DRAWING ON OPINIONS.
Much as they would like to, Jesse Springer and Rob Harriman don't plan to give up their day jobs anytime soon.
Springer of Eugene and Harriman of Portland make their living as graphic designers. But their passion is drawing editorial cartoons for newspapers.
Their cartooning skills, sharpened by following politics and public events, have made them two of Oregon's busiest independent editorial cartoonists. Between them, their work appears in more than 30 newspapers, including The Register-Guard, the Statesman Journal in Salem, Springfield News, the Newport News-Times, The Mail Tribune in Medford and the Yamhill County News-Register.
The two artists, both liberal-leaning, younger than 40 and with young children, have yet to make the difficult leap from part-time piece work to full-time editorial cartooning, despite years of trying. Hence, the reliance on their other careers.
"It's real tough for a free-lance cartoonist," said Dick Hughes, editorial page editor of the Statesman Journal. "You don't make much money (cartooning) unless you are employed by a newspaper, or you are nationally syndicated."
But their love of art and desire to comment on current events keeps Springer and Harriman plugging away at the goal to make cartooning their full-time careers.
They draw for Oregon audiences, focusing on the latest proposals by the governor, the ups and downs of the the state economy, tax controversies, land use debates, school funding problems and other issues commanding attention at the state Capitol. Springer also likes to apply his wit and pen to Eugene topics.
A recent Springer cartoon published in The Register-Guard weighed in on the debate over Eugene school Superintendent George Russell's recommendations to consider merging, moving or closing some of the district's nine alternative elementary schools. Russell says children in some of the alternative schools enjoy unfair advantages over children in some of the regular neighborhood elementary schools.
In his cartoon, Springer drew a school bus that had broken into two parts. The front section, labeled "school choice," continued to move forward, leaving behind the children-filled back of the bus labeled "equality."
With a kindergarten-age son and a 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Springer pays attention to school news, among other topics.
A less recent but well-known Springer cartoon showed PeaceHealth Oregon Chief Executive Alan Yordy being rushed into the emergency room with bandages wrapped around his nose, and a doctor saying Yordy had just paid $34 million "through the nose," an allusion to PeaceHealth's purchase of the Springfield RiverBend site.
"Some people complain that Eugene is very contentious and that we can't get anything done because there are all these arguments going on," Springer said. "But there is a lot of benefit to the community when people discuss the different sides of an issue and reach some sort of conclusion."
Springer and Harriman would be the first to say theirs is modest success. As free-lance artists, they submit cartoons to newspapers, and hope for publication.
"If they don't print anything, they don't pay anything," Harriman said. "It's a no-lose situation for them."
The artists don't get rich under such an arrangement. Most small-and-medium-sized newspapers don't employ their own editorial cartoonists. Instead, they typically buy cartoons from nationally syndicated cartoonists, which on a per-drawing basis are less expensive than the work of free-lancers such as Harriman and Springer.
Harriman, for instance, gets $5 to $35 per published cartoon, with small weekly or twice-weekly papers paying the least. Springer gets $7.50 to $35 per published cartoon.
"It's a nice-paying hobby," Harriman said.
The artists get their inspiration mostly by reading the news.
Selecting topics can be tricky, Springer said, because what may interest him may not interest readers.
A key to a good political cartoon, Springer said, is getting people to consider a viewpoint different than their own.
"A political cartoon is an opinion in words and pictures," he said. "I think it is important to lay out the different sides to an issue. What I try to do with my cartoons is say, 'How would someone who disagrees with me see this cartoon?' Would they see it as a cheap shot, or am I shedding some light on something that, if they are intellectually honest with themselves, they should be looking at?"
Hughes, at the Salem Statesman Journal, uses the work of Harriman, Springer and other free-lancers to add local flavor to the paper.
"They do things on (Gov.) Kulongoski and the Oregon National Guard in Iraq to provide a local perspective," Hughes said.
Springer and Harriman also make observations about less serious topics, such as the weather.
Springer recently drew a drenched Californian standing grumpily under a rain cloud, next to a postcard titled "Greetings from Oregon Winter 2005," which featured a pair of smiling sunbathers. And Harriman in January poked fun at weather forecasters who kept predicting that Oregon would get hit with a big snowstorm.
"Those cartoons were just fun," Hughes said. "They bring a sense of humor to the page. People get tired of the same, nasty editorial cartoons so when they do something more offbeat, I like it. You can only run so many cartoons on Social Security."
Springer first became published as a cartoonist in 1994, when the now-defunct Other Paper, ran one of his drawings (unpaid) about the expansion of the Ferry Street Bridge in Eugene. In 1996, he began drawing for the Comic News, and, in 1997, for The Register-Guard.
He now regularly submits cartoons to six newspapers. But he derives 97 percent of his income (he recently calculated the amount) from his work as an independent graphic designer through his business, Springer Design & Illustration. He works in a small studio in a converted garage behind his Lincoln Street home.
Springer's business clients include educational toy maker Sandholm, and Eugene-based Habibi, a national belly-dancing magazine. "I do everything for (Habibi)," he said. "I design the cover, lay out the articles, lay out the ads on the pages and send them off to the printer."
Springer also collaborates on projects with veteran advertising art director George Lawrence in Eugene. Together, they work on ads for the Duck athletic fund, Eugene manufacturer Pierce Irrigation and other Lawrence clients.
In Portland, Harriman is a graphic designer and newsletter editor who works for a company that provides management for trade associations.
He draws his cartoons at home, usually at night after a long day at work. "It's a little exhausting," said Harriman, who is married and has a 2 1/2 -year old son.
Harriman, like Springer, has loved to draw since he was a kid. He began thinking about doing editorial cartoons when he worked as a graphic designer for a commercial real estate firm in Portland in the mid-1990s.
Harriman said his co-workers were "very conservative and interested in nothing more than developing every last square inch of the state." That served as "political wake-up call," he said.
"I didn't have the money, skills, talent or energy to work in politics in the conventional sense, so I fell back to cartooning as a way of trying to make a difference in my own small way," he said.
Harriman's first published cartoon came in 1996, when the Lincoln City News Guard ran his drawing of Gov. John Kitzhaber raking up failed initiative ballot measures, which were portrayed as fallen leaves. "I usually enjoy the fall," Kitzhaber sighed.
Other newspapers slowly took an interest, and Harriman learned that it pays to keep calling and writing editors.
Today, his work is picked up on a regular basis by 28 papers, from the The Dalles Chronicle in northern Oregon to The World in Coos Bay, and the Lake County Examiner, near the California border.
Harriman said he would like to make cartooning more than a thinly paid hobby. But he doesn't seem to have illusions about that happening soon.
Nationally, Harriman said there are fewer than 100 people making a living drawing editorial cartoons for newspapers. "You have a better chance of being a pro basketball player than you have at being a full-time editorial cartoonist," he said. "But I can still take comfort knowing that people are paying me to give my opinions."
Recognition helps motivate Springer and Harriman. They each had two of their drawings included in the book Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year by Pelican Press, which includes the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists.
And they both strive to improve their cartooning. Harriman said his drawings have gotten better over the years, but writing is more important. "You can have a lame joke and the best art in the world won't save it," he said.
Springer said memorable editorial cartoons require sharp insights and "art that supports and augments" those ideas.
"I have so much room for improvement in terms of my art, and coming up with creative ideas," he said. "There is always a new day, a new cartoon and a new challenge."
Education: Psychology degree, Swarthmore College, Philadelphia.
Family: Spouse, Julie Hohenemser, science teacher, Cal Young Middle School, Eugene; children, Sam, 5 1/2 , Mira, 2 1/2 .
Favorite editorial cartoonist: Tom Toles, Washington Post. "Artistically, he couldn't draw his way out of a paper bag, but in a way it's a perfect deadpan delivery of his genius ideas," Springer says.
Education: Journalism degree, University of Oregon
Family: Spouse, Barbara Harriman, administrative assistant, Portland State University; son, Joseph, 2 1/2 .
Favorite cartoonist: Clay Bennett, Christian Science Monitor. "He's one of the few cartoonists that uses images and symbols more frequently than dialogue balloons. Most cartoonists fall into the trap of having two people sitting on a sofa commenting on what's on TV, or discussing something in the newspaper over the breakfast table. Clay doesn't. He makes points that are hard -hitting and insightful without getting preachy or overopinionated. And the way he does it is always original," Harriman says.
Graphic artist Jesse Springer of Eugene sells his free-lance editorial cartoons to several Oregon newspapers, including The Register-Guard. "You have a better chance of being a pro basketball player than you have at being a full-time editorial cartoonist." - ROB HARRIMAN, FREE-LANCE CARTOONIST
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Business; They may hold day jobs, but these free-lance cartoonists liven editorial pages with passion for current events|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 7, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Potential recruits need the facts.|
|Next Article:||University envisions future of campus.|