Getting a gag is no joking matter

Cartoonist Eric and Bill Teitelbaum draw in their office.

Eric and Bill Teitelbaum sketch out gags as they explain their craft, while sitting in their office. The brothers are never too far from a pen or sketch paper.

Don’t let the laughter and the cracked jokes fool you, Eric MA’73 and Bill Teitelbaum ’77, take their work very seriously.

Crafting clever and concise cartoons for daily distribution takes hard work, dedication, and a commitment to sketch nearly every gag or doodle that comes to mind, on whatever is available—“sketch pads, cocktail napkins, and even cheap tables,” they quip.

“We sleep with sketch pads next to our beds,” said Bill, the younger brother of the cartoonists and gag writers duo. “You never know when an idea is going to come.”

In fact, in the more than three decades that have passed since Eric and Bill graduated from Cal State L.A., they have had quite a few great ideas and successes.

The Teitelbaums are the co-creators of the syndicated business strip Bottom Liners, which celebrates its 17th year of publication this year.  Bottom Liners, a strip that tackles topics, such as foreign takeovers, office politics, relationships and the world of Wall Street, appears six days a week in scores of publications worldwide. Eric’s drawings also appear in The New Yorker.

For five years the brothers also co-created and illustrated the first newspaper comic strip of The Pink Panther, and have held various roles as executives in media corporations, adjunct university professors, and consultants in design, licensing and marketing. They have also been heralded as being pioneers in the advancement of computer graphic design education and delivery, having led some of the first satellite extended education courses in the field and transmitted the first cartoon strip electronically. This fall they will be honored at the annual Alumni Awards Gala (for details, see Alumni News.)

“They were a couple of good guys who were very energetic and anxious to learn, but at the same time had real good ideas,” said Art Emeritus Professor Roy Walden, who taught both brothers and then worked with them professionally later in life.

One of the high points in the Teitelbaums’ career was drawing the Panther, they said. It was both an awe-inspiring experience and an exhilarating challenge to reinvent the Panther in print. They feel there is much to be learned by studying master cartoonists and animators, including Franz Freleng and David DePatie (co-creators of the Pink Panther cartoon character) and Al Capp (creator of Lil’ Abner), all of whom have influenced their work.

“We drew (Panther) with a tremendous legacy and respect for one of the greatest cartoonists and animators,” Eric said of Freleng.

The Teitelbaums say they feel privileged to have careers based on finding new ways to make people laugh. Social commentary cartoons are their niche. “It gives us an immediate connection with people,” Bill explained. “We have found that everyone enjoys a good cartoon, and we enjoy drawing them. We love the idea of creating a gag a day.”

And as a sign of the growing popularity of their work, their cartoons now adorn the walls of some pretty famous households, including business tycoon T. Boone Pickens, television personalities Dr. Laura, Maury Povich and Pat Sajak, actress Kim Basinger and the late Malcolm Forbes, to name just a few.

Eric and Bill, who have five other siblings—all either doctors or married to doctors—learned their first lessons in comedy at a young age, at their father’s knee. Their dad, they said, was a lawyer who dreamed of being a gag writer.

“He loved to write gags, funny stories and quips, and we learned to illustrate them,” Bill said. “He built confidence in us.…And after seeing our chemistry grades, told us that instead of being surgeons, we should be cutups.”

Since then, the brothers have continued to craft their trade individually and together. (They note that being cartoonists/brothers makes for a solid creative team—as illustrated by the success of Al and Elliot Capp, Roy and Walt Disney and the four Roth brothers.)

The education they received at Cal State L.A. and the mentorship of many of their professors, most notably Walden and fellow Art Emeritus Professor Lee Wexler, also contributed significantly to their achievements, they said. Eric started in the University’s master’s program at the same time Bill enrolled in the University’s undergraduate program.

“Our education allowed us to learn the design, the creativity, and to learn the craft,” Eric said, adding that it was an “exhilarating time.”

In an effort to share their educational experience with others, the Teitelbaums have contributed significantly to teaching future artists and cartoonists at universities across the country and in after-school programs for young kids. In fact, they even hired on one of their favorite professors, Walden, to work with college students in a cartooning program they created for extended education campuses of California State University, New York State and University of Colorado systems, among others.

Walden said that he developed a unique relationship with this creative team, having taught and worked with them for so many years. By taking turns, Walden said, they help one another advance their careers.

Still, the brothers’ respect and admiration for their former professor, who retired from Cal State L.A. in 1992, is undeniable.

“Walden knows, like no one else, the art of drawing simply. He taught us what we do,” Bill said. “Brevity and simplicity. It’s the secret to a great gag.”