It Takes a Cake

February 28th, 2010

Over the years I’ve drawn plenty of cartoon cakes, but I’ve never had the chance to design a real one. So when the Food Bank for the Heartland asked if I would come up with a cake idea for their annual fundraiser, I jumped at the chance. Each year they bring in a celebrity chef, and this year, it was Duff Goldman, star of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes.

Considering I’m a political cartoonist, I figured I should design a cake with a political theme. But because the cake was also going to be auctioned off to benefit the food bank, I wanted to come up with something that would be upbeat and palatable. In other words, something that would bring in a lot of money.

Here’s what I came up with: an elephant and donkey, coming to together, holding hands, standing atop the U.S. Capitol (Yes, I know. A fantasy). The cake itself was to be made of red and blue marble cake. The title? “It Takes a Cake.”

The best news was that I would only have to come up with the design. Luckily, I would be assigned a team of students from the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Omaha Community College to do the actually baking, rolling of fondant, and painting. Leading the team was Deya Sullivan, a former art student and cartoonist in her own right. Also on board: the fabulous Ashely Jackson and Katelyn Anderson.


Left to Right: Jeffrey, the cake, Deya, Katelyn, and Ashely. (Don’t worry, a close-up of the cake is coming)

Deya, Ashley, and Katelyn worked on the design for weeks, and I’m happy to report that our cake raised $3400 to help feed those in need in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. It was also great to meet Duff, who, it turns out, loves the work of Shel Silverstein, one of my heroes.

And now, with further ado…It Takes a Cake!IMG_1425


How I got Lucky with Sarah Palin

February 14th, 2010

When Sarah Palin scribbled notes on her hand, editorial cartoonists, including yours truly, couldn’t scribble fast enough. The former Alaska governor caught with crib notes? On her palm? What more could a cartoonist want?

There is an axiom in the world of cartooning that states: The easier the target, the fewer the original ideas. In other words, whenever a particular story or topic crests over the threshold into obvious-land, when even non-cartoonists weigh in by emailing and phoning the cartoonist with ideas, well, it’s just that much harder for inkslingers to come up with something unique.

For me, developing an idea isn’t just communing with my muse in some Shangri-La part of my brain. It also involves a bit of soothsaying, attempting to guess what other cartoonists are going to be drawing on the same topic, and thereby, avoiding their ideas.

On an average day I may come up with a handful of concepts, most of which, when scrutinized by my shadow self, my inner editor, can’t hold up to scrutiny and wither from my drawing table to the floor like autumn leaves. If I’m lucky, one of those ideas will remain on my drawing table, full of life, and ready to become my cartoon for the day. So when I’m blessed with a bounty of solid ideas that have arrived almost too easily, I’m a bit suspicious.

Which brings me back to the former Alaska governor. On Wednesday, I came up with three concepts about Palin that I really loved. When I showed the sketches to my editor, he said that it was a tough choice, and that they were all “really good.” Next, I showed my sketches to a couple of staff members at the paper. Same response. Since I could draw only one finished cartoon for the next day’s editorial page, the question became: which one was not only the best cartoon, but which one was the better bet, the one less likely to be drawn by other cartoonists?

After some internal anguish, here’s the first sketch I dismissed:PalinSketch1In some ways, I thought this was the most clever idea, especially since Palin had written her notes on her left hand, the same hand she would place on the Bible for swearing in. Yet, something told me that perhaps this idea was too easy.

This sketch might have been my overall favorite, not only because it referenced President Obama’s reliance on a teleprompter, but also because these hand-prompters belonged to a famous mouse:PalinSketch22When it comes to satirizing someone with anything Mickey—hands, ears—you can’t go wrong. Like the first sketch, however, I worried that it was too obvious.

Here’s the cartoon I decided on:0211KOTERBAC

In the end, my gamble paid off, at least as of this writing. My Palin cartoon was featured in USA Today’s Friday cartoon roundup and upon a cursory glance at the work of other cartoonists I noticed that there were at least a few ideas similar to my other two sketches. I’m not patting myself on the back, and I’m certainly not criticizing the other cartoonists, many of whom are friends. When confronted with similar conundrums in the past, I haven’t always guessed right and all too often, I’ve drawn a cartoon idea that several other cartoonists also chose.

This time around, I guess I got lucky. But even now, I still gravitate to those Mickey Mouse hands.

Clark Creative Wins an Addy!

February 7th, 2010

Congratulations to all my friends at Omaha’s Clark Creative Group for winning an Addy in the direct marketing category for the wonderful Inklings promotional box!