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True to his roots

Friday reflects on career of agriculture cartoons

Rick Friday, editorial cartoonist for Farm News, published his first editorial cartoon, 'Harvest in Iowa,' Oct. 22,1993 in the Creston News Advertiser. The cartoon was redrawn this week by Friday and depicts the same image and message portrayed in the 1993 original.
Rick Friday, editorial cartoonist for Farm News, published his first editorial cartoon, 'Harvest in Iowa,' Oct. 22,1993 in the Creston News Advertiser. The cartoon was redrawn this week by Friday and depicts the same image and message portrayed in the 1993 original.

After a decade of a successful career climbing the corporate ladder, Rick Friday said his employer closed its Lorimor plant and he was forced to choose between relocating with the company to Forest City or to stay put in Union County.

As a fifth-generation farmer, Friday’s choice was easy. He chose to stay in Union County to work the farm he had since childhood.

“I’m glad I did. Dad and I had a lot of good years (before he passed),” said Friday.

But, as the years passed, Friday began to question his sense of purpose.

One cold and rainy October morning in 1993, Friday said he had been reflecting on the words a friend had uttered to him, “What are you doing farming? You have more to offer this world than cows and corn.”

That morning, Friday said he went out to his field and discovered one of his calves lying almost dead in a mud hole. With its mother nearby, he said he took his coat off in an attempt to warm the calf and tried to help it latch on to its mother. After getting the calf to successfully start nursing, the cow and calf took off.

On his knees, he said he paused, soaking wet and shivering, looked up and asked, “Is this really what you want me to do? Is this what I’m here for?”

“Give me a sign,” he said.

More than a sign

Six years after graduating from East Union High School, Friday went to work as a janitor at Winnebago in 1984. After nine years, he was made plant manager. Friday, who had been drawing cartoons since childhood, said it was his employer’s faith and confidence in him that inspired him to submit his first comic to the Creston News Advertiser.

Friday, who had been drawing cartoons his entire life, said he never felt his work was good enough for publication. However, the worst thing that could have happened by submitting a cartoon was that nothing would come of it.

“Opportunities are missed when you believe you are not good enough to succeed or when you believe you are too good to fail,” said Friday.

And, that simple act of dropping his cartoon in the mailbox created a world of opportunity, indeed.

Four days after he mailed his cartoon, Friday was contacted by Jeff Young, who was editor of the CNA at the time. Friday and Young met, and the pair negotiated a deal where Friday would supply the CNA with weekly cartoons for a year in exchange for a newspaper subscription.

On Oct. 22, 1993, Friday’s first published cartoon, “Harvest in Iowa,” went to print in the Creston News Advertiser.

“I don’t know how to explain that anticipation of waiting for that newspaper to come in that mailbox,” said Friday.

Friday said he loved seeing his cartoons in print. Shortly thereafter, Friday was drawing for the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune, the Winterset Madisonian and Wallace’s Farmer, an ag-related newspaper based out of Des Moines.

Little did Friday know, his cartoons were going to hit the mainstream.

Farm News

In 1995, Farm News, an ag-related newspaper was started in Fort Dodge. Friday was referred by Wallace’s Farmer to Farm News, where Friday became the exclusive political editorial cartoonist that year and backed off from working for all other publications.

“It was an actual paying gig, so it was like, ‘Woah! I’m actually getting paid for this,’” said Friday.

For 21 years, Friday’s cartooning for Farm News became a routine, which complemented his schedule raising Hereford cattle on his family farm. That is, until one day it wasn’t.

On Apr. 24, 2016, Friday hit the ‘send’ button on his keyboard, emailing his weekly cartoon to his editor. The cartoon, titled “Profit,” poked fun at big ag companies as it depicted two farmers leaning on a fence discussing farm profits.

“I wish there was more profit in farming,” one farmer says.

“There is,” his farmer friend replies. “In year 2015 the CEOs of Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere combined made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers.”

Friday’s employer and the advertisers the cartoon poked fun at were not amused. The next morning, after more than two decades and 1,090 cartoons, Friday received notice of his termination via email after a feed supplier pulled its advertisements upon seeing Friday’s cartoon published that week.

“My first thought was, ‘I don’t have to draw another cartoon next week,’ but ... then I got angry,” said Friday.

Friday said he then took the war to social media, where he posted the following message to Facebook on Apr. 30, 2016:

“Again, I fall hard in the best interest of large corporations. I am no longer the Editorial Cartoonist for Farm News due to the attached cartoon ... I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon. That’s okay, hopefully my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the country.”

It’s Friday, again

Friday, who had about 250 friends and followers on Facebook at the time of his post, suddenly became a viral sensation, worldwide – collecting support from thousands of people, including actor Rob Schneider and musician Willie Nelson – in a matter of days.

Almost immediately, Friday’s phone started to ring off the hook with interview requests from news outlets ranging from the Des Moines Register to the New York Times. His story was picked by KCCI, the Boston Globe, Iowa Public Radio, Columbia Journalism Review, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes and was the No. 1 story on Reddit. His termination also made headlines in Denmark, Russia, Japan and Australia.

In 2017, Friday’s “Profit” cartoon also became a conversation piece about corporate control in Elizabeth Warren’s latest book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class,” and is used as a lesson on free speech, human rights and freedom of the press in more than 200 South American schools.

Overnight, Friday became known as the Iowa Cartoonist Farmer and an unintentional martyr for free speech rights.

“For 60 days, I was the most famous cartoonist in the world,” said Friday.

Feeling pressured by global scrutiny, Farm News eventually made good with Friday and after two months, hired him back.

Free speech

As keyboard warriors take to social media in protest over opposing viewpoints over kneeling and Nikes, Friday was asked how he feels about utilizing his position in the press and on social media to promote personal opinions.

“If it’s something you truly believe in ...” said Friday.

However, his intention was never to create a worldwide stink. He said he was just calling it like he, and many other farmers, see it. Friday’s cartoons reflect his real-life observations and he said he tries to stay neutral when it comes to politics.

Friday, who grew up drawing on anything and everything, including his toy box, draws inspiration from life – particularly from his work as a cattleman, farmer and from national headlines.

“My job, I feel, is not to offer my opinion,” said Friday. “My job is to create thought.”

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