After more than 40 years, we say a loving goodbye to Steve Benson

Like so many other longtime Arizonans, searching out the latest Steve Benson cartoon has been a part of my regular routine.

Since the 1980s, he’s been skewering Arizona leaders and politicos on a regular basis, in between reminding us exactly how amazing our state is and how we need to protect both its natural and human resources from the ever encroaching machines of development and misguided (or worse) laws.

Over the past nearly five years, I haven’t had to search far, as Benson has been publishing his work in the Arizona Mirror and I’ve had the joy of editing it and, on occasion, collaborating on his ideas — something that the childhood me marveling at his drawings in The Arizona Republic in the early 1990s couldn’t have fathomed.

A lot has changed since then, but Benson’s acerbic wit and cutting commentary on the state of affairs in Arizona have never dulled. And that’s why he’s engendered such a loyal following.

Take Frank Simpson, who has been reading Benson’s work since 1980, when he first started working for the Republic: “He mixes humor with politics and is unafraid to pick on anyone or anything.”

Or Barb Kain, who also began following Benson in 1980. “He’s not afraid to take a jab at powerful wrongdoers, but he shows a gentle, compassionate side when appropriate. I appreciate that he often gives a voice to the underrepresented or ignored,” she said.

And Ed Forsman, another 40-plus-year consumer of Benson’s drawings, who says that Benson’s “art is spectacular, his wit enormous, his clear understanding of events of our time irreplaceable!”

Perhaps the most important comment I heard from readers comes from Terry Allen, a decades-long fan of Benson: “I don’t always agree (with Benson), but it makes me think.”

At the end of the day, that’s what every opinion journalist — whether their medium is words or cartoons — strives for. We know that our opinions won’t be shared by everyone, and that some readers will react with hostility or tell us we’ve lost the plot. But if we can get someone whose knee-jerk reaction is to disagree to open their mind, even if just slightly, to think about the issue, then we’ve hit the mark.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and it pains me to say that Benson is stepping out of the workaday world and into retirement. 

It won’t be “goodbye forever,” and I certainly hope that we’ll see the occasional Benson cartoon land in the Arizona Mirror in the weeks, months and years to come. But the two-cartoon-a-week schedule that he’s kept up with us for almost five years has come to a close.

It’s been my honor to read Benson’s cartoons over the decades I’ve done so, and it’s been truly a joy to call him a colleague and a friend. And I wish him all the best in retirement, even as I know I’ll deeply miss the joy of seeing new Benson drawings every week.

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