Syndicates: A rare Hire in Biz of Editorial Cartoons

By: Dave Astor

Add “rarity” to the two R-words in Ron Rogers’ name. He became a staff editorial cartoonist at the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune late last summer even as jobs in his profession continued to dwindle. Rogers was hired by the Tribune after turning 50 ? an unusually long wait for someone to land their first editorial-cartooning post. And he’s one of the few African Americans ever to be a staff cartoonist at a general-circulation daily.

Rogers doesn’t offer a definitive answer about why most editorial cartoonists are white, but he does know that being African-

American has some effect on the topics he chooses and the way the resulting cartoons come out. For instance, there was a stark poignancy to his work after Hurricane Katrina, which hurt blacks in disproportionate numbers.

“Ron is always aware of diversity. The characters in his cartoons are more diverse than in other cartoons,” said Tribune Managing Editor Tim Harmon.

“I try to be a little different,” Rogers agreed, adding that he reads black publications and black Web sites most other editorial cartoonists probably don’t see.

But Rogers also scans general-interest sites; reads papers such as the Chicago dailies and The Wall Street Journal; watches Fox News, C-Span, and other TV fare; and reads many history books ? including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recently published Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

“Ron certainly doesn’t draw just black issues,” said Harmon.

Rogers, 51, usually does three editorial cartoons a week ? but that’s only about 25% of his total Tribune output. He also does a collection of mini-cartoons called “Rewind: The Week in Review” and illustrates various stories and columns for the Sunday newspaper.

“It sounds like a lot of work ? and it is,” said Rogers. “But it’s fun.” He added that he learned to draw quickly while working as a graphic artist and designer for various other newspapers before coming to the Tribune. At some of those papers, Rogers functioned as a one-man art department.

“He’s very fast and very disciplined,” said Harmon, when asked about everything Rogers produces.

“Ron knows the news,” he added. “You don’t have to tell him about something ? he’s already on top of it. He’s very incisive, and has really strong artistic skills and a great sense of humor.”

Harmon also praised Rogers’ garb. “He comes to work in a suit and tie,” he said. “Not many cartoonists do that!”

The award-winning Rogers began contributing to the Tribune in 2002, which led to his joining the staff three years later.

“It took me a little by surprise,” Rogers said of receiving the job offer in such a difficult market for editorial cartoonists.

One of the highlights of his freelance tenure was putting together an intricate page of information and illustrations about last year’s Democratic National Convention in Boston. “I’m a great believer in trying to do innovative things,” he said.

Rogers creates international, national, and local cartoons ? with the latter covering issues in Indiana as well as nearby Michigan. Ideologically, Rogers is hard to label; it depends on the topic. “I do trend Democratic, but I’m tough on Democrats, too,” he said. “I have an open mind.”

One of Rogers’ cartoonist heroes is the conservative-leaning Jeff MacNelly, who died in 2000. Rogers met MacNelly while working in an entry-level position at the Richmond (Va.) News Leader, and recalled that the already-famous MacNelly was a friend and mentor to him. Rogers’ hometown is Richmond, where he attended the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts.

Rogers ? whose wife, Donna, is the Tribune’s night editor ? has also worked for papers such as The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, and The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind.

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