e left us too soon. They say the good ones often do.
To say we’ll miss Matthew Silber, The Landmark’s editorial cartoonist whose clever artistic work you’ve been able to enjoy on this page since 2009, is an understatement. Sure, we’ll miss his contributions to our coverage but more importantly we’ll miss his friendship. We’ll miss the magical way he would take an idea for a cartoon and meticulously add tweaks and features that made it even better than could have been imagined in the initial thought process. Matthew had a knack for observing details and creatively working them into his graphic designs, which truly were a work of art. His work often took a complicated topic and broke it down into simple terms, most often with some humor sprinkled in.
Even on those occasions that we had talked about the desired direction of that week’s art, I very much looked forward to clicking open his weekly emails containing his cartoons because I never knew exactly what was inside. In fact, the weeks I had a general idea of what was coming were often the weeks I looked forward to receiving his cartoon the most because I anticipated he would take one of my non-specific, half-baked ideas and turn it into something top notch.
And many Landmark readers had become fans of his work. One frequent emailer never referred to Matthew by name but instead referred to him as Toon Man. “Toon Man knocked it out of the park,” was a message I received on more than one occasion. Matthew always appreciated any feedback. When I passed along a compliment we had received about his recent cartoon concerning the R-3 school board election filings, he responded with a note to the effect of: “It’s always good to know people are paying attention to the cartoons.”
His work eventually came to be recognized by peers in the industry. He won multiple awards in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in the category of editorial cartoons. Matthew never got overly excited about anything during our conversations but I do remember sensing some real joy from him the year his cartoon entries won first, second and third in the statewide contest. Even the humble Matthew thought that was pretty cool.
While his tall frame could cast a long and imposing shadow and his cartoons by design were loudly to the point, real-life Matthew was anything but. He spoke softly and politely. As many deep thinkers are, he was conversationally quiet but get him on the right topic and he would school you with historical facts and a unique perspective that you’d probably never previously considered. Matthew loved history and was particularly fascinated with the Civil War time period. I never really asked him why the Civil War intrigued him so, but I came to assume it was because Platte County in general was a hotbed for activity during that time, as was his hometown of Camden Point. Civil War buffs, after all, are familiar with an event called the Battle of Camden Point.
I often wondered, but absent-mindedly never specifically asked him, what prompted him to approach me in 2009 to ask if he could start submitting editorial cartoons to The Landmark. I guess I figured we’d always have time for that conversation at a later date. That’s the danger in feeling like we’re all going to live forever. This just in: we’re not.
Maybe what attracted him to The Landmark was similar political viewpoints about tax dollars. Maybe what drew him here was The Landmark’s history. The newspaper was established in the closing days of the Civil War, maybe it was simply The Landmark’s ties to Matthew’s favorite era that brought him to us. No matter the reason, The Landmark and its readers were blessed by his desire to grace us with his work. His final cartoon, which he sent to me Friday afternoon, is at top right of this page.
In 2010 and 2011, Matthew created a series of 65 illustrations that depicted moments in Platte County’s history. We ran one each week in The Landmark. Matthew later compiled those into book form and the colorful and informational paperback was published by the Platte County Historical Society.
Over the past several months he had taken a joyful interest in creating cartoons pertaining to the county commission’s obsession with a jail expansion. I recently said to him, only half jokingly, that maybe the jail tax talk will go on so long by the time it’s over he’ll have enough illustrations on the topic to fill another book. I think a small book would have happened. Who knows, it still might.
Matthew called The Landmark office one day last week. His father-in-law, Daniel Lemasters, had passed away and Matthew wanted to know if we still had time to get it in the paper. Unfortunately the call came just after deadline. So the obituary for Matthew’s father-in-law is in this week’s issue. Sadly, tragically, so is Matthew’s.
On Sunday afternoon Matthew was at home with his son, Josiah, 14. Matthew’s wife, Dawn, was not home at the time, she was assisting at her mother’s, still dealing with the aftermath of the death of Dawn’s father on Jan. 28. The funeral for Dawn’s father had been Saturday.
Matthew, by all accounts seemingly healthy, laid down for a nap on the couch. He had his cell phone with him. His mother-in-law tells me Matthew had communicated via text message with a family member around 4:40 p.m.At some point after that, Josiah noticed his dad still on the couch and tried to wake him up. He couldn’t get a response. Josiah, whom I’ve met a few times through the years and can verify has always seemed mature for his age, immediately dialed 911. He then ran to summon a neighbor for help. Matthew could not be revived. Josiah dialed his mother’s cell phone number. Dawn was already on her way home when the call came in. Showing that aforementioned maturity, young Josiah told his mother only: “Mom, you need to come home.”
Matthew Silber died Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. He was just 41 years old.
(Landmark publisher Ivan Foley can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org)