Mike Lester often spins humor laced with a certain comic menace.
Which is perhaps why when describing the creation of his cartoons, Lester invokes that rabbit-sacrificing ’80s flick, “Fatal Attraction.”
“An idea is fleeting. Capturing it is critical,” the Atlanta-bred cartoonist said last week. “When the Muse shows up, like Glenn Close, she will not be ignored.”
With his cutting wit and cauldron of ideas, Lester won’t be ignored, either. The award-winning illustrator draws right-leaning editorial cartoons (he eats at Chik-fil-A to make a statement) for The Washington Post’s News Media Services. As of Monday, Lester’s daily gag strip, the aptly titled “Mike du Jour,” will appear in the Style section. (Sunday was the final day of “Cul de Sac,” which creator Richard Thompson has ended.)
“I’m both excited and proud to find myself in a job from which the only escape is death or failure,” Lester says wryly. “I’d prefer death. Seems to work for a lot of guys.”
Lester, who is in his mid-50s, knows that few new strips build sizable client lists, but he is undaunted. His goal: “Two-thousand papers worldwide.”
Lester was first wooed to The Post Writers Group while in Boston — site of the National Cartoonists Society’s 2011 convention — by comics Editor Amy Lago.
“What makes ‘Mike du Jour’ unique is that it doesn’t rely only on character-driven humor or on situational humor or on plays on words or slapstick,” Lago says. “[Lester] is proficient at all these forms.”
“Jotting down gags, ideas and setups is something I’ve always done,” says Lester, who counts among his idols famed illustrator and MAD magazine artist Jack Davis. “There was never any common thread to them until 1997.” That’s when the Wall Street Journal called to ask whether Lester “could do animated business cartoons,” Lester recounts. “Never having done it, I said: ‘Absolutely. When do I start?’ ”
Lester named that feature “Mike du Jour,” noting: It’s “the only French I know other than ‘John Kerry.’ ” The feature ran in the Journal for three years.
The University of Georgia graduate describes the new strip as a true reflection of himself: “Insecure at times, smart — all the time, jaded [with] an inability to suffer fools, much less gladly.”
When the syndicate was signing Lester, he met in Washington with Editorial Director Alan Shearer. “After stammering for a few minutes about what I thought ‘Mike’ should be, he looked at me, paused and said, ‘Just be funny.’
“That I can do.”