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.
A Bit of Q&A
Q.What is your schedule like? You mentioned way back on your blog that you sometimes pencil ZITS comics in your car while waiting for your teenagers to get out of practice. Describe what a week is like for you. What time do you wake up / go to bed? Do you ever feel like a busy work schedule of doing a comic strip AND editorial cartoons steals time away from your family? How do you achieve balance?
A. I keep a laptop drawing board in my car and can pencil strips while killing time here and there. I am thinking about getting one of those jobs with the neck strap so that I can pencil as I walk through the grocery store.
I don't think much about when I'm working and when I'm not working -- drawing and living is kind of a flow for me. I spend four normal workdays a week at my Enquirer studio during which I do my five editorial cartoons and post all these blog entries. I draw Zits on Thursdays, in the evenings and on Sundays. But it's not as draconian as it sounds.
My home drawing board is in the middle of our family workroom, so I'm actually in the perfect middle of family comings and goings. Drawing the strip is highly interruptable, so I stop to change the laundry, talk with whoever wanders along, or do what needs to be done. I have a big comfy recliner on the other side of my drawing board, so Suzanne or the kids often hang out or do homework there. When there's no one around, I have a little TV with ESPN and CNN to keep me company or NPR or the BBC on the radio.
It helps that constitutionally I am a night owl and am happy with five hours of sleep and the occasional power nap. I often work a couple of hours after the rest of the house has gone to sleep -- my favorite time. Up at six.
Q. Name (I dunno, seven) cartoonists working today who you admire and why?
A. I could name dozens. Top of my head:
Mike Luckovich for his looseness, relentlessness and the pure energetic irreverence in his drawings.
Mike Peters for his passion, spirit and conviction after, what, forty years of editorial cartooning.
Pat Oliphant for the rigor and inventiveness with which he reinvents the medium on a constant, ongoing basis, never settling for Good Enough.
Richard Thompson for thinking and drawing outside the box, hell, outside the whole box factory, in a land where the box hasn't been invented yet.
Jeff Stahler for his deceptively quiet, fresh approach to topics and for his utter decency as a human being.
Robert Weber in the New Yorker for the fabulous scribbly scenes he sets.
C.F. Payne, who lives two blocks from my house, for his laser-like observations and uncanny ability to capture characters.
Jerry Scott. As good as you think he is, he's even better. I've never seen such a combination of pure comic talent and inspired execution.
Ronald Searle, the sine qua non of my cartooning life. Every line I draw owes him something.
Lynda Barry for drilling down to the rawest of personal experiences and putting them so honestly and directly on paper.
Dave Coverly for his incredibly high batting average and for making lattes shoot out of my nose on a regular basis.
Mort Drucker because Mort Drucker is Mort Drucker.
Oops, that's a dozen. Better stop. Nobody there to eliminate from my canon. They're all above the altar I worship at. Sometime I'll give you twelve more.
Man on a Mission
I'm on a mission these days to put the college application process into some perspective. (Full disclosure: I have two daughters currently looking at colleges and have been through the process twice before with their older sibs. I counted up the other day -- all told, I have toured nearly thirty colleges in my life.)
The anxiety surrounding this ordeal is way out of kilter. Common wisdom seems to be that colleges are filled up with a race of superhumans such as you have never encountered in this lifetime, and your smart, creative, wonderfully balanced pleasure-of-a-kid has virtually no chance to get in. At the same time, our mailbox groans under the weight of recruitment junk mail. What's wrong with this picture?
Charles M. Schulz
I haven't read the David Michaelis biography of Charles Schulz yet, but I did get the chance to watch the PBS American Masters episode last night. Anybody else?
I met Sparky several times at cartooning functions, but had only one visit of any substance with him. Though he did his best to circulate among cartoonists like one of the gang, his presence in the room always sent people abuzz and he was usually surrounded by groupies. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with him under those circumstances was pointless. Though cartoonists I've known are nearly all approachable and humble, him included, Sparky was anointed our king, a role he probably couldn't have declined if he'd wanted to.
In the spring of 1998 I made a special trip to Santa Rosa just to visit with him. I didn't know that within a year he would be diagnosed with cancer. He was fit and vital and showed few signs of aging. We met at the Warm Puppy Cafe in the ice arena and later walked through a gallery of his work and spent an hour or so at his studio a few blocks away. He couldn't have been more generous with his time.
At the same time, I didn't meet the presbyterian minister I expected. Sparky showed flashes of impatience, competitiveness and judgmentalism that hadn't been part of his generous legend. The warmest part of our visit was in his studio as we talked about our dads, his a barber, mine a signpainter.
My visit was entirely satisfying and cordial. I sensed at the time, though, a man who had been thrust into a far more public role than he'd have ever wanted for himself. When anecdotes note his flashes of surliness toward autograph seekers or his panic attacks when cajoled into public speaking, I can only think how well he generally performed for a shy man who preferred his own inner life to the public stage that insisted on casting him as a sage, teacher, therapist, minister and healer.
Buying an Alcoholic a Drink
I can't recall ever opposing a school tax levy, so it pains me to draw this one. But the current proposal is so draconian for homeowners, and school officials have so blatantly failed to manage the budget effectively, that I needed to get this off my chest.
There, I said it.
I spent the weekend in St. Louis because my wife attended a conference there and it was a chance to bask in the bliss of my newly married brother and his wife. We made a great mini-vacation out of it.
Here's a laugh. In St. Louis they "admire what Cincinnati has done with its riverfront," which, as far as I can tell, is next to nothing. In St. Louis they built an arch forty years ago and then punted. Funny what constitutes success.
What I loved about Friday was working in the hotel room. OK, don't laugh. I brought a bunch of penciled Zits strips with me and set up my tabletop drawing board on the desk in the room. While my wife went off to her workshops, I made a pot of coffee (mmm! hotel room coffee!) and settled into my cockpit. Eight hours later I had inked seven strips and watched a cooking show, ESPN and the CNN news loop about a dozen times. It was the coziest day. It's not much different than what people do in nursing homes, so I think I will make a successful senior.
But, Man, Was It An Ugly Rough!
Q. How often do you use other people's ideas?
A. On occasion.
Lots of readers send me their ideas "free of charge!" They tend to be hopelessly complex with lots of symbolism and frequently involve eagles and flags and something labeled "the scourge of liberalism" or "this generation's sense of entitlement."
On the other hand, about once every year or two a beauty slips under the door, like last Sunday's editorial cartoon which a reader submitted needing only a couple of wingnuts and a slight adjustment of the transmission.
Sometimes a reader suggests an orchestra of an idea and I use only the tuba. Then I put the tuba into a marching band and surround it with a stadium. Then I focus on the drum major and before you know it the cartoon is about clowns in a Volkswagon. Who knows how this works?
Eudora Welty said, "Nothing in life is wasted." In one sense, I seldom use other people's ideas. In another sense, I use them all the time.
Q. What do you use for lettering? Could you send me your font?
A. I just letter like I was writing a note -- I don't pencil anything out or draw rules. I do sometimes move the lines a bit on the computer to center them above each other, but mostly I just leave them alone.
For Zits, I letter with a Micron 05. I'm kind of eccentric with it, though. I always face the "05" on the barrel upward so that the tip flattens in a consistent direction over time. This gives a subtle thick-and-thin look to the otherwise ordinary line. Hey, it's a microscopic thing but this is the stuff that turns me on.
On editorial cartoons I typically "draw" each letter with a Micron 03 if it is in a balloon.
Rarely, I use a Speedball D-5 to write a thicker caption below an editorial cartoon.
Now and then, like on the Cheney Family Tree cartoon, I letter the big headline with a brush and fill in details with an 03.
Q. Shouldn't you be working?
Thanks for the assist on this one, gang!
I need the names of some prominent peaceniks, do-gooders and lefties down through the ages for a cartoon I'm working on. And go!
40 Who Shaped Cincinnati
Cincinnati Magazine's 40th Anniversary issue is out and names me among the 40 People Who Shaped Cincinnati.
I never anticipated that these little drawings I do day to day would have the sort of cumulative effect as to make Cincinnati what it is today.
I am told that a good lawyer can get this expunged from my record.
The goodly Richard Thompson has triggered my brush fetish with a tantalizing website
. Rosemary, (curiously, a former gynecologist,) is rumored to make the finest brushes around. If you share any of my jones for great brushes, you'll enjoy her lush descriptions.
My Winsor & Newton series 7 red sables are an industry standard. I used to use a #4 but age and deteriorating strength have forced me to adopt the #3. Anything larger feels like a vast imposition.
Like Richard's finely tuned sense of the quality of pen nibs
(10/8/2007), I can feel a good #3 from a bad #3 the moment I dip it in the ink. I think the difference resides in the single hair in the middle and I cannot imagine the skill involved in building such a great brush just right.
I used to think about the irony of my brushes when I would draw cartoons about the Cold War back in the 80's. The Kolinsky red sable from whose tail hairs my brushes are made is bred only in Russia. (Rosemary points out that, ounce for ounce, Kolinsky hairs are three times the price of pure gold.)
But what prompted this whole post is a tip on Rosemary's website about brush maintenance. Long ago I wondered if brushes should be washed with shampoo rather than bar soap to get the last of the ink out. Then I wondered if they would benefit from a bit of conditioner. It seemed a funny idea, but it kept making sense to me so I've been quietly doing such for several years. And now I find that Rosemary concurs.
Surely her unique blend of expertise can be trusted.
A reader sent this idea, just what I needed as I continue to try to battle off this bug. Thanks, Ron!
I just don't know if it's healthy for two families to keep trading the presidency in a democracy.
The scribble above has been sitting in my pile of homeless images for several years now, waiting for a topic to come along and lend it meaning. I paw through that pile from time to time to see if anything jumps out and this one did today.
Be free, little idea! Be free and fly away!
My buddy Bruce pointed out another bill-oriented cartoon I drew, this one from 1992 as George Bush the Elder had to face the tab Reagan rang up. Apart from the point, which infuriates me, this cartoon always makes me laugh. Even then there was something so insubstantial about the Bushes.
For that matter, both of my baby-gets-the-bill images owe a debt to Edward Sorel's The Bill.
In the late 1970's my wife and I, newly married and poor as churchmice, were visiting my sister in New York City. We walked past Graham Gallery which had a Sorel exhibit up at the time. My heart shot into my throat. I had seen very little original cartoon art at the time, and here, by chance!, was an entire show by one of my heroes.
I remember quaking as we walked through the show, each drawing more amazing than the last. We lingered in front of The Bill. The energy and fury of the line was mermerizing. It was $600, money we did not have. We moved on.
A week later Lynn said to me, "Do you ever think about that drawing we saw in New York?"
"Every day," I said.
She said, "I called the gallery today. They said we could pay for it over six months."
I swallowed hard.
"I told them we'd take it," she said.
It hangs in my house today, the best money I have ever spent.
Baby Gets the Bill
Eagle-eyed BorgFan asks in a comment if I have used the baby-gets-the-bill image before. Indeed I have. The cartoon is from 1985, and I was as incensed then as I am now that "fiscally-conservative" presidents were declining to pay for their own messes.
Reagan promised to 1) cut taxes, 2) increase defense spending, and 3) balance the budget. This paradox was supposed to happen through the miracle of supply-side economics. When, at the end of his term, he had accomplished the first two items and the budget was hopelessly, wildly, unprecedentedly out of balance, the ever-charming president grinned and said, "Well, two out of three ain't bad."
I will never understand why Reagan is a hero to fiscal conservatives.
I'm on the diasabled list for a day or two, recovering from some sort of bug I picked up while touring colleges with my daughter this weekend. Drove home Saturday night and by Sunday I was in a zombie state, staring into the middle distance. Sympathy always welcome.
Leave War Bill to Our Kids --G.W. Bush
So just for grins I bought some pen nibs at the art supply store the other day. I've always drawn with a brush and the occasional Micron but lately I've been envying the quick spontaneous look of scratchy pen drawings.
I slipped into a sort of bad Ronald Searle/George Herriman voice where I tried it here and it didn't feel at all the way I anticipated. Ink blobs are all over the original, and the sensation was like drawing with a fork on a chalkboard.
The jury's still out but so far I think I kind of hate it.
Through a weird confluence of events, I've had this super-easy day today. Jerry Scott's been out of town and I've finished all the Zits work I had on my drawing board. Somehow I've cleared my countertop of odd jobs and pro bono commitments and even caught up on my mailing and, well, whatever that pile of stuff that's usually on my desk is all about. All I had to do today is one editorial cartoon, and I got that idea in the shower this morning.
So it's 4:00 and I still haven't done it. I've stared at my empty email box all day, checked out some blogs and websites, exchanged some messages with friends.. and now face a mini-panic to get my cartoon done. What's that about?
It hits me again that without deadlines, my worst enemy and greatest friend, I would have accomplished nothing in my career. I can perform at almost any level if I'm told I have to.
I used to tell people that if, when I started this job, my editor had told me I had to draw five cartoons a day, I would have done that. Or, if he'd told me I had to draw one cartoon a month, I'd have groaned and struggled to get it done. It's all a matter of what you have to do.
And right now, yikes!, I have to draw.
If you haven't discovered Richard Thompson's blog
yet, you might want to do that. If you haven't discovered Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac
comic strip yet, you might want to do that, too. If you haven't discovered Richard Thompson at all, poor lamb, do.
A guy at Ennis Books sent me Richard's Poor Almanack a year ago and I haven't been the same since. Not many cartoonists pull me out of my orbit anymore, but every time I open this book it sends me into an identity crisis. Richard's stuff is so damn fun.
Somebody gave me this idea in an elevator last week and I've forgotten who it was. Kind anonymous person, thanks. I think it came out well.