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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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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mental Block

Some days everything looks like a cartoon idea. I read the paper or listen to NPR and I jot down ideas thinking,"No, this is too easy. These ideas must not be any good. They're coming too fast." I look at the roughs skeptically throughout the day as I work on the best and, if I haven't managed to stare the fun out of them, can draw as many as three if no one gets in my way. My record is four, which I've done twice in my life. Sometimes a straggler will even look decent the next day. I call those "cold pizza." Great for breakfast.

But today (and yesterday) I have been staring at a brick wall about fifteen feet thick. I poured a bucket of sweat into yesterday's Escalation cartoon, a drawing that would ordinarily slide right off my fingers. Went home and fixed dinner for my kids while my wife attended a meeting, then returned to work and dripped blood from my forehead until midnight trying for that second idea. Nothing.

What is that?

Before hitting the bed last night I got my head straight. I said to myself, "OK, son, you've been here many times before. Wake up tomorrow with fresh energy, go to Starbucks with a loose attitude and sneak up on the news, pretending you need nothing from it, you're just idly curious. Ideas will pop up all over the place. All you need is one."

But nothing happened at Starbucks and nothing happened in the hours after that, and I have been sitting here all afternoon with the most deadening old cliches running through my cranium. (If you actually like the cartoon I ended up drawing - see below - you get extra stars in my book as loyal everlovin' fans. Bless you.)

Co-workers can see that look on my face and the unseasoned ones try to be helpful by suggesting topics. I bury my hands in my pockets to avoid swatting them like flies. The seasoned co-workers avoid eye contact and scurry busily away. It isn't TOPICS I need, it's IDEAS. I have pages of topics. I have bored holes with my eyes through all of these topics many times. I am saying to myself, "OK, new governor. Strickland's cleaning house. Raising the ethical standards. New day. Fresh start. Come on, Jim. New governor. Fresh start. Strickland...." It goes nowhere.

The only thing anyone could say to me that would truly help is, "Jim, everybody has a bad day. Go home. Take a nap. Ask your wife to massage your head. Or do a belly dance for you. Have a nice single-malt scotch, take a walk in the brisk night air and come back tomorrow, poor baby."

No one has ever said these words to me. In the newspaper business, you go out in the parking lot and have a smoke, tuck in your chin and go pound the paper again. Newspaper people endure.

On his way out the door tonight my buddy Bruce, ever aware of the struggle, stuck his head in my door and said, "All you have to do is draw two more tomorrow."


at 1/9/07, 10:05 PM Anonymous t. nowicki said...

It's mind-boggling to me that you can finish up to three cartoons in a day. It took me about 5-7 hours to draw the last one I did, not including breaks, I think doing that three times in one day would kill me!

What do you do to cut your production time down while still maintaining your usual high level of artistic quality? Is it all matter of something that comes from having done it regularly for a certain amount of time or is there more to it than that?

at 1/10/07, 3:20 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes the best thing you can do is hope the next day's cartoon makes readers forget the stinker the day before.

at 1/12/07, 2:39 PM Blogger Linda said...

Was it a month or so ago that a study found that Detroit was the unhealthiest city in the country for women. Cincinnati was rated second unhealthiest. Was there ever any further mention of this issue by any of the tv, radio or newspapers. Or do we simply ignore what we don't like in typical Cincinnati style? Maybe I missed the follow-up on channel.......

at 1/12/07, 7:55 PM Anonymous Steve said...

Jim- I once heard that a young writer asked Winston Churchill how he found inspiration, to which Churchill responded, "To bloody hell with inspiration, just lock yourself in a room and force yourself to write!". Easy for him to say since,, um, well it was just easy to say...

Jim, I love your stuff, your wit, wisdom and style...thanks for staying in the ring, even on the tough days (weeks?) because your work an inspiration to many!

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