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Then, in 1979, Frank Cotham Sold His First Cartoon

Unbeknownst to him, the frantic graphics job would lead to his future calling. “I had a lot of downtime waiting for the graphics lists from the news department. So the guy who worked next to me said, ‘You’re always doing these stupid little drawings. Why don’t you try sending some to magazines?’ I did that for a couple of years without having any luck whatsoever.”

Then, in 1979, he sold his first cartoon to the Saturday Review.

 

More sales quickly followed. “After selling nothing for two years, and Janice getting mad at me for spending so much money on postage, because I had to send everything by mail, two other magazines bought a couple.”

Being successful in any creative field means learning to live with rejection. How did Cotham manage? “I never really could,” he says. “There was a lot of blubbering and carrying on.

His list of credits kept growing, but one prize continued to elude him. “I sent stuff to The New Yorker for 15 years before they ever published anything,” he says. “Every week, I would send them a pack of cartoons. I knew they weren’t going to buy anything. I would get a little rejection notice that said, ‘editors regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material.’ Then, after 15 years, they took one.”

 

 

But in 2008, the artist faced a potentially career-ending diagnosis. “I’ve had Parkinson’s for about 11 years now,” Cotham says. “Handling a piece of paper or a piece of tape is pretty hit or miss. I’ve had to give up the bottle of ink, because I couldn’t hit the open neck of the bottle.”

When at rest, his hands shake with tremors, but like a singer with a stutter, he retains fine motor control when drawing. Now, he works with the help of an iPad. “I was so excited when Apple came out with a stylus. I started doing sketches on this, and it was a lot faster, and a lot easier.”

Frank Cotham discusses his 40 year cartooning career with Memphis magazine.

Today, Frank and Janice Cotham live in Bartlett. His two children also live and work in Memphis.
Prints of his New Yorker cartoons sell on the magazine’s “Cartoon Bank” website.
He’s still a regular contributor to The New Yorker. “They’re always open to something new,” he says.

 

 

 

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