Sal A Mander is back! |

Sal A Mander is back!

Allyn Harvey
Chris Cassatt's Sal A Mander ran for Pitkin County sheriff on the Guns and Drugs Party ticket in 1976.

The electable lizard is back.

Sal A. Mander, the popular cartoon character who graced the pages of The Aspen Times for much of the 1970s and ’80s, is returning to The Aspen Times Weekly.

Sal A. Mander cartoons will begin running this week in the Weekly’s opinion section.

After a 15-year hiatus, Sal creator Chris Cassatt said it’s time for his all-time favorite character to return to the pages of the Times.

“I’ve been doodling him for years,” Cassatt said. “He just keeps coming back.”

Cassatt, who spent most of the 1990s working with cartoonist Jeff MacNelly on MacNelly’s popular syndicated cartoon strip Shoe, said Sal just started flowing out three or four months ago following the purchase of a particularly cool, cartoonist-friendly mechanical pencil.

Sal first began life as a character in the Ute Toot strip that was a regular feature of the Times in the mid- and late 1970s. Later, Sal, who always seemed to be commenting on the latest election or running as a write-in candidate for one office or another, had his own strip – Sal A. Mander – in the Times. Sal was a regular in the paper until November 1988.

Although he is best known for his enormously successful campaign in the 1980 race for district attorney, when Pitkin County voters overwhelmingly chose the lizard over the human, Sal has a long and storied history in local and state politics.

In 1976, a year after he was conceived by Cassatt after a 21-beer salute on a Thursday night in the J-Bar, Sal ran for sheriff on the Guns and Drugs Party ticket.

“I’m no cold-blooded reptile like some of my opponents,” Sal said in a 1976 edition of The Aspen Flyer, a shopper published at the Times. “If I’m elected, we’re going to burn the contents of the evidence locker, a little at a time.”

From there, Sal went on to unsuccessful campaigns for mayor, City Council and governor. Although, how unsuccessful can you call a campaign for governor where a cartoon lizard garners approximately 6,000 votes?

By far, Sal’s most successful campaign occurred in the 1980 district attorney’s race against incumbent Chuck Leidner.

Leidner, running unopposed, managed to alienate thousands of Pitkin County voters by calling for undercover drug stings and cooperation with the much-despised U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Sal was the only local politician brave enough to take Leidner on.

State authorities barred the county clerk from counting the ballots for Sal. So the ballots were weighed instead. The scale test went to the lizard by a 3-to-1 margin. Shortly after the election, Leidner resigned.

The story caught the attention of the national press, including Rolling Stone magazine and The Denver Post, which wrote about the electable lizard on its editorial pages, noting that Leidner had been “salamandered.”

A month ago, Cassatt, whose work is published regularly in The Aspen Times’ comics section and editorial page, popped into the paper on a Sunday afternoon and asked if there was room for Sal.

In an interview this week, Cassatt said he was partly motivated by two brushes with cancer. The first killed MacNelly in 2000; the second threatened Cassatt’s life last year. Cassatt appears to be in full recovery. But the experience marked him.

“That kind of experience changes your outlook,” he said. One change was reuniting with his favorite comic creation. “Sal, when I draw him he’s so real – I can almost talk to him.”

Beginning tomorrow, Sal and Chris will both be talking on page A30 of The Aspen Times Weekly.