Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Such seemed to be the sentiment of one of Chris Panatier’s first editorial cartoons. “There was a group on campus called the [Texas] Cowboys, and they were sort of a fraternity’s fraternity — the super-elite frat boys,” Panatier recalls of his sophomore year at the University of Texas in the mid-’90s. “They were forcing plebes, or whatever you want to call them, to swim back and forth across a body of water in full dress, while they had been drinking. Eventually someone drowned.
“What really got me is that they do this and they get suspended for three years, and rather than admitting they did something wrong, they challenged it. Their reaction was to get a big law firm to appeal the decision. My cartoon [which was published in the Daily Texan] had two cowboys in full get-up and cowboy hats at the kid’s grave. One looks at the other and says, ‘Can you believe we got suspended for this?’”
These days, Panatier is an attorney with Baron & Budd in Dallas representing injured workers, but his passion for cartooning hasn’t left him. “I still do it whenever I have time or people ask me,” says the cartoonist, who has created nearly 2,000 in his career and has even attracted attention from USA Today. “I probably now do about 10 or 20 total in a year.
“I’m much more talented in art than I am in the law,” he laughs. “And if I ever get disbarred, I’ll pursue it as a career.”
Panatier is never at a loss for cartoon ideas — “There’s a lot of goofy stuff out there, and you just start seeing it from different perspectives,” he says — but now that he’s out of school, does he miss having fraternities around to provide him with material? “Actually, I still have one,” Panatier says. “It’s called the White House.”
Panatier has had many cartoons published on www.enronownsthegop.com, a Web site that satirizes the Republican Party of Texas’ site.
Don’t think of him as a partisan hack, though. Panatier is an equal-opportunity lampoonist. “Clinton was not wanting for material, either,” he says, noting that because he started cartooning in 1995, he had five solid years to create Clinton drawings. “His was more focused on personal problems, though.” And with the Republicans currently in power, Panatier knows where his bread is buttered.
Surprisingly, though, Panatier first had his artwork shown in a publication called The University Review, which was modeled after The National Review and created by a friend active in the Young Conservatives of Texas. He started out doing only illustrations for the University Review but soon gravitated to cartooning for The Daily Texan.
“I’ve always been into art, and I’ve always been a troublemaker,” he says. “And this has been perfect — an invitation to make trouble.”