To say cartoonist Ricardo Caté, who lives at Santa Domingo Pueblo with his three children, is busy would be an understatement. Since 2006, his popular cartoon, “Without Reservations,” has appeared daily in the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is also an activist (including four trips to Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline), writer, veteran, former college athlete and tribal official. A new year is approaching, and Caté already has abundant ideas for his 2021 cartoons. The Santa Fean sat down with this gifted cartoonist to learn more about him, his inspiration and his work. As with his cartoons, his sense of humor shines through in conversation.
What influences in your life led you to your career?
I read every issue of Mad Magazine. Back then, when my parents would go to the grocery store, comics were only ten cents an issue, so they would bring back a stack. Me and my siblings each had our own: My sisters would pick the Harvey Comics, I would pick the DC Comics and my brother would pick the Marvel comics.
Also, Archie and Richie Rich comic books. I would read them, and I loved them. I was very fortunate that my parents could afford them and would actually buy them for us. [Laughs.] They bought home stacks! I loved Batman and Superman. Iron Man had just come along. Later, I discovered Barney Hill and Ernie Kovacs, when he dressed as an Indian, with an arrow that he shoots, and it hits him in the back of the head because it went around the world. It was funny! I appreciated humor; it was all around me. I started to see the world in humor.
What cartoons did you enjoy when you were younger?
Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Beetle Bailey and, of course, Andy Capp because he reminded me of my father.
Are there any cartoons you follow now?
I like Tundra, Without Reservations . . . ha-ha. I like La Cucaracha. I am friends with Lalo Alcaraz, the illustrator of that cartoon. I have been on his radio show. I look forward to returning.
Who encouraged you or was a mentor before you began your career?
My dad — he passed away in February of 2001 — was the one who pushed me to do stuff with my cartoons. He worked on behalf of veterans and pushed to erect a veterans building in our community. He was on the school board committee and the housing committee. He did a lot of lobbying. He would meet with his senators and representatives. I would write his speeches for him because he had a hard time spelling. He would say, “I am meeting with so and so, and he is a bear hunter. Could you draw him a cartoon?”, and I would. He would present the cartoon as an icebreaker. He liked my cartoons a lot. He would laugh at them and encourage me to make a career out of it. But at that time, I was dealing blackjack and doing other things. I was a substitute teacher, and I just didn’t see cartooning bringing in the money I needed. I was rising my three kids by myself.
I drew the first cartoon that I ever sold November of 2003 for an art show. Honestly, I drew simply because I was bored, and this guy bought my first cartoon. Two years later my dad passed away. I realized this [cartooning] could be lucrative, and I wish he was here to witness what I am doing now, but you know, I’m sure he knows.
Was there a moment where you felt “I made it” in your field?
Yeah! It happened the first year I was in the Indian Market. I remember the year before, my aunt was selling her jewelry in an alleyway that was about a block from the Plaza. I don’t think she had a license!
I remember we were right in front of this trashcan. It stunk, but people were passing by us while wandering into or coming out of the market. I had made T-shirts to sell for ten dollars beside her. I didn’t sell anything until 1:00 p.m. This guy asked me to sell him three T-shirts for ten dollars. I started to say no, but my kids were hungry. They hadn’t eaten all day, so I agreed. I sent my kids to get Frito Pie or hotdogs to eat. When they came back, my oldest said, “Dad, when are we going to make it in that Indian Market?”
Well, that year I came out with my self-published book of cartoons. I had been in the paper for two years, so I had a following. I didn’t realize how big it was. I put together these cartoons, called it Without Reservations: The Cartoons of Ricardo Caté and had it printed. Dr. Bruce Bernstein, who was running the Indian Market at that time, realized that I could be part of the Market’s book signing, and he gave me a booth!
The event opened at eight o’clock, so we were setting up at 7:30. I look up, and there were two people there. I told them I couldn’t sell to them until 8:00, but then, there were ten people. And then twenty people. And by 8:00, I swear there were 60–70 people in line to buy my book. I was signing the books, and my son was bagging them and my daughters were taking the money and giving change. It got really exciting. I ran out of books! At one point, my son looks up to me and said, “Dad, we made it!”
Where do ideas for your cartoons come from?
Overserving everything and anything that Trump says. A lot of inside jokes from friends on the reservation. We like to laugh at ourselves. When you are at the point where you are able to laugh at yourself, you then can handle the world. If I was a more serious person [he laughs], I wouldn’t be a cartoonist! I would have to be an accountant or something.
I find a lot of humor in the world. I find something interesting, put my own twist on it and, voilà, you have a cartoon. This is just my take on the world.
Do you have a favorite cartoon that you made?
I have over 7,000 cartoons to date. I even have some adult-themed ones I keep to myself! Maybe my kids will release them after my death. I think my favorite is the “Someday, son, this will never be yours.” It provokes three emotions — laughter, sadness and anger. It is powerful to evoke those emotions in one drawing.
What do you hope to achieve with your cartoons?
I’m doing it now. I am drawing this Native cartoon highlighting Native issues, and Natives and non-Natives alike read them. They like them. But the issues, I can write about the issues — land rights, treaties, scalpings even, and I can write about things I care about, like the pipeline and fracking.
Had you not become a cartoonist, what career would you have chosen?
In 2006, I was a seventh-grade social studies teacher, and I have to say, the kids loved the class. They used to get in trouble running down the hall to the class! I look forward to teaching again someday. You get to inspire kids; they want to learn.
2021 Calendars are now available through Ricardo Caté’s website, kewacate.com.
Originally from Lawrence, Kansas, Nicole came with her fiancé back to his hometown of Santa Fe after college. They have one son. Nicole has years of experience editing academic manuscripts for publication. She holds multiple degrees, including a BS in speech, language and hearing, and two master’s degrees in education. She loves hiking, camping, reading, collecting bronze sculptures, early mornings and any opportunity to watch live sporting events.