Arts & Culture

Love comic strips ‘Zits’ and ‘Rubes’? Meet the SLO County creators

Jerry Scott lived for Sunday mornings as a young newspaper delivery boy growing up in Indiana.

“They would dump this bale of newspapers at the end of my driveway. I’d go out there in the dark with a flashlight, and I’d read the comics,” he said, recalling his time spent poring over such classic strips as “Peanuts,” “Beatle Bailey” and “Nancy.” “It was an adventure.”

Despite his love of art — “I earned my way through junior high by drawing Snoopy on girls’ notebooks,” he said with a chuckle — Scott never dreamed that he’d someday see his own work in the funny pages. Now a San Luis Obispo resident, he’s the co-creator of two popular syndicated comic strips that run in nearly 3,000 newspapers in 41 countries: “Baby Blues” and “Zits.”

Scott will join another syndicated comics superstar — “Rubes” creator Leigh Rubin, who lives in Nipomo — for a special presentation Wednesday at the Fremont Theatre in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The pair will demonstrate their drawing techniques and discuss their craft onstage before fielding questions from the audience. A book signing follows the event, which includes complimentary beer, wine and popcorn.

Rubin and Scott recently sat down with The Tribune to discuss life as a professional cartoonist.

Q: What drew you to this profession? The fact that you can work anywhere, anytime?

A: Scott: That and the groupies (chuckles). … I was predisposed to do this job. As a little kid, I loved to make people laugh, and I loved to draw pictures.

You can’t say I’m going to grow up to be a cartoonist because there’s no clear (career) path. There’s just grit and stubbornness to get there. You have to do a lot of lousy drawings, a lot of lousy cartoons that get rejected a lot before somebody finally says, “Okay, we’ll give you a chance.” ...

I consider (cartooning) doing good: “Here’s something you might want to laugh at today. … For the price of a newspaper or the number of keystrokes you have to do to go to the newspaper’s website, there’s a laugh. And if you don’t like it, there’s another one tomorrow.” I like that about it.

A: Rubin: It’s a weird job. ... I don’t know of any other job where you have to create something brand new every day. It’s really a pain in the butt (laughs). But I really wanted to do it. I love to draw. I like to make people laugh.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as cartoonists?

A: Scott: Keeping it fresh, crossing the finish line every day. ... Most people could come up with a funny idea (today), but they probably couldn’t do it tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.

A: Rubin: You have to reinvent yourself really every day. Even with the same characters, you’re still writing something different (daily).

Q: What special skills do you need to succeed as a cartoonist?

A: Scott: You have to be a pretty good observer of people. And you have to have that ability to get in the side door of a situation and see the funny part of it. … The ability to understand people and the way they react and then amp that up, I think that’s (a necessary) skill. ...

(You also need) the ability to distill a situation or an emotion down into one thought, where you can tell an extreme truth in a very short way that makes people laugh. ... People usually aren’t that funny. You have to boil it down for them, and then they see themselves (as) funny.

A: Rubin: It’s all about connecting dots.

Q: Do you have any special tricks for getting over writer’s block?

A: Rubin: Scotch (laughs).

A: Scott: For me, the key is having these characters clear enough in my mind that I can hear their voices. ... I just know how they would say something. All I have to do is throw a situation out there and let them write their way out of it.

A: Rubin: I verbalize. Today I went over something 50 times before I got the verbiage just right. I’ll write something and then erase it. ... They’ve got to flow. There’s got to be a nice, smooth flow to it. You get this flow that’s got to be natural, so I’ll speak the lines (out loud).

Q: What’s the closest you’ve ever come to missing a deadline?

A: Scott: When we started “Baby Blues” in 1990 ... I would write early in the week and (co-creator) Rick (Kirkman) would start sketching. On Thursdays, he would do the finished artwork. And then we’d have to get these things in a FedEx package and race to the FedEx store because we were always late and they close at 5 o’clock. We’d screech up there and throw our FedEx package at them. It would get to New York on Friday morning....

The closest call we ever had, we’re screeching out of the studio parking lot. He’s taping up the box as I’m driving. We get to the (FedEx) office and nope, they’re closed. We’re banging on the door. They said, “We’re closed. The airport office is open until 6:30.” ... We get to the airport office. “Sorry, we’re closed.” We’re standing there at the chainlink fence, and out of the back door of the FedEx building, the pilot goes walking to the airplane. We say, “Hey!” We throw him the package. He takes it and says, “Okay, it’ll get there.”

A: Rubin: I’ve had (to work with) a physical injury where I was in such pain. I really didn’t want to do anything because they gave me morphine. Don’t do drugs because it really doesn’t help your creativity — I don’t care what anybody says (chuckles).

I was mountain biking up in Oregon, and I had a slipped disk on a single-track trail. Man, it just takes your breath away (like) somebody just shot me in the back with an arrow. ... (My friends) finally convinced me to go to the hospital. They gave me morphine, put me in a wheelchair, sent me home. ...

I just sat at my desk, crammed a pillow behind me, and with tears coming down my face (laughs) I came up with some really funny stuff. Nobody noticed any difference. I never missed a deadline.

Q: How do you keep your comic strips current after so many years?

A: Scott: In my case, (the key is) just showing up and walking into the mine every day. I read a lot. I read two to three newspapers every day. And I write a lot. I think that’s how you keep fresh. ... I try to keep up on certain trends. And I listen. I listen an awful lot to language. I eavesdrop on people who are in restaurants. ... People are funniest when they don’t know they’re being funny.

When Cartoon Worlds Collide: Meet Jerry Scott & Leigh Rubin

7 p.m. Wednesday

Fremont Theatre, 1035 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo

$10 to $20

805-781-7828 or

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