Saying goodbye to recurring characters

I was working on a cartoon recently that includes a public figure whose time in the spotlight will soon be ending, and it got me thinking about how that kind of farewell happens quite a bit once you’ve spent a few years cartooning. It’s simply the nature of public life that time as a comment-worthy figure is bound to be finite.

Back in my Daily Nebraskan days, I had a lot of recurring characters — including L. Dennis Smith, Harvey Perlman and Danny Nee. But my favorite was Frank Solich. I couldn’t get enough of working him into cartoons, even when they had nothing to do with him. Frank and I left the university about the same time, and he was gone by the time I returned to Nebraska cartooning. Sadly, there was never going to be another excuse to draw him, even though I’ve tried. (Ironically enough, I’m not sure I ever actually drew him — I took some kind of sick joy in cutting out photocopied pictures of him and gluing them into cartoons.)

Similarly, once I started at the Lincoln Journal Star, Mayor Colleen Seng quickly became one of my favorite subjects. Almost accidentally, she evolved into a sort of iconic shorthand, with her poofy white hair, glasses and flower-print dress. Sadly, she decided to retire. Chris Beutler just hasn’t been as interesting. Ken Svoboda was another favorite. Fortunately for me, I can’t imagine that Jon Bruning and Dave Heineman are going anywhere anytime soon.

Jeff Koterba, Paul Fell and Steve Breen shared some of their favorite Targets of Cartooning Past with me:

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Jeff Koterba of The Omaha World-Herald:

At the top of my list I’d have to say former Omaha city councilman Frank Christensen. This would have been in the early 1990s…

Christensen had financial interest in a bar that he promised to divest himself of, if and when he was elected. Well, he did win his seat but didn’t give up the bar, the name of which couldn’t have been more perfect: The Orange Weasel. On top of that, he hired off-duty firemen to act as crowd-counters and encouraged them to go above the fire code. Also, when a World-Herald reporter who had originally broken the story was at the bar, Christensen had him arrested for trespassing.

Needless to say I got a ton of mileage out of these incidents, and for a time, even included a Weasel in the corner of my cartoons, to add additional commentary.

Paul Fell, who cartoons for too many places to list, all of which are collected at

The two people I don’t draw any more and really miss as cartoon subjects would be Ronald Reagan and former Lincoln mayor and gubernatorial candidate Helen Boosalis.

I think you’ll find that Reagan is the hands-down all-time favorite of editorial cartoonists. Love him or hate him, this movie actor turned GOP script reader had the great facial features that all cartoonists love to draw. That great hair style, those ruddy, rouged cheeks, and the famous Reagan personality made him irresistible to cartoonists. Plus, there was never a dull moment during the Reagan administration. Bill Clinton would run a close second for the same reasons, but Reagan is my all-time fave.

I got to draw Helen Boosalis for a long time while she served on the Lincoln City council, then as mayor, and finally as a candidate in the nation’s first two-woman gubernatorial race. With her white hair, glasses and craggy features, Helen was a popular political figure who was a blast to draw.

If you draw someone often enough, you develop a cartoon character to represent them. Pretty soon, you don’t even need photo references. The cartoon character becomes a symbol for that person, and the longer you draw him/her, the more liberties you can take with their likeness.

The day Ronnie and Nancy Reagan rode off into the sunset, the crying you heard came from editorial cartoonists on both the left and the right.

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And finally, Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

I miss our City Attorney Mike Aguirre. A smart, good guy from what I hear but always making the news for gaffes, ego driven blunders and battles he would get into with the mayor, councilmembers, etc.

This cartoon isn’t particularly great, but you get the point. I really miss him.

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