We’ve got a first in our Q&A series this week—a cartoonist! We talked with John Rose from the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg. Rose talks to us about how he got started by drawing on walls, what his process for creating editorial cartoons is, what components he thinks makes for a successful cartoon, why he still loves using newspapers as his primary medium and more.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is John Rose. I am the cartoonist for the popular, long-running Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip which is syndicated by King Features and I am the editorial cartoonist for the Daily News-Record and Ogden Newspapers. I live in Harrisonburg, Virginia with my wife, Karen. We both graduated from James Madison University back in the 1980s.
How did you become interested in drawing cartoons? When did you realize that you had a knack for it and could make a career out of it?
I have always wanted to be a cartoonist. As a small child I drew on my parents’ living room walls and didn’t get in trouble. In fact, they just wallpapered oved it! I also drew every chance I got in elementary school, middle school and high school. In high school and college, I drew for my school newspapers. I was an art/art history double-major in college, but working for the student newspaper, The Breeze, was a great training ground for my future career as a cartoonist. When I was a junior in college, JMU had a Fine Arts Week and they brought in the award-winning cartoonist Mike Peters as the guest speaker for the event. Mike creates great editorial cartoons and the wonderful Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip. One of my art history professors was on the committee that brought him in to speak. She knew I wanted to be a professional cartoonist one day and asked me to join the committee when they took Mike out to dinner before his program. He was the first professional cartoonist I met and actually got to talk with about cartooning. I got to chat to him at dinner, see his amazing chalk-talk presentation and spend time with him after the program where he looked at some of my cartoons and gave me lots of advice. That night was a real turning point for me and really inspired me to pursue cartooning as a career. I owe a lot to that art history professor and to Mike Peters. Mike and I remain friends to this day. He is an incredible cartoonist.
You’re an in-house cartoonist for a daily newspaper. What has made you want to keep this role instead of going the way of freelance and syndication full time?
I have been on staff here at the Daily News-Record since 1993 (and for five years before that with a weekly paper in our same chain, The Warren Sentinel). I was full-time here for many years but went part-time in 2001 when I became the cartoonist for the syndicated Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip. Over the years, in addition to being distributed throughout our newspaper chain, my editorial cartoons have been syndicated by a few companies, the largest being Scripps Howard News Service until they closed down. I do a lot of local and state cartoons so I’m not really looking at syndication anymore. Plus, now that we are owned by Ogden Newspapers, many of their newspapers use my work from time to time so that’s a lot like being syndicated. The newspaper has always been very supportive of me and my cartoons and I am thankful for that.
What does your process look like when it comes to drawing a cartoon? Walk us through all the steps—from conception to publication. Spare no detail.
Coming up with the idea is always the tough part. I am almost always thinking. You never know when an idea will hit you, so when it does, I am quick to write it down on scrap paper or in the “Notes” area of my phone. But most of the time, ideas just don’t hit me, I have to make them happen. To do this, I first read and listen to news stories. Once I find a topic, I think I can create an editorial cartoon about I bounce around ideas in my head and do rough thumbnail sketches and doodles on paper. When I have an idea I like, which can take anywhere from minutes to hours, I do a pretty tight pencil drawing of the cartoon. Once I am finished with that drawing, I enlarge it on the copier to 8.5″ x 14″ in size. Then I take that copy, place it on my light table, put a clean sheet of 8.5″ x 14″ paper on top of it and ink my lines with India ink and an assortment of brushes and pens. When I am finished with my inked cartoon, I place it on my scanner and scan it into the computer. Then I take my scanned black and white image and save it. Then I begin the coloring process. I begin coloring in the Colorize program and finish it up in Photoshop. When I am satisfied with the color, I save the cartoon as a jpg. At that point, it is ready for the next day’s newspaper. Then I start the process all over again.
“…As an editorial cartoonist I like to try to make a point with my cartoons. But I also really like to use humor in the cartoon. That way, if the reader doesn’t necessarily agree with me, maybe they’ll at least get a chuckle out of my work.”
What’s the recipe for a great editorial page cartoon? What components do you think are necessary to make the cartoon topical, timely and memorable?
For me, as an editorial cartoonist I like to try to make a point with my cartoons. But I also really like to use humor in the cartoon. That way, if the reader doesn’t necessarily agree with me, maybe they’ll at least get a chuckle out of my work. I also like to use as few words as possible and keep my art fairly simple and uncluttered. I know readers only spend a few seconds looking at a cartoon and I don’t want to make it too busy.
What has been one of your favorite cartoons you’ve done from years past?
Probably my favorite editorial cartoon from recent years was the one that won the Best In Show-Art award for daily newspapers at the VPA Awards Banquet earlier this year. It was on the lack of civility in our nation. I felt like it really summed up the mood of our country and made its point with simple, uncluttered artwork and very few words.
What characteristics do you think make your cartoons “yours”?
They say every cartoonist has a style which makes his or her cartoons “theirs.” I don’t really know how we come about developing our own styles, but I think it’s just something that develops over time and even changes gradually over time. For example, “Peanuts” in the 1950s and 1960s looked different from “Peanuts” in the last decade of the comic strip. But even though it looked different, it still looked like “Peanuts.”
Over all these years, what has kept you wanting to use a newspaper as the primary medium for your art?
I have always loved newspapers. As a small child, growing up in Covington, Virginia, I distinctly remember spreading out the pages of the Covington Virginian (now the Virginian-Review) newspaper on my grandmother’s living room floor and reading the comics. I may not have understood some of the comics and editorial cartoons at such a young age, but the fun artwork really got me hooked on newspapers. And I have continued to enjoy them ever since. Thankfully, my wife is very patient, because whenever we’re traveling, I stop and pick up newspapers along the way just to check them out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading my comics, editorial cartoons and news articles on the web, too, I just generally look at the printed paper first. I am very thankful to Ogden Newspapers, Byrd Newspapers, and King Features Syndicate for allowing me to create cartoons for them for all these years!
To see more of Rose’s work for the Daily News Record, visit here.
To see his cartoon work for Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, visit here.