By Kaylia Cornett
Editorial cartoonist J.D. Crowe knows what it takes to make things fair and balanced. And that’s why he doesn’t do it.
Crowe, who works at the Press-Register in Mobile, Al., says he essentially makes a living by making people upset with his sarcatic wit, displayed through his cartoons. An Eastern alum as well, Crowe took a moment to talk with The Progress about his time at Eastern, how he started drawing and what it’s like to be mistaken for Kentucky’s other famous J.D. Crowe, the Bluegrass musician.
KC: I read the recent Herald-Leader article on you and I saw that you were an Eastern alum, and that you worked at The Progress, so naturally, I thought you could share a good story.
JD: Yeah, yeah. I had a good time back in the day.
KC: Basically, can you just give me a little bit of background on your ties to Kentucky? I know you grew up in Irvine.
JD: You know where Irvine is?
KC: Yeah, it’s only 20 minutes away (laughs).
JD: Yeah, I grew up actually out in the country. And, going to Irvine was like going to town. When I was little, coming to Richmond was kind of a big deal.
KC: And you graduated from Eastern in the late 1970s, right?
JD: Well, let’s see. I graduated in December of ’81. I wasn’t a spring graduate, I was a winter graduate.
KC: And you got a bachelor’s in the arts then?
JD: Yeah, a BFA. At that time it was still design, and my emphasis was in illustration and advertising and a minor in public relations, so I took some journalism classes. And, that’s how I got into (working) with The Progress.
KC: OK. Can you tell me when you first started drawing? And, when you realized that you wanted to make a career out of it?
JD: Well, that’s pretty easy. I started drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I mean, I was drawing before I could talk. Ah.I didn’t really start speaking until I was about 16 (laughs). And then I had to ask for the keys to the car, so. But seriously, my mom would (give) me drawing paper and a sharp pencil, and I was a pretty good kid. I never did figure out I was going to be an editorial cartoonist, until that’s what I was. I never had aspirations.I’ve always liked the art and obviously I like drawing, and I’ve always liked journalism. I was fascinated by the editorial cartoons in the newspapers, but I just never dreamed it was actually a job.
KC: Well, if you weren’t a cartoonist, then what do you think you would be?
JD: Well. Probably either a preacher or a prisoner. That seems like my family is either behind the pulpit or behind bars.nah. I’m just kidding (laughs). Seriously, probably advertising art. So, I put my portfolios together, and back in those days, your portfolios were about the size of a Buick, had these huge drawings and big art projects, you know. And I’d be lugging this thing around to advertising agencies, (his “real art”) and I’d also carry around my little sketch book. And in my sketch book were my little funny ideas and my cartoons, things like that. And my potential employers would look at my portfolio and then, before long, one of them would grab my sketch book and start flipping through it and start laughing, and say “Hey dude, this is probably what you ought to be doing right here. This is pretty funny.” So I did a combination of that, and I got hired at a newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas, as a staff artist. And I did page layout, I did weather maps, I did charts, I did graphs and then my heart would flutter when they would ask me to do an illustration. So I started doing a few illustrations, that’s what I love to do, illustrations. And then one day, I was working the night-shift, I was working very late at night. And a reporter came in, and said this is a story that really begs for one of your illustrations. Well, I dropped everything I was doing, even though deadline.even if I had 30 minutes to do it, I’d make sure I did an illustration. And the story was about two couples in Fort Worth that were of the social class, you know, they went to all the functions and stuff, and they were friends, they hung out at all the parties. And there was an election coming up, and they found themselves on either side of the election. One of the wives was running for something, while one of the husbands was running for something. And it created all this awkward tension in their relationship. So that’s what the story was all about, well, I drew this really nasty cartoon of them at a cocktail party. You know, fake smiles, but in their thoughts were really mean things that they were thinking about each other. Someone was calling the other a lizard, a lizard face, you know, things like that. And it was a terrific editorial cartoon. Unfortunately, it ran on the news side. Yeah. So, I was in deep doo doo. Men in suits were having meetings about me all of a sudden. I had just been hired, I’d been there a couple months. And everybody was pointing fingers, asking who was to blame for hiring this dofuss. So, our paper was threatened with libel, so I was in trouble. And then somewhere about that time, a position opened up for the editorial cartoon position at the paper, and some how or another, they swept me into that job.
KC: OK, so how long have you been at the Mobile-Register?
JD: I got here in 2000, so about 10 years.
KC: Well, what do you love most about your job then?
JD: Oh, that I get to apply my drawing skills to upset people.
KC: That’s pretty good then (laughs).
JD: Im kind of in the ignorance business. You know, ignorant people hate to have to think. So if I strike a nerve and they start squealing, then I figure that I’ve done something right.
KC: Can you describe a normal day at work for you then?
JD: Well, a normal day for me is a lot like that for a lot of people, I guess. I still get up and read the newspaper. A lot of people don’t read the newspaper and that’s why our industry is hurting a little bit. But I read the newspaper and then I search the web for other news and interesting stories, and I basically, you know, if somebody comes by the office it looks like I’m not doing anything. I’m squirming, I’m doodling, and you know, what a waste of time this guy is.so, about half the day I spend doing that kind of thing, and then I try and arrive at an idea, usually based on something that I feel strongly about. If I’m really mad about something, then it’s a better cartoon, so.then I come up with a rough sketch, maybe two or three. And I’ve already spent about half of my day doing this, and then I figure out which cartoon idea I’m going to draw. So I kind of finalize it and then I take a look at it, and then I ask myself three questions. Is this going to be fair? Is this going to be balanced? And is this going to be in good taste? And if the answer to any of those questions is yes, then I’m in trouble because it’s going to be a bad cartoon. Then I’ll have to start all over again (laughs).
KC: So how many cartoons do you do a week?
JD: In general, I do about five a week.
KC: And of course I have to ask you about the Herald-Leader article, with “the other J.D. Crowe” and mistaken identities.What is your most memorable moment for being mistaken for the musician?
JD: Well, you know what? It happened right there at Eastern too. When I was in college, J.D. Crowe and the New South would play in
Lexington and they actually played in several places around the Richmond area. And they always adverstised in the newspaper, “The one and only J.D. Crowe.” And I got a kick out of that. So one time I clipped one of the ads out and hung it on my dorm door. I lived over in Keene Hall for a couple of years. Off-campus at Keene, I guess they still have that joke. I had a good time there. Anyway, I thought that was funny, clip out the article and put it on my dorm door. One time, I may have been a sophomore, this kid comes up to me, he’s about my age, and he’d heard about this – he’d heard about the guy in Keene Hall that was J.D. Crowe. So, this kid comes up to me, I’m standing in the hallway of my dorm, he looked me up and came over and he had a banjo with him and he was saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m finally meeting the famous, the one and only J.D. Crowe,” and he was almost weeping, nervous. And, he said, me and my dad have worshipped your music for years, and then he kind of looked at me and said, I really thought you were going to be kind of an older guy (laughs). And here I am the same age as this guy. Because the other J.D. Crowe is several years older than me, at this point, he was in his 40s touring. And, so, he was real nervous and he handed me the banjo, and he said sir, would you please do me the honor, and I looked at the banjo, I kept the joke going you know, “I’m not going to touch that filthy banjo, that banjo isn’t worth my time.” And I thought he was gonna just cry. And then I started kidding with him, and I said I can’t do anything with a banjo. I’m not the guy you think I am. I’m just a student, just like you are. And he was broken at that point. I kind of felt bad. I was just teasing with him. Anyway, so that was one of those memories.
To view more of Crowe’s cartoons, visit his daily blog at http://blog.al.com/jdcrowe.