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Take a peek over Jim Borgman's shoulder

Jim Borgman has been the Enquirer's editorial cartoonist since 1976. Borgman has won every major award in his field, including the 1991 Pulitzer Prize, the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 1993, and most recently, the Adamson Award in 2005 as International Cartoonist of the Year. His award-winning daily comic strip Zits, co-created with Jerry Scott, chronicles the life of 15-year-old Jeremy Duncan, his family and friends through the glories and challenges of the teenage years. Since debuting in July 1997, Zits has regularly finished #1 in reader comics polls across America and is syndicated in more than 1300 newspapers around the world.

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Notes 3.31.06

Refreshments Available in Lobby

I'll be taking a week off next week for my daughter's spring break. Get up. Stretch your legs. Enjoy the wide variety of snacks and beverages at our concession stand.

My editor chose to hold back a couple of my cartoons so they could run next week. So continue to check the web site. Back in a flash.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wednesday Notes 3.29.06

Monday, March 27, 2006

Meager Monday Notes 3.27.06

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Remembering Jeff MacNelly

My thoughts have been on Jeff MacNelly lately, the late great editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune (their last?) and creator of the comic strip Shoe. Since Jeff's death in 2000 the landscape of editorial cartooning has seemed especially flat and without character. I learned at MacNelly's knee, as it were, pouring over his every cartoon during my years in college as I began to get interested in cartooning. So profound was his influence on my work that it took me years to work myself away from his apron strings.

At the request of the Richmond Times Dispatch I wrote the following review/remembrance upon the publication of the latest Shoe book collection.

27 Years of Jeff MacNelly’s Shoe: World Ends at Ten, Details at Eleven
Reviewed by Jim Borgman
Editorial cartoonist for the Cincinnati Enquirer and co-creator of Zits

In the 1970s, the eyes of editorial cartoonists were on Richmond. Specifically, they were on the drawing board of Jeff MacNelly, who was flying loop-de-loops around the artform as we had known it.

From my college cartooning perch in central Ohio I watched, mesmerized. The world’s issues, so drab and heavy on the front page of my newspaper, unfolded as a hare-brained fable in Macnellyworld. In the charming world of his cartoons it was all so goofy and clear. What was I struggling with?

We cartoonists studied his every effortless brushline. “Aped” might be the better word. I once traced one of his drawings through onionskin paper just to see how he could get so much into the same size panel that I crammed with so little.

Those drawings! A rural one-pump gas station as Jimmy Carter’s White House. The NYC mayor’s basement counterfeiting operation. Idi Amin in a United Nations of idiots. How was he doing this?

And just when I became convinced that this exhausted man must be working through the night to create each wacky melodrama, he launched a daily comic strip in his spare time.

Shoe debuted in 1977 and I wanted to break my knuckles.

A presidential administration since Jeff MacNelly died way too young at 52, a loving hybrid of a tribute book/comic strip anthology is out, with the funky MacNellyesque title 27 Years of Shoe: World Ends at Ten, Details at Eleven. Until someone publishes a long- overdue The Art Of Jeff MacNelly coffeetable book, this will have to satisfy.

Those lush big Virginia trees, it turns out, held wise-cracking birds lazily chomping cigars at hopelessly cluttered desks. It isn’t so much the individual characters we remember as the idyllic world away from worries. Sneaking off to Cubs games. Puttering around old beaters on blocks. Chowing down at the local greasy spoon. Prowling the junkyard for parts.

The world of those birds was much like life around the Blue Ridge Mountain perch Jeff created for himself and his wife Susie and from which he drew cartoons for the Chicago Tribune and a thousand newspapers around the planet.

I bummed an invitation to visit once in the hopes of seeing the sweat behind the scenes. Jeff showed me his studio, (a mirror of the Perfesser’s desk.) That day he had a couple of editorial cartoons to knock out before lunch, a few daily strips to ink, a Dave Barry column to illustrate, some Pluggers panels to bring in for a landing, and he was wending his way through the drawings for a book on fly fishing.

Then he said, “Let me show you the not-for-profit studio,” and loped over to another building on his hilltop. This one was full of oil paintings in progress, clay sculptures of cowboys in pickup trucks, watercolor landscapes, wire whirligigs. Outside was a classic Thunderbird he was restoring, a tractor he was fixing. The man was wired different than you and me.

Since Jeff’s death Shoe has been carried on in print and spirit by a little tribe of creators including Chris Cassatt, Gary Brookins, a couple of writers somewhere, and Susie MacNelly. I’ve asked a bunch of times how they do it and I still don’t quite get it. Some cutting and pasting, a bit of new drawing, voting on gags, a handwriting font in Jeff’s style, some duct tape and coat hangers. It’s all still wonderfully loopy and familiar, like wearing a pair of old, well, shoes.

On page 143 it says, “This was the last Sunday Jeff drew.” The drawing is a stroll through Irv’s junkyard and ends with an impossible panel of spare tires, carburetors and car doors separated by piles of computer monitors. For the rest of us, drawing that scene would be a crowning achievement at the height of our powers. Jeff drew it virtually on his deathbed.

The man was wired different.

Jim Borgman

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wednesday Notes 3.22.06

A Tale of Two Roughs

I had to laugh when I finished my work Monday and looked at the two pencil roughs that led up to my two finished cartoons for the day. I thought you might enjoy seeing the range of degrees to which I remain faithful to my original sketches.

A pencil rough is usually nothing more than the quick capture of an idea so I won't forget it. It contains nothing more than the essential elements of the idea -- no fussing with shading, details, backgrounds and so on. The rough serves as a sort of road map as I move to my bristol board and begin more carefully laying out the drawing.

Pencil roughs are especially valuable on the days when I have only a slippery grasp on an idea and proceed to spend hours twisting and turning it to improve it. Along the way I frequently get lost, losing touch with the essence of the original thought as I play with ever cleverer captions and expressions. At the end of such a process I may take a break and walk away from the idea, only to return and realize I've completely lost touch with the reader as I ventured further and further from home.

That's when having that original seed of an idea penciled in front of me can be invaluable. It brings me back to the spark that drove the idea.

The pencil rough for the Slave Pen cartoon could hardly be more basic. (This is a local topic using imagery from our financially troubled Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is appealing to taxpayers for a bailout.) There's the idea boiled down to its kernel. In finishing the cartoon I spent a lot of time tweaking the composition, suggesting texture and adding details from photos I found online. All of this just made the drawing richer while respecting the simplicity of the idea.

As I began the other cartoon (Bush as Alfred E. Neuman), I found myself trying to replicate the goofiness of the pencil rough as I transferred the idea to my good paper. After a bunch of tries, I realized I liked virtually everything about the rough better than any subsequent version (see aborted half-finished drawing), so I blew the dust off of an old light box I have stashed behind a file cabinet and traced the rough onto the good board. You'll notice I've changed as little as possible in inking the final piece.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Eminent Domain

Friday Notes 3.17.06

Kids and Reading

I was asked recently to write a letter to an elementary school classroom about the value of reading. I'm sure the teacher anticipated the conventional sermon cajoling kids to settle in under a tree and crack open Treasure Island. It took awhile to remember my honest first feelings about reading, that I was intimidated by large gray blocks of type and envious of my friends who could tackle a big book with enthusiasm. Some of my teachers considered my love of comics, the only accessible reading I could handle, a waste of time.

When my own son was young, he struggled with the same issue. If assigned to read a book for class, he invariably chose a Garfield collection. His enlightened teachers recognized a porthole when they saw one and encouraged his interest rather than dismissing it. Dylan saved his allowances and insisted we drive to the bookstore the minute a new Garfield collection was published. When I shared this with Jim Davis, he generously invited Dylan and me to his Muncie compound where we spent a day touring his empire of licensing, publishing and animation and Dylan even got to have lunch with the man himself.

Eventually, my wife and I grew weary of everything Garfield, of course. But by that time Dylan had leaped from Garfield collections directly to Jurassic Park and he never looked back. Years later, he reads dense David Foster Wallace novels and all order of challenging stuff.

I can't help but think the difference in our teachers' attitudes made all the difference. And I feel fondly toward Garfield and Jim Davis for teaching my kid to like reading.

My letter:

Dear Kids,

When I was your age I was afraid of books.

Even though I was a good student, pages full of words intimidated me. I was a slow reader (and still am) and if someone handed me a big thick book my heart sank. It looked like a mountain I had to climb. Some people talked about books like they were treasures, but to me they were huge obstacles.

The one kind of reading I loved was comic strips. There the words were few and the pictures were fun. I could read every comic strip on the newspaper page without feeling any of the resistance I felt toward other writing.

Then I discovered that comic strips were sometimes collected into book form, and in a single enjoyable night I would read an entire collection, cover to cover. It didn’t occur to me that I was probably reading as much as the other kids my age who were reading novels. And it didn’t occur to me that the pictures were becoming my key to reading.

Still today I learn things more fully if I can see them visually instead of just reading words. Some of us are just like that. It took me awhile to not be embarrassed to admit that I was a slow reader. It still takes me a longer time than it would others to read the newspapers I read to do my job, but that’s OK.

I’m sending you some of my favorite cartoon books, and a couple of the ones I made from my comic strip Zits. If you don’t like to read, try one of these. Maybe, like me, they will be your way of discovering books.

Jim Borgman

Three Years in Iraq

Thursday 3.16.05 Diversity

Wednesday Notes 3.15.06

We seem to be finally back in business. Today's postings will be a lot of catch-up.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wednesday Non-Notes 3.15.06

I guess this phantom post makes it obvious that Blogger is having technical difficulties uploading my sketchbook pages today. I'll keep trying throughout the day as I work...

Our IT people aren't sure if the problem is with Blogger or internal, but I've been unable all day to post new drawings. I'm told they're tracking it down. When I'm able, I'll post everything from these couple of days.

Friday, March 10, 2006

100 Days

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Wednesday Notes 3.8.06

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cartooning Props

Got some good news from the National Cartoonists Society yesterday. The Awards Chairman, Dave Coverly (Speedbump) called to tell me I'm one of three finalists for the NCS's Editorial Cartooning award for 2006. The other two are Mike Ramirez (late of the LA Times, whose syndicated work frequently runs on the Enquirer's editorial page), and John Sherffius (who left the St. Louis Post-Dispatch maybe a year or so ago and seems to be working independently now.) Ramirez and Sherffius are both hosses graphically, so I'm in there with some massive talent.

Dave also told me that Zits (which I do with Jerry Scott) is one of the three finalists for the NCS's Comic Strip award for 2006. The other finalists are Over the Hedge (Michael Fry and T Lewis) and 9 Chickweed Lane (Brooke McIldowney).

The awards are announced in May at the NCS Convention, in Chicago this year. There are ten or twelve category awards -- things like Animation, Greeting Cards, Panel Cartoons, Comic Strip, Advertising, Editorial Cartoons, etc. The awards are highly regarded within the cartooning profession because they are chosen by chapters of working cartoonists within the organization. Most other editorial cartooning awards, for example, are chosen by panels of journalists who may or may not have particular insight into our specialized profession.

The awards are loosely referred to as the Reubens (named for founding father Rube Goldberg), but in fact only the Cartoonist of the Year (across all categories) is given the actual once-in-a-lifetime Reuben Award. It's the Oscar of cartooning. The NCS gave me the Reuben in 1993.

Monday and Tuesday Notes 3.7.06

Thanks to a complex family schedule yesterday morning, my wife and I switched morning duties. That meant I fixed breakfast and got our youngest teenager off to school while she drove the carpool and was able to get to her early-morning workshop on time.

I mention this because it gave me the opportunity to vary my morning routine, stopping at a different coffee shop and taking a different route to work. While it kept me from getting to my blog (sorry about that), it gave me a fresh perspective on the day, however subtle. Different streets, a different chair to read the paper in while taking notes, a different radio station than the agreed-upon compromise station the carpool can tolerate.

For me, certain grooves just run out of ideas. Just when I think I've found the mother lode of cartoon ideas at a certain Starbucks or bagel shop, the creativity ions seems to dry up and blow away. A key to staying fresh is variety, even in small things. Something as simple as driving down an unfamiliar street helps me see the people and houses there with a new eye. If my thinking goes stale and I find myself pacing the same ruts in my brain, the first step is to change my routines.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wednesday Sketchbook 3.1.06

My Brush with the Bubble

My colleague Howard Wilkinson, the Enquirer's longtime politics writer, pulled me aside this morning to tell me this story.

When George W. Bush visited Cincinnati last week for a Mike DeWine fundraiser in Indian Hill, our local congressman Steve Chabot knew he had only a few moments of the president's attention as he greeted him on the airport tarmac. Chabot wanted to register his opposition to the Dubai Ports deal and decided to hand the president my editorial cartoon from that morning's paper.

The president took the cartoon and folded it up and put it in his pocket without looking at it. When Chabot urged him to read the cartoon, Bush said he'd look at it later. Apparently the bubble that surrounds this president extends even to cartoons.

Newsweek mentioned the story as an example of the administration's resistance to all things conflictual.

I enjoy wondering at what point in the day the president might have fished this random piece of paper out of his pants pocket to see what the heck it was. I imagine it went out with the trash in Indian Hill, or was returned to the White House in a plastic baggie with other business cards and whatnot from the dry cleaner who launders the First Pants.

Jim Borgman
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