December 14th, 2010

Recently my father and I were hanging out and I asked him which comic strips he was reading these days. He mentioned a half-dozen or so. By coincidence some of his favorites happened to be mine, too. One of the strips he enjoys is Zits, written by Jerry Scott and drawn by Jim Borgman. I happened to have a copy of the World-Herald with me so we opened it to the comics page. The first thing my eyes went to was the last panel of Zits. I recognized the skyline even before reading the word, “Omaha.”

I have to say, it was very cool, but surrealistic to see another cartoonist capture Omaha’s downtown skyline. After all, I’ve been drawing some of those buildings my entire career as a cartoonist.

Lucky for me, Borgman is a friend. I immediately sent him an email, telling him how much I enjoyed the strip. Even luckier, the original arrived in my mailbox. For anyone who’s ever wondered how large an original comic strip is, here it is, in relation to one of my drawing pens.

The Dogie Has Landed

October 11th, 2010

As reported by GalleyCat’s Jason Boog, two of my drawings, including one of the cartoon dog I created as a child, Dogie the Doggie, have come home. My friend, astronaut Clay Anderson, presented the cartoons at a recent ceremony at the Omaha World-Herald captured by Kevin Eisenhauer on a camera phone (in two parts). Thank you, Kevin!

Part One

Part Two

The timing couldn’t have been better. The paperback edition of Inklings will be released November 2 with a new epilogue regarding Dogie’s venture into space.

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.

Chris the Gentle Viking

October 15th, 2009

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, may not seem like a logical place to find a gentle Viking, or any Viking, for that matter; yet that’s where you’ll find Chris Browne, the inkslinger behind the popular comic strip, Hagar the Horrible. I recently had the chance to hang out with Chris and several other Midwestern cartoonists in Sioux Falls, during our annual North Central Chapter gathering of the National Cartoonists Society.

As a cartoonist, I’m often asked if I know other cartoonists. I’m not sure why people want to know this, and what it is they imagine we must do when we’re together (some of what they imagine is probably true, and if not, go ahead and imagine away), but if ever there were the ideal cartoonist to hang out with, it would, indeed, be Chris Browne. It’s not just because he’s nice, and is a brilliant artist, and isn’t afraid to express his childlike wonder for the world around him. It’s because he tells some of the funniest stories you’ll ever hear.

Chrisbrowne A

Chris at his drawing table

Granted, when cartoonists gather, even when alcohol isn’t involved, every cartoonist is hilarious. There’s something infectious about being around all those cartoonists. To name a few from our chapter, in no particular order: Tom Richmond, Paul Fell, Dave Edholm, Dave Phipps, Bucky Jones, Scott Holmes, Ted Goff, Ken Alvine, Bill Whitehead, John Hambrock, Dave Carpenter, Bob Hall, and Dave Mowder (why there are few female cartoonists in the industry is an oddity no one can quite figure out. I’ll try to tackle that topic another time. I swear, it’s not that girls aren’t allowed. Please, if you’re of the fairer sex and can draw, look us up!)

But back to Chris.

There’s a universal quality in all he says and draws, the perfect one-two punch of pathos and humor, always an underlying humanity and warmth—even in the midst of pain and suffering.

Consider the circumstances in which he moved to Sioux Falls. Three autumns ago, he traveled from his home in Florida to Sioux Falls to give a talk at that year’s NCS chapter meeting. He and his wife, Carroll, had already been thinking about moving someplace “colder,” as Carroll put it. Not “coldest,” as Chris would later describe South Dakota. The local university was celebrating its homecoming that weekend, and by coincidence, the school’s nickname? The Vikings. They asked Chris and Carroll if they would be willing to dress up as Hagar and Helga from the comic strip and ride in a Viking ship parade float. Good sports that they are, the Brownes agreed.

Except that there was no actual Viking ship. Unless you count the tricked-out El Camino with a “mast and sail,” in the vehicle’s bed. Chris recalls that the mast was nothing more than a “toothpick” that Chris and Carroll grasped on to during the parade, ropes whipping them in the face. This is an important detail because the only thing separating Chris and Carroll from “certain death” as the El Camino unexpectedly sped up over a hill was that little piece of wood.

The wood snapped, of course, and Chris and Carroll’s dream of one day moving to Sioux Falls nearly ended in tragedy. Later, Chris would say that he was probably the only “Viking” to ever come close to death from a sailing accident in South Dakota.

When the Brownes returned to their home in humid Florida, Chris went out into the backyard and in true Viking fashion, burned their costumes. Apparently, the synthetic material of the costumes had been driving them both nuts for years, and for whatever reason, the time had finally come to put to rest the Viking outfits. Maybe it’s because Chris’ El Camino experience put things into perspective, I don’t know; life is short, after all, too short to ever again have to squeeze into a suffocating Viking costume. Or maybe the burning of those fake outfits in Florida was somehow symbolic to Chris, signaling that his time in the Florida heat had come to an end. Whatever the case, Chris and Carroll eagerly moved to Sioux Falls, their load a little lighter, the air around them, a little cooler.

20 Years

September 25th, 2009

As luck would have it, I found myself celebrating my 20th anniversary as a full-time editorial cartoonist at, of all places, Comic Con in San Diego. This was my first time, and if you’ve never been, it’s a pretty wild scene. Anyway, I was fortunate to be included on an editorial cartooning panel hosted by MSN’s Daryl Cagle. Here’s my portion of the slide show.

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