Posts Tagged ‘newspapers’

Sketchy way to earn a living

July 17, 2022

Back to the ol’ drawing board? Nope.

Back in the late Seventies, when I was more yappy pup than Mad Dog, one of the editors at my second newspaper asked me why I was dead set on becoming an editorial cartoonist.

“I think you’re a better writer than you are a cartoonist,” he said.

Well. Shit. Nobody else around the newsroom seemed to think I was a fledgling Woodward N. Bernstein. Especially me.

I didn’t love reporting, which precedes writing and can be a very heavy lift indeed. When bored witless at school-board meetings I often doodled in my reporter’s notebook. As a consequence coverage could be less than comprehensive. And now here was this authority figure telling me that words, not pictures, were my forte, my future. Bad news.

This wasn’t the first “Check Fiscal Engine” light on my career dashboard, either. An adviser at my first college had told me how many editorial cartoonists were earning a living in the United States (not many then; even fewer now). Might want to cast a wider net, the adviser advised. Instead I dropped out and fished blue-collar ponds for a while.

At my second college another adviser advised that I’d never find any kind of work at a newspaper, unless maybe it was with Ed Quillen, who even then had a reputation for blazing his own trail. As it turned out, this wizard’s palantír was off by seven newspapers, and I didn’t do a lick of work for Ed until I had quit No. 7 and gone rogue. Those who can’t do, etc.

But I digress. Back to Newspaper No 2.

Your Humble Narrator at Newspaper No. 3, circa 1980.

The writing was on the wall, as it were. Happily, I could read. And even write, a little, as long as it didn’t involve first walking up to strangers like some Monty Python constable: “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello … wot’s all this then?” I didn’t care for regular haircuts or wearing a tie, and I only liked meeting strangers over drinks in some dark bar.

But a few years earlier, at Newspaper No. 1, where I was a copy boy, I got to sit in at the copy desk now and then, and I really enjoyed the work. It was why I eventually quit and went to College No. 2, the managing editor having advised that I would pretty much top out as a copy boy without a degree of some sort.

So at Newspaper No. 2, after scanning the writing on the wall for typos, grammatical errors, and AP Style violations, I petitioned to relocate from reporting to the copy desk. And I spent the next decade moving from one copy desk to another, editing other people’s stories, writing headlines and cutlines, sizing photos, laying out pages, and occasionally slipping a cartoon past an editorial-page editor.

And rarely — very rarely — I wrote something under my own byline.

Almost exactly 10 years after I read that writing on the wall, I found myself inching toward the exit at Newspaper No. 7, where I had bounced from the copy desk to the sports desk to the arts magazine to the features desk. There were no chairs left unoccupied and the music was winding down. The idea of courting Newspaper No. 8 — and then Nos. 9, 10, 11, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum —felt like a long pull into a cold headwind.

And yes, I had taken up bicycle racing a couple of years earlier.

Your Humble Narrator post-newspapering, in his second act as a pro cartoonist.

So imagine my astonishment when I stumbled across an ad in Editor & Publisher, the industry’s trade mag. Something called VeloNews wanted a managing editor. I applied. Got an interview. Didn’t get the job.

But I did get hired as a cartoonist. Finally! Pro at last, pro at last, thank God Almighty, I’m pro at last!

Cartooning for VeloNews was my first gig outside newspapering, and cartooning for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News would be my last. The Alpha and Omega of my second act, as a freelancer.

In between I did a lot of other stuff, of course. Covered races and trade shows, wrote commentary, edited copy for print and online, dabbled in video and audio. But it was cartooning that brought me in, and cartooning that saw me out.

And you know what’s really funny? I retired six months ago and haven’t drawn a line since. But I just wrote 700-some-odd words, and for free, too, simply because I love doing it.

Maybe that editor was onto something after all.

A chile reception

December 16, 2013
Chicken enchiladas in red sauce, potatoes roasted in red chile, and Anasazi beans in chipotle. The blank space on the plate is for the side salad that I did not make.

Chicken enchiladas in red sauce, potatoes roasted in red chile, and Anasazi beans in chipotle. The blank space on the plate is for the side salad that I did not make.

Weird dreams this morning. I was working for a newspaper (!) again, so I guess it qualifies as a nightmare.

So I walk into the newsroom, late as usual, and a receptionist type hands me a note with a short clip attached, whispering in dire tones about some class of tragic typo.

I reply, “D’you have any idea how many people we have reading copy these days? I tried to get the city desk to read one fucking thing yesterday, but nooooooo. …”

Then, since John McCain is sitting in front of this person’s desk for some reason, perhaps awaiting an audience with the publisher, I whip a Three Stooges routine on him, poking him in the chest with one finger and then, when he glances down, flicking his nose.

Moving on, I notice that nobody is at their desks. They’re all in the big conference room, and the mood is not evocative of a holiday party.

“Uh oh,” I think to myself. And then I wake up.

I think maybe I overdid the red chile last night.