‘Zits’ writer to speak at Central Coast Book and Author Festival

Jerry Scott writes two widely syndicated cartoon strips, "Zits" and "Baby Blues," from his Arroyo Grande home.
Jerry Scott writes two widely syndicated cartoon strips, "Zits" and "Baby Blues," from his Arroyo Grande home. The Tribune

Jerry Scott’s lifelong love of comics can be tracked back to his time as a paperboy in northern Indiana.

“The best part was reading the funnies before anyone else,” recalled Scott, who writes the nationally syndicated comic strips “Baby Blues” and “Zits.” “I was sitting out at the end of the driveway with a flashlight when the paper guy dropped off my bundle.”

Scott will speak about his creative process Saturday at the Central Coast Book and Author Festival. The festival, which kicks off the next day with a pancake breakfast, includes a book-themed art show and several presentations by authors, agents, publishers and writing groups.

Scott, who lives in Arroyo Grande, first dabbled in cartooning as a kid.

“I got really good at drawing Snoopy and Woodstock, which was a good way to get girls,” recalled Scott, who considered “Peanuts” creator Charles Schultz a childhood hero. “I decorated a lot of notebooks in my junior high school days.”

As an adult, he worked in the advertising field as an artist, art director and designer before meeting his future collaborator, Rick Kirkman. He encouraged Scott to pursue a career in comics.

Scott eventually took over the syndicated series “Gumdrop” and “Nancy” before teaming up with Kirkman to create “Baby Blues.” (Scott writes the script and Kirkman draws it.)

Launched in 1990, the popular strip about first-time parents now appears in 900 newspapers worldwide; it has spawned 30 anthologies, four treasuries and even a brief-lived television show.

According to Scott, “Baby Blues” was partially inspired by the birth of Kirkman’s second child.

“He’d come in looking just awful — crazy, unshaven, stains on his clothes,” Scott recalled. “One of us said, ‘Maybe a couple with a new baby would be a good idea.’ ”

When Scott’s own children were born, he found a fresh source of inspiration.

“I directly steal things from out of their mouths,” the cartoonist joked. “That’s one of the benefits of this job. Every time there’s a disaster, at least I can make some money off it.”

For instance, when his daughter Abbey was in fifth or sixth grade, she and her friends started swapping clothes.

“At one point we recognized nothing that was in her closet that we had bought. It was just crazy,” Scott said. It wasn’t long before a similar situation befell the fictional MacPherson family, he added.

In contrast, “Zits” — which stars Jeremy, a 16-year-old student and aspiring musician — draws from both Scott’s parenting experiences and his memories of being a teenage boy.

Scott created the strip in 1997 with Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman. (He writes the script and draws rough drafts; Borgman adds details to Scott’s sketches in the inking process.) Today, “Zits” appears in more than 1,600 newspapers across the globe, with an estimated daily readership of more than 200 million readers.

Scott’s comic strip success earned him the National Cartoonists Society’s coveted Reuben Award in 2001.

Although his most vocal fans tend to be parents, Scott said he occasionally hears from younger folks, too.

“Some nice young adult comes up and goes, ‘It was nice to meet you. I learned how to read (by reading) your strip,’ ” Scott said.

“For a brief moment when they started talking, you thought, ‘Hey, one of my contemporaries.’ But no. You were writing strips when they were in diapers.”

Scott’s advice to aspiring cartoonists is simple: persevere.

“If it’s the thing that sticks in your gut, you should do it,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s a nicer, more embracing world than (that of) syndicated comics.”