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Cartoon commentary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The cartoons of Ricardo Caté whiplash from biting political commentary to provocative takes on Native American life in New Mexico.

Best known as a cartoonist with the Santa Fe New Mexican, Caté is the subject of an exhibition at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center beginning March 17. The show will be on display in the Art Through Struggle Gallery through Jan. 6, 2019.

Caté’s cartoons reveal a sensibility borne of a twisted hybrid of Mad magazine, Richard Pryor and Cheech and Chong, rooted in Marvel comic books.

“I’ve been doing cartoons since the seventh grade with my best friend David,” Caté said in a telephone interview as he was traveling from his home at Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domingo) to Albuquerque. “We’d exchange them in the hallways. Nobody liked us.”

His friend David was half-Sioux and didn’t speak the Keres language of the pueblo. Unlike their peers, Caté and his friend spoke English to communicate.

The pair drew their teachers and classmates, sometimes picturing themselves as superheroes.

Caté would go on to draw for his high school and college newspapers, then for his unit publication in the Marine Corps.

He showed his work to the New Mexican in 2006.

“I basically just walked in, and I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he said.

Editors repeatedly told him he needed to join a Florida-based cartoon syndicate.

“I couldn’t understand that,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m standing right here; I have my cartoons.'”

Finally, the editor-in-chief leafed through his examples.

“She starts laughing, and other people started coming in,” Caté said. “Pretty soon, there’s 15-20 people in there, and they’re all laughing.

“She said, ‘We’ve got to have this cartoon.’ ”

“I was very apprehensive about this,” Caté said. “Would people accept it? Would my people accept it?”

Six years ago, his strip hopscotched from the side to the top of the comics page. In 2012, Caté produced the book “Without Reservations.” It’s still selling on Amazon.com.

“Now my cartoon is three times more popular (in the New Mexican) than ‘Peanuts,’ ” Caté said. “And the readership is primarily non-Native.”

IPCC museum Director Monique Fragua was familiar with Caté’s work from a museum gala.

“He did a live art painting,” she said. “It was a scene with the museum and some kids and their teacher and some pottery.

“The kid says, ‘But we have all these things at home.’

“His cartoons are always so humorous. He has this lens of being Native American, and especially with everything going on in society and the world. He looks at it like it’s always been going on.

“He’s fascinating,” she added. “He’s also super down-to-earth.”

The cartoonist gleans his ideas from the world around him.

“Humor is just about everywhere,” Caté said. “I just saw a sign on the highway saying, ‘Expect delays.’ ”

He once drew a cartoon with the same title featuring a cowboy riding down the highway. He added a group of Native Americans in feathers and war paint hiding behind the sign.

Caté’s background reads like a road movie. He’s an activist, stand-up comedian, writer, teacher, veteran, onetime college athlete and four-time Dakota Access Pipeline protester. His celebrity fans include Wes Studi, Jackie Chan, Winona La Duke and Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement.

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