Drawing the Line

Mike Lester likes to say, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing near you!”

And like any good editorial cartoonist, that’s exactly what he’s done since 2002, five times a week in the Rome News-Tribune and, via syndication by Cagle Cartoons, in other publications, including Time magazine.

“I’m an equal opportunity offender,” jokes Lester, whose favorite targets appear to be political liberals and the “politically correct police.”

“I’m not trying to get a rise out of my readers. I usually draw and write about what [irritates] me.”

Consider this cartoon, which ran two weeks before the “winter holiday season.” A man in a yarmulke lights a menorah, his wife and children standing around the table. A woman is shown bellowing, “Shouldn’t that be a womenorah?”

Or this one that ran in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina: Several scraggly dogs sit on the doorstep of a home surrounded by water. A boatload of rescuers arrive as a dog says, “If we had been Shar-Peis or Poodles you would have been here yesterday!”

“I try to look at topics differently from the way others look at it,” says Lester. “And then I like to point out how silly both sides are!”

Lester’s irreverent humor and whimsical drawing style have garnered plenty of praise and, even better, work. He was awarded first place for best original editorial cartoon in 2004 and 2005 by the National Newspaper Association. He wrote a children’s book, “A is for Salad,” which made The New York Times Top 10 List in 2000, and his animated television commercials and print ads for the prescription drug Celebrex won first place in 2005 from the National Cartoonist Society.

The Celebrex work would have been a dream gig if the medication hadn’t been given a black box warning by the Food and Drug Administration, causing Pfizer Phar-maceuticals to change its marketing strategy.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Lester, who just turned 50, knew early on he was destined to draw. “I wish I had been a better basketball or baseball player,” he says. “But once I got to seventh grade I never spent a day wondering what I’d be when I grew up.”

After attending the University of Georgia, Lester was hired to draw maps, illustrations and other graphic designs for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Sunday Op/Ed section.

After five years with the AJC, Lester went out on his own. “I found an agent, placed an advertisement in some publications and waited to see what would happen,” he says. “The good thing is that the market lets you know if you’ll make it real quick!” Six months later, Lester was working on a Levi’s campaign. He reinvested in his business, placed more advertising, got a Michelob contract and continued to get advertising work.

Lester’s most locally recognizable work came in the form of a yellow jacket named “Buzz.” In 1983, Buzz was born out of Lester’s ink bottle and imagination. He has since sold the rights to the Georgia Tech mascot and jokes that he lives and works in the “house that Buzz built.”

These days, Lester uses a Wacom tablet and stylus connected to a computer to draw cartoons and illustrations. He sketches the cartoon on paper then places the paper over the tablet, tracing the sketch with a stylus pen. Voila! The drawing shows up on his computer screen. And computers are impacting Lester’s livelihood in other ways.

This month he launches his Web site, www.MikeDuJour.com, an electronic greeting card site specializing in the business to business and client market. Lester says the site will have a small annual fee with content updated monthly. There will be no “blue” content, “at least not while my mother is alive,” he says. “And you have to know what ‘du jour’ means to get the jokes!”

Creating five cartoons a week for the newspaper and online content for MikeDuJour.com, guarantees that 2006 will be another busy year for Lester. Busy, but predictable, he contends. “I’ll still meet my friends at a local restaurant for breakfast and coffee every day,” he says. “I draw from 9 to 12, and play noon basketball with people who take it way too seriously!”

And even though he has a lot of fun, drawing is something Lester still takes seriously. “I wake up every day without a job, but it’s exciting,” he says. “And at the end of the day, I sign my name. That’s important to me.”

Categories: Influential Georgians