Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cartoonists Feel like Lucky Stars

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cartoonists Feel like Lucky Stars

Article excerpt

Their work may be famous, but most syndicated artists (unlike actors and athletes) have lots of public privacy

Dilbert" creator Scott Adams was approached by a man who said: "I know who you are. You're that guy, aren't you?" The bemused United Feature Syndicate cartoonist waited.

"You're Gary Larson, aren't you?" continued the man.

"No, I'm not," replied Adams.

"You're lying! You're Gary Larson!" insisted the man, who walked away sulking.

"At least he got the profession right," Adams recalled wryly.

Indeed, the confused "Far Side" fan had a better antenna for cartoonists than many people. Unlike prominent musicians, actors, and athletes, even widely syndicated artists often go unnoticed in public. Their work may be instantly recognizable, but their faces aren't. And most star cartoonists seem to like having a famous feature but relative anonymity as a person.

"It's the best of both worlds," said Jim Davis, whose "Garfield" strip appears in 2,600 papers via Universal Press Syndicate. "People from TV, movies, and sports get no peace. They can't go to a restaurant and enjoy themselves. I feel sorry for them."

Davis recalled that when he dined with Paul Azinger, people lined up to get the golf pro's autograph -- prompting the exhausted Azinger to tell Davis: "I wish I was a cartoonist!"

"Zits"/"Baby Blues" writer Jerry Scott, a Los Angeles-area resident, remembered being in a Malibu eatery where celebrities such as Ted Danson, David Duchovny, and Mark Wahlberg were dining.

"Everybody was staring at them, watching what they ate," said Scott. "How would that be? No thanks!"

No one recognized Scott, despite the fact that "Zits" and "Baby Blues" -- distributed by King Features Syndicate to nearly 1,000 and 750 papers, respectively -- might have more fans than the aforementioned actors.

But when people realize in the course of conversation who Scott is, he gets lots of positive feedback. Fans recount story lines, mention characters who remind them of family members, etc. "I love being recognized for the work," said Scott.

Bil Keane does, too. The King cartoonist said that when people hear his name or see it on a credit card, they often ask, "Do you do 'The Family Circus'?"

"It's flattering," said Keane, who, if he has his briefcase with him, pulls out a sheet with the "Family Circus" circle on it and does a signed sketch for fans.

Keane, whose comic runs in 1,500-plus papers, is seldom recognized by sight outside his home state -- though some know him from the photo in his many comic anthologies. But in Arizona, many are aware of his face from local TV appearances.

Some editorial cartoonists also have high profiles in their home cities. Scott recalled joining his "Zits" co-creator, Jim Borgman of The Cincinnati Enquirer, at a book signing -- "and it was like being with Sting."

Another Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News and Washington Post Writers Group, is sometimes recognized in areas where readership of her tabloid paper is strong. But, overall, she has a relatively low profile in her personal life.

"I like the anonymity," she said. "I like the 'Dear Mr. Wilkinson' hate mail!"

Editorial cartoonist Mike Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times and Copley News Service added, "In my profession, you don't want to be recognized. …

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