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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, December 15, 2006

Simple is Hard

The artists who read this blog (and maybe even the writers, actors and musicians) will understand the statement Simple is Hard. This week I've drawn two cartoons (Santa above and Bengals Wild Card) with simple images that gave me fits.

Give me a hectic room filled with lots of action to draw any day. Busy images are very forgiving. But the pressure is on when the entire mood and nuance of a cartoon hinges on the exact angle, lighting and intonation of a simple image. Anyone who draws knows that even microscopically misplaced lines will cause the power of a simple image to vaporize.

I drew the Bengals booze bottle and car keys three or four times before I was reasonably satisfied that it was reading right. First came the temptation to draw the simple still life from a dramatic angle to lend it extra oomph. Those histrionics usually fail, as did my attempts. I had to keep going back to the thumbnail in my sketchbook to get a bede on the original concept as it continued to slip away from me visually.

Then the temptation was to letter the Jack Daniels label too clearly, which drew attention away from the point of the cartoon and planted the thought in the reader's mind, "Was Jack Daniels involved specifically in these mishaps?" when all it was meant to do was stand in as a symbol of alcohol and drunk driving. Even the car key, ultimately executed feebly, was a challenge.

Lynn Kahle at The Framery on Hyde Park Square here in Cincinnati, which handles my originals, tells me that people love the drawings I wrestle with. Invariably, on the back side of such drawings is an earlier aborted version. You'd probably find a few more in my trashcan. Some people ask her to frame the drawings so that the botched attempt on the back can be seen, too.

What do you suppose was the hardest part of the cartoon above? The fireplace. Go figure. It kept drawing attention away from the focal point (the cookies), so I had to simplify the brickwork and give a big halo to the table to keep the fireplace in the background where it belongs.

Cartooning lore passes down the story of a cartoonist with a minimalist style, whose editor became frustrated with his seemingly simple drawings.

"We pay you all this money and you hand me a drawing made up of six lines??" bellowed the editor.

The cartoonist replied, "If I could draw it in five you'd have to pay me more."


at 12/15/06, 12:45 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some reason it's always encouraging to find out that even the greats struggle from time to time. You work is so consistently good it's easy to imagine you just pumping your art out like a conveyor belt. Thank you for being human, and giving hope to those of us who have yet to reach your level.

at 12/15/06, 2:18 PM Anonymous Debbie said...

Thanks for explaining some of the nuances that go into your work. As a non-artist, it helps me understand your goals a little better. You make it look so easy yet I suppose that's the genius of it.

at 12/15/06, 2:50 PM Anonymous Shawn said...

I have some of your originals and I like to imagine what kind of thought went into each one. The access and content you provide via this blog is really great.

at 12/15/06, 4:10 PM Blogger Alex said...

I am a fellow cartoonist and to say "simple is hard" is possibly an understatement. Simple is damn near impossible at times! You make it look easy though.
Keep up the great never cease to amaze.

at 12/16/06, 10:30 PM Anonymous J. Carey (NJ) said...

"Five Line" Borgman. A new moniker is born!
Speaking of tough endeavors made to look easy, check out David Hajdu's Anita O'Day article in the recent New Republic. Terrific stuff.

at 12/25/06, 3:29 PM Anonymous Rev. Beagle said...

Story Idea: The Grinch That Stole A Christmas Cross From Fountain Square in 2006

There is no Christian Cross on Fountain Square this year 2006! But, not because a Christian organization didn’t want to have one on display! The Dead Men Walking Motorcycle Ministry (led by Rev. Robert “Ashley” Beagle- Pastor of Decoursey Baptist Church) very much wanted to put up their Racial Unity Cross (a cross that stood for the unity of all faiths and all races- not putting one above another but, saying we are all Gods creation and we are all equal).But, the new Fountain Square Management Company the- 3CDC Fountain Square Management Co. put a new clause in the contract this year.Rev. Beagle has erected Racial Unity Croisses on Fountain Square since the mid 1990’s. Rev. Beagle filled out the permit, paid the $10.00 for the permit, got the drawings of their display approved by City of Cincinnati Engineering Dept. and then found out that that his group would have to insure the display for $1 Millon Dollars and name 3CDC as a secondary.Rev. Beagle called several Insurance Companiesbut, no one was interested in insuring the display. When he finally did find a company they wanted $600.00 to insure it for 6 days on Fountain Square.Rev. Beagle’s small country congregation could not afford this neither could the Biker Ministry. So, as a result……there is no Racial Unity Cross on Fountain Square this Christmas (2006).The Biker Ministry tried to contact the Newport On The Levee to see if they could put their display in an empty storefront but, The Levee never so much as responded to several faxes sent to Ellen Prows (General Manager of The Levee).

I think the word needs to get out about this travesty!!!

at 12/28/06, 9:56 PM Anonymous H. Beige said...

Is that a shaggy dog story? How 'bout a festivus for the rest of us?

at 1/3/07, 9:34 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! You're not so bad yourself. David Hajdu

at 1/3/07, 9:36 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! You're not so bad yourself. David Hajdu

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