The buzz on Mike Lester
Conservative cartoonist finds success in editorial cartooning—and drawing the logo for UGA’s in-state rival
It was 1984 and Mike Lester had been out of college for seven years, doing charts and illustrations for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and picking up freelance illustration jobs where he could get them.
When Georgia Tech called and asked for his help in designing promotional materials for athletics, Lester (BFA ’77) said sure. In addition to more than 130 football program covers (Tech gave him a plaque in 1999 during halftime of a football game after he did the 100th cover), Lester also designed the Ramblin’ Wreck’s stinging mascot, Buzz the yellow jacket.
“I created Buzz because Jack Davis was already doing the bulldog,” Lester jokes. Davis was one of Lester’s childhood idols. “I’m proud of it. It in no way diminishes my love for my alma mater.”
Since then, Lester has done illustrations and animations for scores of companies, including those marketing beer, flea and tick repellants for animals, and arthritis medications, in addition to a steady job as editorial cartoonist for the Rome News-Tribune.
In the fall of 2011, his editorial cartoons were syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, which distributes to print and electronic publications around the world.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he says.
He began drawing as a child during the time between school and dinner when his parents were working.
“I was just able to express myself on a piece of paper,” he says. “I’m not sure I’ve learned to draw as much as I’ve learned to communicate.”
A native Atlantan, when it came time for college he was accepted to art school in another state, but his father said no. “He didn’t really think you could make a living drawing pictures,” Lester says.
Instead he came to UGA to major in art. His dad was all right with that. Lester says he told him, “If it doesn’t work out you can just go to the other side of campus.”
When he married his first wife, he followed her home to Rome, Ga., where along with his current work he began drawing editorial cartoons for the Rome News-Tribune. It was there he found his niche.
“I didn’t see anyone saying anything staunchly conservative (in editorial cartoons),” says Lester, whose point of view wasn’t reflected in the marketplace of ideas.
“I’m sort of the Ann Coulter of editorial cartoons.”
In a town the size of Rome, however, an opinion can sometimes get you in trouble.
“When you live in a small town, sooner or later you’re going to be standing in line (at a store) with a commissioner you’ve just lit up,” Lester says. “I’m not sure I’d like me either.
However, he likes the exchanging of ideas and understands that not everyone agrees with him.
Framed drawings and copies of ads and cartoons fill the wall space of his home in downtown Rome. Awards hang above his computer. Soon he’ll add the most recent, a 2010 award for book illustration from the National Cartoonist Society (he’s won a total of five awards from the organization), and a 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Other than the Pulitzer those are the two I’m proud to have won,” he says.
Still he knows it’s Buzz people will remember.
“They’ll put on my headstone, ‘Went to Georgia, drew Buzz for Tech,’” he predicts, and pauses for a second.
“It’s not like I drew the Gator for Florida. I’d hate me too for that.”
Learn more about Lester at http://www.mikelester.com.