January 16, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Political statements in Omaha, it would seem, don’t originate solely from behind a podium or during photo ops.

For Omaha World-Herald editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba, his catalog of more than 7,200 cartoons means he has an important voice on the political stage.

“I want to be part of the discussion, the great conversation,” Koterba says. “I’m like anyone else reading the paper or paying attention to the news. I just happen to be able to draw about it.”

 

Koterba, whose 25-year cartoon collection Koterba: Drawing You In hit stores last fall, has drawn editorial cartoons for the World-Herald since 1989. Although initially a sports cartoonist for the Kansas City Star, Koterba confesses he has a “bigger world in his head” than just athletics. Politics, for him, was the next logical step.

“I’m always trying to find not just the middle-ground,” he explains, “but a third or fourth way of looking at an issue. I get really sick of looking at right versus left, red versus blue. I try to go beyond the visible, predictable route.”

Which, predictably, provokes some backlash: “I piss off both sides of the aisle frequently.”

Koterba admits that he receives a fair amount of both fan mail and hate mail, but both have occasionally been cause to reassess his position on specific topics—topics that Koterba brainstorms from sometimes the oddest of angles.

“I try to find inspiration in places beyond the obvious,” Koterba says. “It might be reading the side of a cereal box, listening in on a conversation in a coffee shop, or going to a concert. I never know where an idea might come from.”

That diversity of ideas might come easier for Koterba, given the versatile life he leads. His rockabilly/swing/blues band, the Prairie Cats, although currently on hiatus, have released three albums. He’s the author of two previous cartoon collections and has penned a memoir. He even survived a lightning strike in high school.

Koterba’s subjects of drawing can range anywhere from ebola to Huskers football to the Omaha weather, but he tries not to be predictable. For him, substance rather than technique is the “meat and potatoes” of any given cartoon.

“There are plenty of people out there that can draw way better than I can, but if you don’t have a concept or substance, the drawing falls flat. It’s empty,” Koterba says. “I’d much rather have a great idea. Drawing is sort of like the frosting on the cake.”

Koterba’s verve, then, is perhaps his strongest asset.

“I try to find some different takes on things,” he says. “I try to keep it fresh.”