SOLON, Ohio – Early this year, Ron Hill decided he wanted to do something different with the editorial cartoons that he submits to four Northeast Ohio newspapers.
The cartoonist and illustrator ended up drawing BB BluesBird – a character he created 16 years ago – in every single cartoon in 2020.
But little did he know when the year started that the coronavirus pandemic would become a prevailing theme in his cartoons – and that BB would be wearing a face mask in most of them.
Hill, of Solon, has compiled every cartoon he had published this year into a new book.
“BB BluesBird and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year” is Hill’s third compilation book of editorial cartoons. He expects it to be published in early January.
“It’s a year everybody wants to forget, but we can’t forget it,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to move forward from it, learn from it – just a crazy, crazy year.”
The book is being published by Act 3, a full-service design studio and creative agency based in Cleveland. Hill has been a managing partner at Act 3 since 2016.
The 158-page book contains more than 135 cartoons, including a few unpublished sketches of cartoons abandoned because of the shifting news cycle. All are accompanied by Hill’s commentary and opinions on the context of the issues involved.
“In March, it gets pretty heavy with a lot of the subject matter,” he said. “The first (face) mask I drew was on March 5, and the first time I drew the COVID character was on April 15.
“The COVID character kind of takes on a life of his own. It has driven so much change.”
A combination of single-panel and multi-panel cartoons, the book also touches on many other topics that were in the news, Hill said.
“I’ve got social justice, police reform and protesting, when things started to open up again, free speech issues and the election,” he said.
Hill, 59, said the book’s title was inspired by the award-winning children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Published in 1972, that book was written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.
The covers of the two books are even similar, showing the main character in bed.
“I wanted to satirize the cover of that book,” Hill said.
But why focus on BB BluesBird for an entire year, and who exactly is this character?
“I created this little character in 2004,” Hill said. “He lives on a farm down south; he’s like a teenager, 18-ish.
“He wants to be a blues musician. It kind of involves some of the blues mythology, how the blues came from the South as roots music. It’s kind of that whole Robert Johnson thing.”
Hill said he’s done about 35 paintings of BB over the years, in addition to featuring him in personal comics and drawings.
“I tried to sell (BB) as a newspaper comic,” Hill said. “I shopped him around to the remaining comic syndicates, but unfortunately, it just never was thought strong enough to sell.
“But I just always liked him. He’s always been in the back of my mind.”
This year, Hill decided to see how far it would go, including BB in all of his cartoons until one of the newspaper editors asked, “What is this?”
“And no one did,” he said. “So I just kept going with him.”
Collaboration with Dumm
In 2012, Hill showed an eight-page BB BluesBird comic that he had produced to local cartoonist and comic book artist Gary Dumm, perhaps best known as one of the original artists on Harvey Pekar’s successful “American Splendor” series.
“I got to know Gary, and I said, ‘You’d be perfect to help me with this project,’” Hill said. “He said, ‘I’d love to help you draw it.’ I said, ‘No, I want you to write it.’
“Gary was not traditionally a writer, but he jumped at the chance; he said he always wanted to do some writing. It was truly a collaboration in every sense of the word. We had a lot of fun with it.”
Over a two-year period, Hill and Dumm collaborated on about 100 strips that were published online and compiled them into two comic books.
“It was a web comic that we were trying to market,” Hill said. “But then I got busy, Gary got busy, and we both kind of put BB on the back burner.”
The new book includes a few samples of cartoons that Hill and Dumm – who wrote the foreword for it – produced together during that period.
The book also features an introduction by James O’Hare and an afterword by Jaime Lombardo, both fellow managing partners at Act 3.
Hill’s first compilation book of editorial cartoons, “Edutoons,” published in 2016, focused on local and statewide issues in public education. Hill taught graphic arts at Alliance High School from 2002 to 2015.
His second book, “The Usual Suspects,” was published in June of last year. It’s a collection of his editorial cartoons that were published in six newspapers from 1999 to 2019, with an emphasis on national politics, issues and leaders.
Trying to promote a new book during a pandemic could prove to be a bit of a challenge, Hill said.
“We’ll have to connect with people online (instead of in person),” he said. “When you have a book launch, you’re selling books and signing to people, and you can’t do that in a Zoom event.
“So we’re trying to get creative.”
Hill said he’s offering the book for pre-sale at a flat rate of $20, including shipping and handling. This special also includes an illustrated signature from him in the book.
To take advantage of this special, go to act3creative.com/bb-bluesbird.
“As soon as I’ve got the books in hand, we’re going to be planning some sort of virtual event,” Hill said.
The book retails for $18.95 and will be available for purchase at that Act 3 site, Amazon and some independent local bookstores.
“My cartoon books are an acquired taste,” Hill said with a smile. “We’ve always at least made a smidgen of a profit, which is pretty good for publishing nowadays.
“So I just hope this book continues that trend and is out there for people to consume and remember what went on (in 2020).”
A Cleveland native, Hill grew up in Solon and has lived in the city since 1969. The Solon High School graduate has an associate degree in visual communications from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Hill and his wife, Margie, have three adult children and three granddaughters.