BIERMAN Robert Maximillian
“If this were a perfect world, cartoonists would be out of work … just like hangmen and judges.” The Hecklers, 230
“He was a champion of the poor and downtrodden. A recurring character in his cartoons was a barefoot Everyman in a patched jacket and threadbare pants held up by twine.” [Tom Hawthorne]
Bierman “ … one of the best kept secrets in Canadian Journalism” Terry Mosher [SFU]
Arem was the pen-name sometimes used by Bierman. It derived from the initial’s of his first two names.
He was born in Amsterdam in 1921. While living through the German occupation of the Second World War, he drew chalk cartoons, depicting the Nazis on the sidewalks of Amsterdam: a courageous act when you consider Bierman was half-Jewish. After the war he worked for several Dutch publications.
Mr. Bierman immigrated to Canada with his wife in December, 1950. He worked at various jobs — mill worker, draftsman and sold freelance cartoons. In 1956 (1954?) he sent a cartoon to the Victoria Daily Times depicting the installation of the world’s tallest totem pole in Beacon Hill Park. Within one week the editor sent him a note offering him a regular spot. [An alternative account] In 1962, the great journalist Bruce Hutchison hired him as the full-time cartoonist for the Victoria Daily Times.
Peter Murray, an editor who worked with Bierman during the 1960s, remembered that as time passed Bierman’s work became edgier, blacker. Issues like the Vietnam War became a flashpoint for opinion, even in Victoria. That’s when the nose of U.S. President Richard Nixon on Bierman’s cartoons began to resemble an altogether different part of the human male anatomy. It became a kind of trademark friends and colleagues still remember with even more fondness than the fly cartoon (see below). Fellow cartoonist Adrian Raeside recalls one of his favourite cartoons on the Nixon theme, depicting a man in a doctor’s office, his pants down. “You know it really does look like Nixon’s nose,” said the examining doctor. [PW]
Following a strike at the paper in 1973 and various jobs, Bierman returned to government employment in 1974 but continued to do freelance cartooning.
In 1978, a statement by the province’s human resources minister Bill Vander Zalm inspired a cartoon that became famous as the first cartoon in Canada ever to be the subject of a libel suit.
Vander Zalm said young people should be cut off welfare, adding that aboriginal youth should leave the city and return to their reserves. Thinking the statement cruel and dismissive, Mr. Bierman drew a cartoon depicting the minister leering as he deliberately snaps the wings from five helpless flies. The cartoon was published in the Victoria Times.
Vander Zalm sued the newspaper and the cartoonist for libel. The cartoonist testified in B.C. Supreme Court that he was targeting the minister’s politics, not his person. However, Mr. Justice Craig Munroe of the B.C. Supreme Court awarded Vander Zalm $3,500 in damages.
The decision generated outrage among cartoonists and journalists. At the time, Bierman said that if the judgment stands “we will have lost the fight, not just me and the Victoria Times but everybody – editors, newspapers, cartoonists, everybody concerned.” In an editorial headlined “The Castrated Pen” The Globe and Mail said: “Goodbye tradition, hello muzzle.” Defiantly editorial cartoonists Badeaux, Donato, Girerd, Mosher, Rodewalt, Uluschak, all drew variations of Bierman’s cartoon.
The case went to the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1980, where five senior Supreme Court justices overturned the decision and upheld a cartoonist’s right to engage in satire and hyperbole. Vander Zalm did not pursue the matter further.
Richard Watts reported in Bierman’s obituary that even now, his wife of 59 years, Angelina, recalls her husband’s calm courage during the Vander Zalm lawsuit and other crises. “He had one blessing — when he needed to keep his cool he could keep his cool.”
The original cartoon was purchased by the National Archives of Canada for $350.
After the Victoria Times joined with its former daily rival, Mr. Bierman’s cartoons appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist. Later, “Bierman’s Corner” was a staple feature of the Victoria Monday Magazine, a weekly alternative newspaper in Victoria.
Mr. Bierman died in hospital on April 17, 2008 at age 86, four days after suffering a massive stroke.
BOOK GRAPHIC ANTHOLOGY:
The Art of Political Cartooning in Canada/1980. Ed., Steve Bradley. For., Robert LaPalme. Virgo Press, Oct. 1980: 4, 38, 41, 114, 117, 169, 187, 207.
Best Canadian Political Cartoons, 1984. Ed., N.M. Stahl. For.,Robert LaPalme. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. Sept. 1984: 46, 83, 185, 199
Portfoolio, The Year 86 In Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux. Writ., Charles Gordon. Ludcom Inc. 1986.
Portfoolio, The Year 87 In Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux . Ludcom Inc. 1987.
1988 Portfoolio, The Year In Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux . Writ., Charles Gordon.: Eden Press. 1988..
Portfoolio: 1989 in Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux . Writ., Charles Gordon. Macmillan of Canada, 1989
Portfoolio 6: The Year in Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux . Writ., Charles Gordon. Macmillan of Canada, 1990.
BOOK GRAPHIC COLLECTION:
1984: A Collection of Political Cartoons by Bob Bierman, New Star Books, l982.
Count the Days: The 1990 Bill Vander Zalm Scandal Datebook, Writ., David Hauka. Illus., with cartoons by Bob Bierman & Bob Krieger.
“Bob Bierman.” PORTFOOLIO 86 The Year in Canadian Caricature. Ed., Guy Badeaux. Ludcom Inc., 1986: 194.
The Hecklers. Writ. & Ed.., Peter Desbarates & Terry Mosher. McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1979: 227+.
“Clipping The Wings of Freedom.” Writ., D. Todd. Maclean’s Magazine, 29 January. 1979: 20.
“In Memory of Bob Bierman 1921 – 2008.” Writ., Tom Hawthorne. The Globe and Mail, 30 Apr. 2008.
“Cartoonist remembered for being sued over Vander Zalm drawing”, Writ., Richard Watts,. Times Colonist, 01 May 2008.
THE SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY LIBRARY EDITORIAL CARTOONS COLLECTION website, 19 August 2008: SFU.
The cartoon that was sued. 1984 A Collection Of Political Cartoons, 1984.
1984 A Collection Of Political Cartoons, 1984.