Unearthing Uncle Sam

September 10th, 2014

In the introduction for my new cartoon collection, I mention a drawing I made in high school (1979), one that I had come up with for an Omaha World-Herald contest. I hadn’t seen the cartoon in many years, but from what I could recall, the drawing wasn’t half-bad—at least for a high school effort. Still, for reasons I explain in Koterba: Drawing You In, the cartoon didn’t win the contest. To my surprise, however, the editors for Drawing You In thought it would be great to include that drawing in the book. Finally, that ancient cartoon would make it into print! Only problem was, I didn’t have the drawing. And as far as I knew, the cartoon was possibly buried in a plastic bin, deep inside a storage unit I share with a relative.

alt="Koterba cartoon"

We were met by a wall of storage containers…


That’s where my friend and fellow artist, Bruce Arant, comes in. It was on a hot and humid June morning in Omaha that Bruce agreed to join me on an archeological dig.

alt="Bruce Arant, Koterba cartoon"

Fellow artist, Bruce Arant, braves a sweltering morning to search for a lost Koterba drawing…


Bruce and I went through bin after bin. Although I didn’t have as much as a copy to show Bruce what he was looking for, I described it the best I could: “I’m pretty sure it’s Uncle Sam juggling eggs…I think some of the corners of the paper are dog-eared. The ink might be faded.” Our search continued.

alt="Koterba cartoon"

I wasn’t about to give up…


After a couple of hours into our quest, we were down to a few final bins. It wasn’t until I’d dug into the very bottom of the last bin, that I came across the weathered and haggard Uncle Sam…

alt="koterba cartoon, Uncle Sam"

Still juggling after all these years…


For the full story on this, insight into my creative process, not to mention dozens of full-color cartoons, please check out Koterba: Drawing You In, available now.

Discovering what I think

August 25th, 2014

Joan Didion said: “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” And before her, Flannery O’Connor said essentially the same thing: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

The same could be said for coming up with cartoon ideas. And also for coming up with answers during interviews. Recently, I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Michael Lang, who along with Corey Hart of Single Source, filmed and edited this mini-doc/interview. Mike asked great questions, which is to say, he got me to open up and say things I didn’t always know that I knew. In my book, the sign of a great interview is when, as the subject of the interview, you learn a little something about yourself.

Cartoonist Jeffrey Koterba from Spectral Chemist on Vimeo.

Anniversaries and Airliners

July 25th, 2014

This weekend marks my twenty-fifth anniversary as the editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald. I had free-lanced as a cartoonist before, for the World-Herald, and for other newspapers. But to take on the task full-time, drawing six cartoons a week? In those deadline-free weeks leading up to my first day on the job, my nerves were getting the best of me. How could I possibly draw a new cartoon every day? For that matter, was I even going to be able to come up with one cartoon? Maybe I was in over my head.

Six days before starting the job, United Flight 232 crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa. The crash killed 112 of the 296 on board. The story of Flight 232 was big news, of course. And while a big part of my job is to poke fun and criticize, I decided to take an upbeat approach for my first effort.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 8.42.40 AM

The drawing leaves much to be desired. But it’s the message of the cartoon that still rings true for me. Often, when I fly, or when I draw airplanes, I think back to that first cartoon. I thought about it on September 11th, and I thought of it again, just the other day, after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

I’d like to believe that over the years my drawings have improved. But this time around, when commenting on an air disaster of a different nature, I found myself, unfortunately, focusing on non-heroes.



A True Alien Abduction

May 20th, 2014

I’ve written about my favorite alien before. Now, however, I must report that my alien has been abducted. Seriously. Who would do such a thing? I was away from the office for a few days when it happened. I came back only to find a ransom note and an empty place where my alien used to reside. It seems, though, that he’s having a pretty good life without me. According to his new Facebook page, that is…


Kennedy, My Uncle, and the Moon

November 20th, 2013

I don’t know which came first. My love of newspapers or the space program.

When I was growing up, my father often recounted how his late brother, Ed Koterba, began his journalism career at the Omaha World-Herald, and how he would go on to write a syndicated column for the Scripps Howard News Service and The Washington Post. We also closely followed the Apollo program, my father often reminding me that Uncle Ed had covered NASA and had even interviewed Wernher von Braun, father of the Saturn V rocket, the vehicle that would eventually transport earthlings to the lunar surface.

Uncle Ed was a member of the White House Press Corps, traveling with the president and attending Kennedy’s live televised press conferences—the first by any president. He was, no doubt, present the day Kennedy gave his famous “moon speech.”  Uncle Ed traveled the globe, filing columns from such exotic locales as the South Pole. Yet, it was his connection to President Kennedy that always piqued my imagination the most.

A month after Kennedy inspired a nation to reach for the moon, the president announced that Uncle Ed had been killed in a plane crash. The announcement can be heard here, at the start of this clip:

To hear Kennedy speak my family name, “Koterba,” is surreal. And I can’t help but wonder how the world might be different today had both men not met such tragic and untimely deaths.


Jeff Koterba November 17 2013, Kennedy Moon


A Cartoon is Born

July 23rd, 2013

Where do ideas come from? I wish I knew. What I can tell you is that the creative process is often stressful, messy, and heartbreaking. And yet, what often emerges is something new and beautiful (but sometimes it isn’t).

What I do know: to find an idea, I must read. A lot. Newspapers, magazines, blogs. I catch a little TV and radio news, too, just to round things out. And then I start by…staring off into deep space. I move my pencil around on a sheet of paper. If I’m lucky, a small doodle will begin to take shape.


I’m not picky. Any little scribble will do…


Most of the time, I’ll stick with it and follow the scribble wherever it takes me….


But sometimes I go down pathways that lead nowhere. And I must start again. If I’m lucky, however, an idea might arrive…like magic…


After that, I redraw the cartoon with pencil on Bristol board…


Next, the lines are inked using pen and brush…


I then make a copy of the drawing on a separate sheet of Bristol…


Which I paint using good old-fashioned watercolors…


And voilà!


My Favorite Alien

July 12th, 2013

I worry that I’ve been taking my alien for granted. Every day he watches over me as I draw cartoons. And how do I thank him (and no, I don’t actually know if he is a “he.”)? By turning him into a shelf for my drawings.

My alien came to me nearly four earth years ago. You can read the original story here. Or, just take a look at this and judge me accordingly:


And the winner is…

June 26th, 2013

I’m pleased to announce the winner in my Summer Caption Contest, as named by author and illustrator, Bruce Arant. Bruce tells me there were plenty of great entries to choose from. So many, in fact, he named three runners-up.

Third runner-up: “Come on in, the water is great! What do you mean, you’re afraid? Party like it’s 65 million BC!”
—Jerry Matulka

Second runner-up: “C’mon Rex!  One more dip before that darned asteroid hits!”
—Clayton Anderson

First runner-up:  “Nothing to be scared of… the water’s a bit chilly, but we can always warm up afterwards in the bubbly tar pit Jacuzzi.”
—Victor Hahn

And the winner in the Summer Caption Contest is…drumroll, please…


“Don’t worry, Steve, if it gets too deep you can just dog

The winning entry comes from Brian Bonifant. For winning, Brian will receive the original artwork. Congratulations to Brian and the three runners-up and thank you to everyone who entered!

Summer Caption Contest

June 6th, 2013

What better way to ring in the summer than to hold a cartoon caption contest? Here’s the deal: submit your caption for this cartoon through June 21, 2013, and you could win the original watercolor!Koterba

Remember to keep your punchlines short and sweet. And funny! One submission per entrant. Contest open to all humans on planet Earth. To keep it fair, I won’t be judging. Instead, that duty falls on the shoulders of author and illustrator, Bruce Arant, who just happens to have a beautiful new children’s book coming out later this summer. Email your captions to KoterbaCaptionContest @ gmail dot com (Sorry, you’ll have to retype that address…just avoiding spam) by 11:59 p.m. CST, June 21, 2013. The winner will be announced July 1, 2013. Good luck and have fun!

My Drumming Dad

April 10th, 2013

My father, Art Koterba, who passed away earlier this year, was a drummer and vocalist. Yet, rarely did the two of us have the chance to play music together in public. Two years ago, in April of 2011, Stefan Morel, a filmmaker from Toronto, was in town to shoot footage for a documentary that was to include scenes of my band, Prairie Cats, performing.

My parents had come out for the show, but it wasn’t during the break that Stefan and I had the idea to ask my father if he’d be willing to sit in on a song. I looked at it as a rare opportunity—not only would I have the chance to share the stage with my father, but also, we might be able to capture the moment with Stefan’s camera.

But my father, true to form, stubbornly resisted. He said that he wasn’t feeling up to it, that he wasn’t sure his feet could handle playing the kick drum and hi-hat cymbal. To be fair, at the time he was eighty-nine years old. It would take a bit more convincing, and eventually, he agreed to come on stage. After adjusting the drum kit, he dove in, playing on a song we certainly hadn’t had the chance to rehearse.

In that moment, he turned back the clock…he seemed twenty years younger.

But then, he always was young at heart.

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