Part One: The following Q&A is from Yellow Scene magazine.
How did you get into this business?
It was either drawing cartoons or doing something that included me uttering the sentence “would you like fries with that?”. I grew up asthmatic so I drew a lot as a kid. Especially in math class. My first job was getting coffee and wrangling copy for editors off of an old teletype machine in El Paso, Texas where I grew up. Later, one such editor took pity on me, saw I could doodle and moved me into the graphic department of the paper where I did charts, maps and story illustrations for 3 years. Occasionally they’d let me off the leash long enough to draw an editorial cartoon. I answered a blind ad in the newspaper trade magazine Editor and Publisher for a “sports minded” artist in 1982 and ended up in Denver drawing sports editorial cartoons for the Rocky Mountain News until it folded in 2009. I continue to draw for a number of clients including The Chicago Tribune, 9News in Denver and Universal Press syndicate. I also draw for the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa, New Mexico which I love. A good friend of mine and former colleague from my days at the Rocky, ME Sprengelmeyer, is the publisher.
Life is good when you have a gig that allows you to draw a motorcycle gang of feral hogs trashing a Mexican restaurant simply because the green chile has pork in it.
What’s your creative process like?
Coffee, coffee and more coffee. Followed by a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a few Underdog cartoons. Actually, it’s more complex than that and much like global warming, it’s harder to explain it than to just observe it. I read a lot, watch a lot, observe all kinds of things in daily life and then, in total silence, brainstorm it all the while keeping in mind that I’m trying to convey a message in a concise and hopefully funny, hard hitting, acidic single panel cartoon and not in a 1200 page novel. It’s like making chicken noodle soup with noodles on the floor and pieces of chicken hanging from the ceiling. In the end you hope it tastes good but the prep before and the cleanup afterwards is pretty ugly.
How is the business different today? Both good and bad sides?
The Good: There are lots of places to have your work seen via the internet. It’s easier to self promote than ever and you have a higher chance of being able to stay home, drink lots of coffee and work in your pajama’s.
The Bad: It’s much, much, much harder to make a living doing this than ever before. Everyone wants your work for free, because, after all, no one pays for anything on the internet unless you are shopping on Amazon. And because newspapers are dying a slow and painful death it’s much harder to have your work seen on a daily basis. The internet is fragmented into a billion little pieces so it’s easy for your blog, website, facebook and twitter postings to fall into a deep dark cyber hole and never be seen or heard from again. And working in your pajama’s is really very overrated.
The Ugly: There are far more truly talented creative people uttering the sentence “would you like fries with that?” than ever before. And that’s just wrong.
Talk to me a little bit about Charlie Hebdo. Did you follow them much before the attack in Paris?
Admittedly, no. That’s not to say I haven’t been exposed to the genius of the French cartoonist community who do things that completely boggle the mind. I’ve bought more than a few French graphic novels at the San Diego Comic Con throughout the years that make Calvin and Hobbes look like stick figures. They are a seriously talented group of people.
What’s your opinion on their work?
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons have always pushed the edge. Their work is visceral and, at times, even vicious. It does what it is intended to do. It shouts loud enough to be heard. That’s a good thing. We need people who do that. I know how powerful a single panel cartoon can be. It’s a visually appealing concise form of commentary that is, unfortunately, dying in America. I believe in the right to the freedom of expression, which is a key component to our democracy. It’s the cornerstone really. Without it the whole thing comes tumbling down. Kind of like a bad game of Jenga.
How do you think something like Charlie Hebdo attack impacts your industry, long term?
It provides us a lot more attention to our platform. More people in the theater to see the show so to speak. What we do to keep people coming back is up to us. But as far as the fate of the editorial cartoon in the US, editors and publishers have pretty much determined that already. They are killing the art form one lay off at a time. In 1982 newspapers across the country employed well over 200 full time editorial cartoonists. Today that number is below 40. But it’s happening to photographers as well as writers too. It’s the Ice Age and we just happen to be the dinosaurs.
Switch gears to something happier. Denver has a comic con now! What’s your take on it? Was last year your first year?
It’s fabulous! Top notch and very well done! Last year was my second time going. I was at the first one a few years back before I took a wrong at Albuquerque and ended up in Dallas for a few years. The con’s in Dallas were nowhere nearly as good as the one in Denver. Not even close.
Plans to do it again? why/why not?
Yes I will be there again, with bells on and prints and stuff to sell. It’s a wonderful marketplace for folks like me. And besides I can hang out with people who love Firefly, Batman, Looney Tunes and who dress up like it’s Halloween without the candy. So it’s full of my kind of people!
Who are some of your favorite cartoonists and why do you love them?
Wow. How many months do we have to explore this one. I have a long list of favorites. Walt Kelly. George Herriman. Charles Schulz. Phil Frank. Jim Borgman. Berkeley Breathed. Jeff Smith. David Petersen. Sandra Boynton. TK Ryan. Johnny Hart. Sergio Aragones. Jeff MacNelly. Mike Peters. Willard Mullin. Chester Gould. Steve Purcell. Dave Stevens. Joe Murray. Just to name a few. They all bring different balloon animals to the party, ya know. And the more balloon animals the better the party.
What’s the strangest illustration request you’ve ever gotten?
They are all pretty strange if you think about it. I mean turning real life into a cartoon world is strange. Even more so if life weren’t already a bit of a cartoon at times. I’ve been asked to draw on someone. Like a tattoo. Only it wasn’t. And it was very, um, awkward. She was pretty though. I declined. I’m not one to draw on complete strangers. and, besides, the ink works much better on paper.
Who’s the toughest celebrity you’ve had to draw?
Craig Morton, who used to play QB for the Broncos back in the late 70’s, early 80’s. I finally went and got the Andy Kaufman photo file for reference. They had a separated at birth kind of thing that helped. but , yeah, he was a nightmare.
Ever had someone get angry about something you’ve drawn? What happened?
Oh. yeah. I’m not on Denny Neagle’s Christmas Card list. It was ugly but thankfully didn’t end up in fisticuffs or anything. Just a lot of screaming. Steroids will do that to a guy, I guess.
What advice do you have for someone starting out?
Don’t draw for the money. Draw because you have to , because you love it and need it like the air you breathe. Because at this point, quite honestly, the money may never come. It’s a tough way to make a living. It was hard 30 years ago, it’s incredibly hard today. It’s kind of like Bungie jumping off of Mt Everest. It’s not impossible. Just challenging.
I have a website; www.drewlitton.com as well as a store www.drewlittonstore.com where I sell prints and calendars and memorabilia and stuff like that. I’m always available for public speaking and appearances and freelance work. Julie Rasmussen, who is the absolutely the greatest rep on the planet, handles those things for me. If you are interested she can be reached at Julie@JRasmussenPR
Part Two As seen in Mile High Sports magazine
1.It’s been more than 6 years since the Rocky Mountain News closed up shop. Catch us up; what are the “adventures of Drew Litton” these days?
Staying busy. Very busy. It’s been a cross between Alice falling down the Rabbit Hole and the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz singing “If I only had a Brain”. But it’s been fun! Except, of course, the part about the Rocky closing. That was, and still is, so hard to believe. I actually moved for a few years to Dallas to find my inner cowboy or some such non-sense. I came back with a Schnauzer. Much better.
2.Where can people find your work?
DrewLitton.com is a good place to start. I draw my sports cartoons here at least 3 days a week. It’s a fun place to hang out, lots of cartoons and great sports fans! I’m syndicated nationally by Universal UClick. I do two a week for them and you can see them here as well as there. I draw weekly for the Chicago Tribune drawing all about Chicago sports. I do weekly editorial cartoons for my former Rocky colleague M.E. Sprengelmeyer who owns the Guadalupe County Communicator in New Mexico so I draw local stuff for him, which is a blast. I’m also featured monthly in Mile High Sports Magazine and the Rockies magazine during the season. I draw during the Broncos season for 9News as well and, most recently, a feature called the BroncsZoo for BroncoPlanet.com.
My portfolio of work is at LittoonzStudios.com. I’ve also got a blog about creativity, creatorsincubator.com, one on changing course in the digital age at Transitoryflight.com and one on life as a cartoonist called TalesfromtheLooneyPen. I’m restless and easily bored so I try new stuff all the time.
3.What’s been the best part of not drawing in the News on a daily basis?
It’s allowed me to fulfill a life’s dream of being able to go to work in shorts and Hawaiian shirts every day. And I can watch Super Chicken cartoons on my lunch hour. Providing of course I look up from the drawing board to actually see them.
4.What’s been the toughest?
I miss the camaraderie of the newsroom. And the rush of being there during a big story.
The financial transition has been rough, but it’s getting better and I’m optimistic I can continue to do what I love, which is drawing cartoons.
5.You’ve been drawing for a long time now, so what’s been your very favorite Colorado sports moment?
I don’t think it will ever get better than Elway’s helicopter ride to win Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers. And the Buffs beating Nebraska. Every time. I loved that. And I loved each and every Stanley Cup win.
6.And your favorite athlete?
Rod Smith. He, to me, is the ultimate professional. Give me 45 Rod Smith’s and I win the super Bowl every year. Elway was a blast to draw and I’ve never gotten over my post Reeves stress syndrome. I loved drawing him the size of a mouse. But I admired the heck out of him. I also miss Patrick Roy a lot. He had a competitive spirit that was fantastic. It’s what I love most about sports. Achieving things people say you can’t achieve.
7.Is there any one (or two, or more!) illustrations you did that stand out as your “most famous”? Drawings that people still talk about today?
Oh yeah. Always, always the Rich Karlis Killer uprights cartoon. And the Elway looking through the window at Joe Sakic and his Stanley Cup.
8.How about you? You’re a Colorado resident of many years; do you have any favorite outdoor activities here?
Does grilling count? No? Seriously, I have little time with the current schedule of work I have. But I want to do some hiking in the Rockies this summer. I tried to reboot my life elsewhere and moved to Texas for a bit. Thomas Wolf was right. You can’t go home again. That’s when it occurred to me that Colorado is home. So I’m back and happier than ever.
9.Anything you’d like to try?
Chicken. I’d love to learn to properly grill chicken. Oh, not the answer you were looking for. Sailing. I’ve always dreamed of sailing. It’s on my bucket list. Songwriting. I’d like to pick that up again. That’s what I wanted to be before I started drawing on desktops in algebra.
10.What’s next for Drew Litton?
Right now, another cup of coffee. But I’d love to do some Children’s graphic novels and children’s books. And some animated content. The challenge ahead will be finding new ways to monetize content as print dies out to mobile technology. Will people still want cartoons on their smart phones? The jury is still out on that. But I’ve learned a lot in these past few years. The keys to life are to count your blessings every single day and being thankful for what you have right now. I think the great Ferris Bueller said it best.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Oh, and another other key: a burnt chicken on the grill is better than no chicken at all.