Cartoonist Bob Staake began his career at USC

Green dinosaurs have swept the campus in preparation of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, much like the editorial cartoons drawn by Bob Staake did more than 30 years ago when he worked as a cartoonist for the Daily Trojan.

“I did five editorial cartoons a week,” Staake said. “Back in the day, the Daily Trojan used to encourage writers to do as much writing as possible. That’s what you do for the Los Angeles Times. That’s what you did for the Herald Examiner. That’s why I went to USC.”

Draw · Cartoonist Bob Staake illustrates for the Washington Post and designed the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books’s illustration. - Photo courtesy of Bob Staake

Staake started drawing editorial cartoons as a student at West Orange High School in Torrance, Calif., and continued after graduating despite not attending a college with a newspaper. He said he was getting syndication offers, but his mentor at the Los Angeles Times told him he should further his education.

“I went to USC and said, ‘Look, can I at least go ahead and do editorial cartoons for you guys,’” he said. “I did that for about two years, not being a student, but hoping what would happen would be USC taking a notice in my stuff and giving me a scholarship.”

He eventually received a scholarship to major in journalism and international relations, and he continued drawing for the Daily Trojan. After leaving USC, he found work as a freelance illustrator. He has now been published in a diverse range of publications:  He has illustrated covers for The New Yorker and pages in MAD Magazine, has done animation for Cartoon Network and has had weekly illustrations in the Washington Post for the past 25 years.

“I understand that when [I] do a New Yorker cover, I come at it from a completely different perspective from when I go and do a page from MAD Magazine,” Staake said. “My ability to shift and do something new, that’s the key to my success.”

A self-portrait courtesy of Bob Staake

Staake has also illustrated several books and has found success as a children’s author, writing and illustrating his own books featuring a wide cast of characters, from a monster truck to White House dog Bo Obama. He said he tries to work with a wide variety of publishers to allow

him to further diversify his work.

“With every publisher, I try to do something different,” he said. “People will look at my books and say, ‘He was really prolific, and did a lot of work with a lot of different publishers, and he always did something really surprising.”

Not every image he sketches ends up in a book, such as the image of a dinosaur on the Empire State Building reading a book that he recently re-designed as a dinosaur on top of a stack of books to promote the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Staake said one of his publishers, Random House, asked him to design art for the festival, but there was no question for him that the dinosaur was the right fit.

“The tradition of the whole show is just amazing and then I thought, ‘I’ve got this one image that I think is really perfect,’” he said. “To help out the Los Angeles Times and USC and publishing in any sort of small way, I’d give it up all day long. I’m honored that they would go ahead and have me do this.”

Staake will also speak on a panel about children’s books and sign art at the Los Angeles Times booth during the festival, marking his first return to campus since moving his studio to Chatham, Mass.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the campus,” Staake said. “I want to go to the top of the Student Union and look down on Tommy Trojan.”

Though he never took a formal art class at USC, Staake said his work with the Daily Trojan and other courses were the most important preparation for his current career.

“What USC taught me was the ability to go ahead and think in a multidisciplinary manner, to understand the connection between discipline and art,” he said. “The art is simply a vehicle, and that is what the School of Journalism taught me. They gave me so much freedom to go for it.”

3 replies
  1. AK
    AK says:

    West High School in Torrance.
    West Orange High School incidentally is the alma mater of Dr. Art Bartner in New Jersey.

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  1. […] who drew cartoons pro bono for the Trojan for two years before landing a scholarship, tells Alexis Driggs that the above illustration came from his unused pile: Not every image he sketches […]

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