In plowing through about 250 cartoons I’ve drawn for The Sacramento Bee in the past year, I was instructed to get the number down to 10 for this roundup. Ten. OK. I can do that.
We Californians (yes, I am one now; I have given up Oregon and Minnesota for flip-flops and a loincloth) have been through a historically dreadful drought. So I’ve included a few about that. But I’ve done far more than a few.
In my entire career, I have drawn well over 10,000 editorial cartoons. Probably more like 15,000. For decades, I did six per week. For four years, I drew seven. Here I do five, plus a weekly writing load of one column and one editorial.
The trouble with picking cartoons is the same problem that cartoonists have with drawing them: There are so many fat subjects sitting out there and only so many holes in the paper, we often miss one thing or another.
Never miss a local story.
People often ask me the following questions about my work:
Do your editors tell you what to do? The answer to that is simple: No, they don’t. We are all so busy around here coming up with our own opinions that we have very little time to instruct fellow colleagues about theirs.
Do they censor you? No. Besides, the worst-case scenario around here is perfectly legitimate: We call it editing. I have at times been very lightly edited, but it’s always, in my memory, with suggestions or additions, not subtractions to Shield You All From The Truth.
How long does it take you to draw a cartoon? Well, that varies wildly. Sometimes a very simple idea can be executed in less than an hour. More typically, I like to have three clear hours for the actual drawing. The Sunday panels are mostly extremely detail-oriented and time-consuming. I like to have an entire day to work on those.
Lettering eats up a vast swath of time for the Sunday panels, and they have to be composed exactly right because sometimes that lettering can get to be pretty small.
My typical daily routine consists of morning meetings and reading time. I like to have two to four hours of reading prior to drawing. As a middle-aged man, I get up at 6 a.m., whether I want to or not, so that means I usually have been reading for three hours before I come into the office.
My main goals in the morning are to determine my subject, decide what position to take, cull a phrase or concept from the subject, and then sit down with a sketchbook. I think my No. 1 skill is coming up with small phrases.
My rough sketches are considerably smaller than the finished drawings, and sometimes they are only a few inches across, like little postage-stamp cartoons.
Once I have a workable idea, I take that rough and put my notebook on the copier and blow it up to about 150 percent. Then it’s over to my light table to recompose it. I then show it to Dan Morain, our editor.
When that’s done, the easiest part is inking it, making it into the recognizable cartoon you see in the paper.
Using Strathmore smooth finish paper, a tiny sable brush, a Uniball mini pen and even a dime store Flair pen, I will put the black-and-white drawing on my scanner and make a JPEG image. Then I put the color in it with Adobe Photoshop. This can take 10 minutes to two hours, depending on the complexity of the drawing.
So when I sit down to pick out 10 cartoons out of the 250 I’ve done this year, I kind of freeze for a moment. Cartoons that I like are more artistically complex, like the Sunday cartoons. Cartoons that reproduce better are simpler, so I mostly have included those in this compendium.
What do I like about this job? Artistically, I am very much a caricature student. I find it a challenge to draw the small caricature using minimal lines. Most of the caricatures in my cartoons are smaller than 2 inches vertical. That’s pretty small.
I enjoy shadows and the complex nature of light. I am very happy when I have a lot of crosshatching to do, which is mind-numbing and cathartic at the same time. I also enjoy drawing buildings and outdoor scenes. I enjoy drawing mechanical objects.
I detest drawing horses. I love drawing dogs in suits. I hate drawing cats.
I don’t have a favorite caricature subject, as disappointing as that is, though I have a preference for larger-eyed, darker-eyebrowed people. House Speaker John Boehner will be missed, but he was replaced by another large-eyed, dark-eyebrowed guy, so I’m good.
I’ve notched another year here at The Bee. This has been the most exhilarating moment in my career, and thank you for reading.