Jim Borgman: I Was a Rebel Doodler

I went to Kenyon College, where senior year, I was the cartoonist for the school newspaper. At Christmas time, I came home very naively with these dozen cartoons under my arm and got an appointment at the Enquirer to show them. Lo and behold, they were looking for a cartoonist. They liked the fact that I was local, and they mistakenly thought that I would therefore understand local politics, which I didn’t have a clue about. And God, they hired me.

Early on, we had our first crisis in the editorial page. This was the mid-’70s. Nixon had resigned, Watergate, all this stuff—it wasn’t really a time when a young person was inclined to fit the Republican Party line. I was beginning to do stuff that was a little edgier. A woman named Anita Bryant started speaking out against gays and gay rights, and at the time, she had a famous commercial on TV for the orange juice industry that said, “Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree!” I drew her saying, “Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree,” and all these gays were hanging. It was very over-the-top, but this was me learning to express myself. Oh boy, the Enquirer really wrestled with that one. They had to go into their back room and decide, if my name is on it can I say what I want? To their vast credit, I think, they came back and said, “If you’re going to do strong cartoons, it’s going to have to be stuff you believe in, so go for it.”

I feel like I insisted on some elbowroom in this city, a bit of room for people with divergent attitudes to operate. That was what I saw as my role: to challenge the assumptions that the city made as a culture, to be the devil’s advocate, to speak up for those who weren’t on the soapbox. I like to think I kept the city a little looser than it might have otherwise been. I think that’s a good mission. Keep people loose.  —Jim Borgman, former Cincinnati Enquirer editorial cartoonist

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke.
Originally published in the October 2011 issue.

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