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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 02/27/2009

The Interview: Drew Litton of the (RIP) Rocky Mountain News

By Michael Cavna

I was in college, it was 1992, and I was trying to carve out a style, a voice, a tone to my newspaper cartoons. Over many long hours, it often felt like working in a vacuum -- a standup without an audience. I needed a sounding board.

Out of the blue, a postcard came for me at the newsroom. It was DREW LITTON of the Rocky Mountain News. I had heard of him not only because I was a fan of his work, but also because: How many other sports cartoonists were still roaming the journalistic landscape, even then?

It was a note of heartfelt encouragement. He'd seen my work and was a fan. Not only did that note mean a great deal to me, but I also immediately could see something else: Drew Litton was, and is, a class act.

Litton, unfortunately, got the word yesterday -- as did the rest of his newsroom colleagues -- that he is out of a job. The Rocky Mountain News is publishing its final edition today.

Comic Riffs caught up with Litton yesterday to see how he was taking the news, what he'll miss about the paper, and what his future might hold.

MICHAEL CAVNA: I was very sorry to hear about the demise of the Mountain News, Drew. What's your reaction to the announcement?
DREW LITTON: Well, the changes in our industry are real and moving at a pace much faster than anyone in the business imagined. With the economy the way it is, it's basically the time for reality to set in.

MC: And how are you yourself taking the news?
DL: I've been more than fortunate to work for the Rocky Mountain News for 26 years now, doing sports cartoons and having the time of my life -- and I'm very grateful to Scripps for giving me a voice and putting up with me for this long. They've handled it in the best way they could. It was a very complex situation here -- untangling all those Christmas lights was very tough -- different agreements and different parts that make up a [joint operating agreement]. It's difficult to leave it all behind, but i'm optimistic about the future. The medium of journalism and cartoons will survive. We just have to come up with a new business model.

MC: So did you have a sense this was coming?
DL: We knew the reality of the market. It's not easy to sell newspapers, let alone a house these days. We knew it was coming. These last three months have been pretty difficult. We didn't know when this day would come -- but we knew in our heart it would come.

MC: Looking forward, how do you feel about the state of newspaper cartooning right now?
DL: As a cartoonist, I'm greatly concerned about the future of what we do. I believe strongly we're an important, vital part of the American newspaper. ... [My role has] been doing a lot of local cartoons and it becomes ingrained into the community. I think that's a good, ideal approach for cartoonists going forward -- to weave yourself into the community.

MC: So what's next for you?
DL: I think I'm taking a chance to breathe a little bit. I've been on the daily treadmill of turning out a cartoon most every day, five days a week, for 26 years. ... That does amazing things to your central nervous system. I don't have have any specific plans other than to [get] a sense of where the business is headed. ... I've been doing animation that I love -- like for the [2008] Democratic Convention ... I've had a few phone calls and I'm weighing my future.

MC: And it sounds as though you're coping with the news okay -- keeping it all in perspective ...
DL: I have a firm belief that everything happens for a reason. I [have] this God-given talent and I'm thankful to Him that he has given me this. Whatever happens, it was meant to happen. On a personal note, I've seen the worst life can give you. I lost my wife to cancer four years ago. I feel like i've been very fortunate -- losing a job is NOT the worst life can give you.

MC: Those of us who work in newsrooms form very close bonds, obviously. Can you speak to that, and what you'll miss most about the Denver newsroom?
DL: it's like an army of brothers and sisters. You have that feeling that you've been in the trenches with each other through thick and thin. A great many of our reporters and photographers had to cover Columbine, which was literally a war zone. ... You have this bond. We've managed to get our Facebook up and running and we'll stay in touch.

The reality, though, won't hit till a few week into the process, and that's a real adjustment: when the person who makes you laugh in the next cubicle isn't there to make you laugh anymore.

MC: So what do you see for the future of newspaper cartooning?
DL: We still haven't completely nailed that down -- the problem is that the game keeps changing on a monthly basis. MySpace can be hot today and completely out of vogue [tomorrow]. ... By the time you've got [something new] up and going, you're already behind the 8-ball and the iPhone. ...

You've got to find a way to connect with young people. You've got to go in a new direction. It's not unlike baseball ... You're [in trouble] if you're not getting enough new kids into the ballpark.

MC: I know I felt privileged to draw San Diego sports figures for more than a decade -- visually, some became like old friends. Over your decades of covering Denver sports, who was the most fun for you to draw?
DL: John Elway was a joy to draw, as were both [former Broncos head coaches] Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. It's still very much a Broncos town -- always will be. I attended a couple of Super Bowls. Had a chance to cover a couple of Stanley Cups. In that sense, it's been fantastic.

By Michael Cavna  | February 27, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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Nice piece, Mike. All best of luck to Drew Litton, and God help journalists everywhere.

Posted by: rhompson | February 27, 2009 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Ok, so the solution is to connect with young people. It seems they all have a phone. It could be an iPhone or a Blackberry or something else, but it's a phone.

Hey, so do I! How would I get Drew's strips on my phone?

Posted by: MSchafer | February 27, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Excellent interview, although a sad situation to provoke it.

Posted by: Mrhode | February 27, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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