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If you want to know what’s making headlines on any given week, you could do worse than scroll through the social media feed of Caryma Sa’d.
The Toronto lawyer is an advocate in every sense of the word. Though she specializes in housing, cannabis and criminal law, you can often find her speaking to news media on poverty, racial inequality, pandemic policy and other areas of systemic injustice.
Those are all serious, worthy topics, but I’ve come for the comics.
That’s where Sa’d has really set herself apart from the rest of the legal community (and almost everyone else), documenting the indignities wrought by Covid-19, the plight of the city’s growing homeless community, the outlandish statements of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and the endless absurdities embedded in the day’s news.
In the last week alone her comics have covered:
an Ontario Superior Court judge caught remote-working from Turks and Caicos
former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion’s 100th birthday
the possibility of bar service coming to the province’s 7-Eleven stores
the city taking legal action against a carpenter who makes small winter shelters for the homeless
and a retrospective on one of her favourite subjects, the misadventures of Adam Skelly, Toronto’s anti-lockdown provocateur of Adamson Barbecue infamy.
When I reached out to Sa’d, who compiles her cartoon chronicles at carymarules.com, I wanted to know how she possibly finds the time, on top of a busy legal career and frequent media appearances, for a productive side hustle as an editorial cartoonist.
Well, she doesn’t, not exactly. Sa’d calls herself “art director” rather than artist for the ongoing series, which began in earnest at the end of 2019.
“I provide the concepts, the text, the captions, and oversee the little details and minutiae that are included in there,” Sa’d says over the phone on Monday.
“If I were to do it myself, A) they wouldn't be as good, and B) I'd probably still be on comic no. 3.”
The actual illustrator behind the illustrations remains “a trade secret,” she says, invoking attorney-artist privilege.
Sa’d uses comics as a way of “pointing out some of the inconsistencies or absurdities in all sorts of policy,” she says.
“If this contributes to making either legal information more accessible, or prompting critical thinking from people about the laws and policies and how they shape our day-to-day life, then I've done my job.”
One of her most frequent subjects, not surprisingly, is Premier Doug Ford.
I ask if she considers Ford a muse, and Sa’d laughs heartily.
“Yes! I’m going to start saying that in interviews actually.
“He's a full-bodied muse. You know, you turn on the news or just kind of refresh for headlines and it's always something new. When I say the jokes write themselves, it's really like, often I'm just quoting them verbatim in the speech bubble. So yeah, he's there a lot.”
“Also, I'm Toronto based, a resident of Ontario, and I don't like what is happening in our province. So as much as the cartoons aren't necessarily about me expressing my own politics and more just kind of making observations or drawing inferences, he shows up a lot, because he's quite active. And in my view, that's something that needs to be called out.”
The Ford comics in particular seem tailor made for social resharing, and tend to be among her most popular, while some of the more nuanced and thoughtful illustrations are less likely to go viral.
One exception, she notes, is the multiple comics and infographics she did highlighting the hypocrisy of Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign for mental health awareness.
“That's probably by far the most ‘successful’ series that we've had.”
For the record, Caryma Sa’d is not the only cartoon lawyer out there, not even the only one in Toronto. She tips her hat to Bryant Greenbaum, who has collaborated with cartoonist John Olbey on, among other things, a book about controversial police carding practices.
But Sa’d is unique in her ability this past year to play off the news of the day and help drive the conversation about it, through her prolific media appearances and her intentionally cringey comics.
As the executive director of the cannabis advocacy organization NORML Canada, Sa’d last year launched an outdoor, pot-themed comedy venue called 420 Cannabis Court, in the courtyard outside her Chinatown law office. She hopes, “fingers crossed,” to bring it back, when lockdowns and snowbanks subside.
So, cartoons and comedy bars. Are magic shows next?
“I am not good at sleight of hand,” she laughs. “So no magic!”
But there is another trick up her sleeve.
“I'm actually going to be doing a Doug Ford colouring book,” Sa’d reveals. “(We’re) doing that as a Kickstarter, so it's in the works.”
“This came out of a Twitter thread … (asking) how do we get rid of Doug Ford? And someone's suggestion was, let's chronicle all of the stuff that he's done and make it simple and easy for people to understand.”
Sa’d doesn’t know if her efforts are doing enough to truly change the discourse, “but I’m for sure writing that way.”
Comics can’t draw blood. But they can take a strip off the status quo.
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I may not be Caryma Sa’d’s secret illustrator, but don’t let that stop you from buying me a coffee.