Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jim Borgman

Yesterday my wife and I attended a talk and book signing by Jim Borgman, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and "Zits" comic strip artist. "Zits" writer Jerry Scott was also supposed to be there, but canceled because of emergency surgery he needed to treat diverticulitis.

For an hour, Mr. Borgman entertained an audience of about 200 with stories about how he and Mr. Scott created "Zits" almost accidentally during a mutual visit to Sedona, Arizona. He talked about cartooning, family, and the creative process, and was a terrific speaker. He also struck me as being more sensitive and even sentimental than I'd expected a hard-bitten award-winning editorial cartoonist to be. He choked up talking about letters he gets from readers describing how much "Zits" has helped them understand and communicate across generations, or even from parents whose children have died and who read "Zits" as a way to keep up with the lives their kids might have had. Unexpectedly moving, and a good reminder of the subtle power of this medium.

Although the audience seemed most impressed by the stories he told or the sketches he drew, what I took away from his talk was awe for his tremendous work ethic. As Mr. Borgman described it, he works on "Zits" about three days a week, does editorial cartoons three more days a week, and saves the seventh day for whatever he didn't get done the other six. In other words, he works constantly and hard to maintain a high-octane level of quality and professionalism--which made me more acutely aware than ever of my own wasted time. Hard Work = Success: who knew? I resolved to do better.

I had a chance to tell him that after waiting in a looooong line for him to sign a book for us. My wife and I were nearly literally the end of the line; the venue had sold out of his books before we could buy one, so after his talk we actually drove to a nearby bookstore, bought a "Zits" collection, and drove back to the signing. I've done a few talks and signings myself--though nothing remotely so large--and was incredibly impressed with the fortitude Mr. Borgman displayed in chatting charmingly and drawing sketches, staying more than a hour past his scheduled time to make sure everyone was served. Meanwhile, his wife worked the line with her own conversational charms and made sure everyone signed a card for Jerry Scott that Borgman had drawn. They made a good team.

We reached his table, chatted for a moment, and he asked if we had a favorite character we wanted him to draw in our book. I in turn asked if there was a character he wanted to draw--maybe one that no one ever asks for and he wasn't yet sick of. He replied that no one ever asks for Connie and Walt, the Mom and Dad in "Zits." We said that would be perfect, since we pretty much are the Mom and Dad in "Zits." So he autographed our book and drew this:

That there's Grade-A cartooning by a man who earned every success he's enjoying today. It was a pleasure to see and meet him.


newnorth said...

that's really cool!

ronnie said...

Aww, what a wonderful story and experience, Brian.

I'd never, ever, ever thought of parents who'd lost a child imagining that child's potential development, growth, and life through fictional means. It's an incredibly poignant concept.