Cartoonist’s Unpublished Drawings Get a Blog of Their Own

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By: Dave Astor

When The Kansas City Star asked Lee Judge to do something for its Web site, the staff editorial cartoonist suggested an idea he was sure would be turned down: Put his rejected and unpublished drawings on the site.

“To my surprise, they decided to do it,” said Judge — and the “Judge’s Opinion” daily blog was born. “On Valentine’s Day, oddly enough,” he told E&P today.

During the blog’s first four days, Judge posted about 60 sketches — some current, some older. For instance, one previously unpublished cartoon shows a terrorist saying: “We must think of a way to hurt the U.S. economy.” Another terrorist, holding a sign saying “record deficits,” replies: “Elect more Republicans?”

The cartoonist, who plans to post roughly a half-dozen current sketches a day when he runs out of older material, also offers a section of the blog featuring never-printed work he collected before launching “Judge’s Opinion.” One of those cartoons wonders what would happen if Kentucky Fried Chicken’s late Col. Sanders were cremated. “Regular or extra crispy?” asks the crematory worker as the coffin approaches.

The blog, which includes some explanatory text, got 16,000 hits during its first 24 hours last week — about 6,000 more than the Star had hoped for. And the number of angry e-mails offended readers have sent Judge so far? A grand total of … zero.

Judge, who joined the Star in 1981, noted that Web visitors expect more envelope-pushing content than print newspaper readers do. “We’re reaching a different crowd,” said the cartoonist, including younger people who like their political commentary combined with humor and entertainment — “Daily Show” style. Judge added that the blog has “a lot of warnings” for visitors who might be bothered by the sketches.

He did emphasize that the blog features a number of cartoons the Star didn’t publish for reasons of space rather than potential controversy. Judge does six cartoons a week for the print Star, but often draws at least three times that many sketches.

Judge said the Star doesn’t look at his rejected/unpublished sketches before he posts them on the blog, and has not asked him to pull any drawings. “There’s a lot of freedom,” he observed. The Star even promoted the blog with mentions on its front page and the Op-Ed page.

The cartoonist thanked three Star executives — Publisher Mac Tully, Editor Mark Zieman, and Editorial Page Editor Miriam Pepper — for “climbing out on a limb with me on this.”

Along with the freedom is lots of extra work with no extra pay, as is usually the case with staff editorial cartoonists who do blogs. “It’s like there’s this vicious dog next to you all the time waiting to be fed,” Judge said of the blog’s demands. “But if the choice is two jobs or no jobs, I’ll take the two jobs!”

Judge’s specific job isn’t threatened, but he noted that the overall number of staff editorial cartoon positions has decreased significantly during the past 20 years. And Judge said his extra work is softened by the fact that he enjoys doing the blog and that people are seeing work they normally wouldn’t have seen (unless they attended one of his slide shows).

The Star staffer hopes other newspapers will allow their cartoonists to post similar material online. And, if those blogs also became successful, Judge hopes newspapers might allow a little more envelope-pushing in print cartoons. This, he said, would help papers appeal to younger readers editors say they want to reach.

Judge’s new blog can be accessed at http://judgesopinion.kcstar.com/

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