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Newspaper Cartoonists - a Dying Breed

DENVER - On Friday, February 27, The Rocky Mountain News newspaper in Denver published its last issue. The paper had been in existence since 1859 and was just shy of its 150th birthday.


Many other newspapers across the world are also threatened. They are losing advertising revenue because of the world economy meltdown and classified ads are now going to websites such as Craiglist.


Because newspapers are scrambling to find a way to save money, many cartoonists are finding themselves out of work or cut back. In the case of the Rocky Mountain News, one cartoonist is now out of work and another is without a home. Ed Stein can salvage his career because his work is syndicated across the country and will still appear in other newspapers. Where his office will be is anyone's guess.


Shortly after the corporate staff announced to all the newspaper employees that the following day would be their final issue, Ed Stein began thinking about his future and what his final cartoon would be.


Stein's newspaper career spans 31 years. His focus has been on political cartoons.


"It's been a great run and I've loved it and I'm going to miss it," Stein said.


The final cartoon features a man in his bathrobe, a cup of coffee in hand, standing at his front steps. The caption above him: "Where's my Rocky?" (See below)


Rocky Mountain New's final cartoon


"I had a couple of different ideas. One of them was an empty news box with just black inside, but I wanted a person there, I wanted that personal touch, a sense of somebody really missing something," Stein said.


Stein says he won't miss his cubicle, but will miss all the people who worked at the Rocky. He has produced more than 8,000 cartoons during his time with the newspaper.


Denver Square cartoon

The Denver Square cartoon

For 11 years, he also drew Denver Square for the Rocky Mountain News, a cartoon about a family living in Denver. Through the family, Stein would cover events happening in the community and the impact they would have on the characters.


"After the Columbine shootings I did a series of cartoons in my comic strip. I think they really helped people focus their feelings and thoughts, it was cathartic for me as well," Stein said.


There have been so many moments and events that Stein has covered and portrayed through his cartoons, so many he couldn't pinpoint a favorite cartoon but one did stick with him.


Stein drawing his cartoons

Cartoonist Ed Stein sketches one of his cartoons for the Rocky Mountain News.

"Oh there's so many, I don't know, you know I did one during the Ethiopian famine years ago that got, I did a cartoon as a fundraiser; $125,000 later we contributed a lot of money to charity and hopefully save some lives," said Stein.[1]


The paper was put up for sale and after no buyer could be found, the official word was sent through the newsroom that the paper would fold. Stein immediately started drawing the final cartoon. It took him only about an hour to complete.


He says it was both the easiest and hardest cartoon he's ever drawn.


Here are Stein's final words [Archive] in the newspaper:

"Well, folks, this is the last cartoon I'll draw for the Rocky Mountain News. I've had a wonderful run for the last 31 years, producing more than 8,000 drawings. It's the career I dreamed of having when I was a kid, and it's been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. I've had the great good fortune over the years of toiling for editors who appreciated my skills and who believed in the editorial freedom a cartoonist needs to do the best work, even when they disagreed with my opinion. I've worked with more talented journalists than I can possibly name. I'm especially grateful to the many loyal readers of the Rocky for having given my long career meaning. Thank you for your comments, kind and critical, over the years. It is you who have kept the discussion, so vital for a vibrant democracy to flourish, alive all these years. I will miss hearing from you."


"Although my work here is finished, I will continue to cartoon for my syndicate. I'll be posting those cartoons on my new website at If you wish to contact me--and I hope you will--my email address is" ­ Ed Stein


Ed won't be completely out of work. His cartoon is syndicated and will continue to appear on some websites.


Second Casualty

Another cartoon casualty at the Rocky Mountain News is cartoonist Drew Litton. He was the newspaper's sports cartoonist. Says Litton of his final day:


"How lucky am I? For more than 25 years I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working for the Rocky Mountain News as one of the nation’s last sports cartoonists. I’ve been surrounded by some of the greatest journalists in the country both in sports and throughout this amazing newsroom..."


Rocky Mountain News logo

Drew Litton's last cartoon
Drew Litton's final cartoon for the Rocky Mountain News. His future is uncertain.


"I joined the staff in 1982, way back before the Avalanche and the Rockies came to town. I was hired by the sports editor at the time, a terrific guy named Denny Dressman. Denny was a visionary who thought drawing editorial cartoons about sports would connect with Colorado sports fans..."


"People ask me sometimes why I choose to become a cartoonist? The answer is simple. As a child I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. Every Sunday I’d sit on my grandfather’s knee and he would read me the Sunday funnies. I thought if Dick Tracy and Pogo could bridge the age gap of some 60 years between the two of us there must be some magic in them. So I set out to be a cartoonist..."[2]


UPDATE (July 3, 2013)

Drew now has his own website and is continuing to publish cartoons at another newspaper.


Denver television channel 9 covered the career of Ed Stein and his final day at the Rocky Mountain News. Below is their video:



Third Casualty

I received word of another casualty of the newspaper industry. The San Antonio Express-News announced that they will be eliminating 15% of their workforce (135 jobs) - including the newspaper's cartoonist, John Branch. Branch says he will work until March 10 and has no idea what he'll be doing after that. UPDATE (July 3, 2013) John is still with the paper and doing cartoons. He now has his own website.


Fourth Casualty

The San Francisco Chronicle has been losing $1 million each week and is set to close unless they can make cost reductions and renegotiate the union contract. Rumor has it that the MediaNews Group may buy the newspaper and save it. If the Chronicle folds or reduces staff, artists Paul Madonna, Don Asmussen, Tom Meyer, and George Russell stand to lose their jobs.


More Casualties

February was a rough month for newspapers. Other newspapers that closed are The Independent, the Halifax Daily News, the Putnam County Courier, the Derby Daily Reporter, The Baltimore Examiner, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Filed for bankruptcy), The Miami Herald (will close if not sold), the Tucson Citizen (will close if not sold), and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Will close if not sold). Some papers have eliminated all of their cartoons in order to stay solvent. Cartoonists losing their jobs were Michael de Adder (He fortunately got a new job in New Brunswick), Brian Duffy (The way they fired him was outrageous - UPDATE [July 3, 2013] - He now has his own website and has moved to a staff cartoonist at KCCI-TV), Rob Tornoe (he lost his freelancing job there but works with other newspapers), and Patrick O'Connor.


The Future of Newspaper Cartoonists?

The future for newspaper cartoonists does not look rosy. Newspapers have already shrunk the size of cartoons so that the images and text are barely legible. When a cartoonist retires, newspapers are not replacing them for the most part. With the economic disaster the world is facing, many more newspapers are sure to fold.


It is hopeful that most will be able to continue online for various websites. Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index has rescued several cartoonists. No doubt the income isn't going to be the same, however. This author hopes that a new market can be had for newspaper cartoonists as newspapers close.