Topical 'toons: Scott Bateman '80

In a feature on his website called "What Was I Thinking," Scott Bateman ’86 relates the wildly ranging, often off-the-beam thoughts that cross his mind when working on his nationally syndicated editorial cartoons. "Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Joel Pett once suggested there be some sort of a telethon to raise money for my characters so that someday they could have normal hands," he writes about a cartoon in which he had to "actually draw objects in space using the laws of perspective and stuff." But if Bateman is modest about his drawing ability, his insight cuts to the quick of the American social conscience:

As Told To Rebecca Browning ’00

I started off with a job in the ‘real world.’ After graduating from Puget Sound I took a job teaching computer skills to apparel designers at Nike. But working in the real world didn’t agree with me–or Nike. Cartooning was something I always wanted to do, so I sent some work to local publications. I got a positive response, which encouraged me to try drawing full-time.

The transition from a normal job to the life of a cartoonist was scary for a while. I started out self-syndicating, so I had to build up a good-sized client list quickly and develop the self-discipline to get out four or five good cartoons a week, every week, whether I felt like it or not.

My cartoons are created in a home office with my drawing board and trusty grape-colored iMac. I feel really lucky to work at home. It turns out there’s this whole underground scene of freelancers who hang out drinking mochas at their local coffee shop, while everyone else slaves away in an office.

Each day starts with a trip to the coffee shop, where I read several newspapers and look at a few online news sources, taking notes in my sketchbook. Eventually, something emerges as the ‘Oh, I have to do a cartoon on that’ topic of the day. Basically, I’m looking for stories that make me a little mad, and there are plenty of those in the paper most days.

I spend quite a bit of my time writing and re-writing the cartoon, and a few minutes on what the visuals will be like. Then I go home and draw it, scan it into the computer and send it out electronically to my syndicate. After that I update my Web site and I can basically kick back the rest of the day.

I draw about four editorial cartoons per week. My syndicate usually buys three of them to send out to the 400 newspapers that subscribe to their ‘Best and Wittiest’ package, which also includes Pulitzer-winner David Horsey of the Seattle P-I and several others. I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to be ‘best’ or ‘wittiest.’

Every once in awhile it is difficult to find subject matter that inspires me. For instance, the Monica Lewinsky scandal was a dream come true for some cartoonists, but it was hell for me. Each morning for a year it was the same story with no new details or news hook. It was claustrophobic; you simply could not escape this 800 lb. gorilla of a news story, which was a pretty stupid story to begin with. I did a few cartoons about it, and felt like I’d said everything I needed to say. I prefer hitting a different issue every day, and the issues I care a great deal about, like the economy and social security, were simply pushed off the front pages that year.

In addition to cartoons, I enjoy computer animation. New technology has made it possible to crank out a 60-second film in a few days, compared to the insane amounts of time it took just three years ago. But animation is really just a fun hobby–I value working on editorial cartoons the most.

I wouldn’t even have thought of becoming a professional cartoonist had I not done editorial cartoons for The Trail for three semesters during the height of the Reagan years. That was a great experience. I think about my Trail homies all the time, especially since I’m married to one.

It’s mind-boggling to me that I get to appear on the same editorial pages as David Broder, George Will and Molly Ivins, helping shape opinion and contributing to the national debate on a host of issues. I hope I can be like the Washington Post’s Herblock, still work-ing and relevant at age 80. I imagine there will still be plenty of material.