virginia newspapers, the Aiken Standard, online political sites and the books. I even managed getting cartoons recently in the Washington Post and Politico.
So how's retirement treating you?
My worry prior to retirement was that I wouldn't have enough activities to occupy my time. I don't know how it's possible but I feel busier now than when I was working full time and cartooning.
How did you get the "Help! Mom! The Swamp is in my School" book job with Katharine DeBrecht? It appears the three previous books in the series are illustrated by Jim Hummel.
Katharine had seen some of my work and reached out to gauge my interest. Her book would involve around 20 illustrations, plus be needed in a condensed time frame. This schedule didn't work out for Hummel so she reached out to me. Katharine had already written the book and knew what she wanted in the illustrations, so it was clear from the start what was needed.
Is this book a work-for-hire job, or something closer to a partnership?
Strictly work-for-hire but I still considered it a partnership. We spoke by phone or email almost daily as I put together roughs, offered suggestions for each illustration's layout and got feedback from her. She was phenomenal to work with and it turned into a great collaboration.
How did you do the art? Did the author provide any guidance, or leave it up to you? Are you digital at all yet?
She provided the illustration's message, identified the setting, and who she wanted in it. I'd generally sketch something out really rough if I wanted her to consider changes and what those might look like, otherwise, I'd provide a more final product for her review. I drew them on Bristol board by hand, scanned them and then did all color and clean up digitally. That's typical of how I do all cartoons.
Does the book match with your personal politics? We don't often get into politics on this blog, but I'm curious. Do you support the current turn the Republican Party has taken?
I wouldn't do an illustration that I couldn't get behind, so yes the book was a good match. The author of the anti-Trump book I supported a couple of years ago had asked me to do many of the cartoons but I knew those wouldn't have hit the mark he wanted. The one cartoon I provided was on Trump's rash of firings at the time. As far as the Republican Party, I support many of their efforts as a conservative but they've failed when it comes to fiscal responsibility. I do like that Trump's helped them find a collective spine. Unfortunately, his spine-development efforts also come at a price that includes dumb tweets, name-calling, and a new standard for narcissism.
What other conservative cartoonists do you follow regularly?
Michael Ramirez, Lisa Benson, Gary Varvel, Rick McKee, Steve Kelley, David Hitch, plus others.
Are there any liberal cartoonists you keep up with?
Quite a few actually. Walt Handelsman, David Horsey, Signe Wilkinson, Jimmy Margulies, Rob Rogers, Joe Heller, and more. There are several sites that provide a great cross-section of cartoonists such as Arcamax.com. You can find my cartoons there as well.
How about other types of cartooning? We most recently saw each other at a Pixar movie talk. Anything or any one you'd like to recommend?
Here's a recent Virginia Press Association interview with Al.