Cartoonists Get Some Extra ‘Bookings’

By: Dave Astor

Newspaper cartoonists help attract younger readers ? and not just to newspapers. At least a half-dozen syndicated editorial cartoonists and comic creators have written and/or illustrated children’s books during the past year or so.

“I suspect it’s a bit of a trend, and I think the number will continue to grow,” says Steve Breen, The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial cartoonist and “Grand Avenue” comic creator whose Stick book about a frog was released March 1.

There have been kids’ books by syndicated cartoonists for almost as long as there’s been syndicated cartooning. So why does the number of them seem to be rising?

“Some cartoonists may be looking to diversify in light of the direction of the industry,” says Breen (who is syndicated by Copley News Service and United Media), referring to job losses for editorial cartoonists and shrinking comics space.

Also, tight space and daily cartoon deadlines in newspapers can make kids’ books appealing. That’s because the latter medium allows for bigger drawings ? and the time to polish them.

“It’s nice to flex the creative muscle with a different type of art,” says “Mutts” cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, who has done three children’s books (The Gift of Nothing, Art, and Just Like Heaven) since October 2005. The King Features Syndicate cartoonist adds that it’s not easy to do books in addition to a daily comic, but he finds them rewarding.

Editorial cartoonist Mike Lester of the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune and the Cagle Cartoons syndicate also loves children’s books. “You’re communicating with non-adults who really enjoy pictures on a basic level,” says Lester, who has done more than 20 books (usually as the illustrator). His most recent release was this past September’s Ninety-Three in My Family, written by Erica Perl. Lester says the extra “revenue stream” kids’ books can bring cartoonists is also appealing.

And cartoonists appeal to book publishers that are often interested in “names.” Syndicated creators might not have the high profile of a mega-celebrity children’s author like Madonna, but they’re proven professionals who know how to draw and write ? and who already have an audience. “It’s not necessary, but it’s always a plus to do a book with someone who has a fan base,” says Elizabeth Eulberg, director of publicity at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which publishes McDonnell’s books. “‘Mutts’ fans love everything he does.”

Eulberg adds: “Cartoonists know how to tell stories in a limited space, and that’s the same with children’s books.”

Among the other syndicated cartoonists doing kids’ books during the past year or so were “Non Sequitur” creator Wiley Miller of Universal Press Syndicate (The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil), “The Sunshine Club” creator Howie Schneider of United (Wilky the White House Cockroach), and Detroit News/United editorial cartoonist Henry Payne, who illustrated the Joe O’Connor-written Where Did Daddy’s Hair Go?

Several cartoonists have children’s books coming later this year or in 2008. They include, among others, McDonnell (Hug Time), Lester (Cool Daddy Rat), and Breen (Violet the Pilot).

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