Drawing Local Cartoons from Afar

By: Dave Astor With fewer newspapers employing staff editorial cartoonists, is Dale Neseman on the cutting edge of a new trend? That might depend on how many artists can draw 18 to 25 cartoons a week.

Neseman, working from his western New York studio, creates local cartoons for about 20 newspapers in a dozen states. "Other cartoonists had exhausted national issues, and there were so many syndicated cartoonists out there," says Neseman, explaining why he began doing local drawings for far-flung locales in 1998. "I thought: Why not be different?"

Today, the niche Neseman found seven years ago has become a chasm, because more papers lacking staff cartoonists means more papers needing local cartoons. But Neseman, 56, knows of no other artist doing exactly what he does.

"People have told me I have a unique job," says Neseman, who sometimes gets local ideas from his client editors but mostly creates after reading their papers online.

"Letters to the editor are a great way to find out what people are thinking and what's important to them," adds Neseman, who comments about municipal elections, mayoral policies, school budgets, potholes, and other topics. Local issues may not be as dramatic as the Iraq war or revising Social Security, but they "affect everyone" in a community, he says.

How does Neseman (who delivers his cartoons via e-mail) find time to do 18 to 25 cartoons a week ? He draws quickly, and works nights and weekends if necessary. Despite this heavy schedule, Neseman feels he could handle more clients.

Neseman (dnes255@aol.com) usually receives $25 to $40 per drawing ? a tiny sum compared to a staff cartoonist's salary. He supplements this income by doing graphic-design work.

There's also recompense of a non-paying sort: Neseman has won 15 state cartoon awards, and receives many positive comments from his readers and editors. Clients include weeklies, two dailies, and publications with other frequencies. Some papers tell their readers that Neseman lives elsewhere; others don't.

E&P spoke with six of Neseman's editors, all of whom praise his cartoons and say he's easy to work with.

"Dale's cartoons are one of the most popular features in our newspaper," says Daniel Meyer, editor of The Sun & Erie County Independent in Neseman's hometown of Hamburg, N.Y.

Neseman has cartooned for that weekly since 1987. His first client when going national in 1998 was another weekly, The Westfield (N.J.) Leader. Publisher Horace Corbin says being off-site hasn't hurt Neseman because he visited the area and keeps in touch with the paper by phone and in other ways. Why not hire a local cartoonist? "I haven't found one to equal Dale's talent," replies Corbin.

David Brown, editorial page editor of the daily JournalNews of Hamilton, Ohio, says: "You can't tell he's drawing from a distance, and his skill level is impressive."

Bob Mudge, editor of the thrice-weekly Venice (Fla.) Gondolier Sun, says being off-site "insulates Dale from any fallout generated by controversial cartoons, so there's no thought of pulling punches."

Randall Murray, retired editorial page editor at the twice-weekly Jupiter (Fla.) Courier, says: "Even though Dale lives in a totally different world ... he nailed local issues well, and with humor."

And Carol Ryan Dumas, editor of the Ag Weekly and Dairy Monthly papers in Twin Falls, Idaho, says: "I searched for years for an editorial cartoonist who could relay ag issues. Dale delivered exactly what I was looking for."


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