The Mishmash Whisperer

zitscolor16.3.14Ed M. sent us this great email:

After spending 2 1/2 years “decoding” a large group of family letters (702 to be exact), I couldn’t resist attempting to transcribe the overlaid text in the first panel of today’s strip. I’m also fairly certain that I’m not the first to try this, as most people, including me, are nosy about what’s in a message they can’t read. I’ll say that compared to some 150–year old letters, it was still hard to read. And, shucks, no secret message! Just to be honest: HOT DATE WHICH EMILY THOUGHT WAS REALLY RUDE AND I TOTALLY AGREED HE WAS OUT OF LINE I MEAN JUST BECAUSE HES A SENIOR DOESNT GIVE HIM THE RIGHT TO BE OBNOXIOUS

I’m not going to try the third panel, but am just curious if you have a following that regularly transcribes these tangles? I always enjoy your strip, even with no teens in the house. Best regards and keep up the good work!

Ed M.


Hi Ed,

I just love your letter — it still has me smiling! No one has ever contacted us to say they’ve decoded my mishmash, so I thought maybe the only person who ever tried was our editor Evelyn at King Features Syndicate, whose job is to make sure we don’t sneak anything inappropriate onto the comics page. I delight in making her brow furrow, and suspect that many of her gray hairs have my name on them.

Glad you spent your efforts on this particular example of harmless garble, but I’m not promising they’re all so innocent!

Jim (and Jerry)

Our Buddy Merl

UnknownIt was tough to see that Merl Reagle died the other day at a very young 65.

Jerry and I met Merl at the Tucson Festival of Books a few years ago. For a crossword fanatic like me, it was like meeting a rockstar. Merl brought a wicked sense of humor to constructing, and almost single-handedly stole puzzles from the blue-rinse ghetto when he hit the scene.

His first words upon meeting us were, “You guys made ZITS useable in crossword puzzles.” And indeed we have shown up in a few.

It was an honor to illustrate Merl’s best-of crossword book commemorating the 100th anniversary of the puzzles last year. It’s a must-have for any true solver. Rest in peace, friend.Merl

Advice to a Young Cartoonist


I received the following email the other day, and responded with the advice that follows it. Then I started wondering if this is still helpful in 2015. Am I thinking like an old guy? What are your thoughts?

Q. Hello. I am thirteen years old and really enjoy reading the Zits comic strip in the Toronto Star. I love to cartoon and I aspire to be a cartoonist. Can I ask where you got your training to become a professional cartoonist.       –Jacob

A. Hi Jacob. Most of the cartoonists I know would tell you they “taught themselves” cartooning by studying and mimicking other cartoons as they were growing up, probably much as you’re doing now. I was a big fan of MAD magazine and some of the editorial cartoonists whose work ran in my local newspaper. Jerry was a great student of comic strips like Peanuts, Pogo and Nancy.

With the internet, you have the great advantage of being able to study everything being done for publication as well as web comics. Whole cable networks devote themselves to showing animated cartoons. Collections of strips published in book form are easily available. It’s a terrific time to be schooling yourself in what’s out there.
For me the best teacher was my sketchbook, which became my training ground as I tried many styles on my way to discovering what sort of work I wanted to throw myself into.
That’s not to say that formal training wouldn’t be helpful, of course. There are a few schools that teach classes specifically in cartooning — Cal Arts and Savannah College of Art and Design come to mind — but everything you learn in art classes will inform your cartooning. I went to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college where there were no classes specifically in cartooning, but a nice art department and a school newspaper, both of which encouraged me. Bill Watterson graduated from Kenyon, too.
Study the work of other cartoonists you love. Try to get your work out in public somehow, either through a school newspaper or on a website. Stay current with the technology that features cartoons. Fill up sketchbooks. Create characters and stories. Take the art classes available to you. Follow your curiosity.
Jim Borgman