Profile of Robert Zimmerman
posted: March 6, 2007
"I don't really recall ever drawing as a child; I started drawing when I was in junior high. I saw some comic strips from a guy name Tom Ryan who was drawing Tumbleweeds and I thought, 'God, that looks really neat and I'd like to try that!' So I started copying his drawings and then I started sending them to him and he would write back. I found out many years later that it was his assistant, Jim Davis, who was actually writing me back – Jim Davis is the fellow who eventually drew Garfield and became very rich by that franchise – and when I talked to Jim many years later, he said, 'I remember you. You used to write to him all the time. I was the guy who wrote you back.'
"I went to the California College of Arts and Crafts but I dropped out because I wanted to make money. It was really frustrating for me to be poor and not working. So, I moved back East and I had a children's book that I had drawn and I showed it to Mercer Mayer; he's a great illustrator and a pretty interesting fellow. I sent it to him and he said, 'It's terrible! You'll never do anything with this! This is just terrible!' And I got really mad at him. And then I sent it to the publishers and they said the same thing. They said, 'It's terrible! You can't do anything with this!' And so I wrote him back and I said, 'Mercer, I'm really sorry. I was really irritated with you and I thought you were a jackass but it turns out you were right and so I just wanted to let you know that.'
"Later, he called me back and he says, 'Look, why don't you come and work for me?" And I said, 'Really?! OK!' and so I went to work for him, sketching the roughs for his books for him; he does book after book after book. So, anyway, he got involved with computer games and that's how I got my entry into it. They started a company based on some characters that he had designed and these were computer games for the Commodore 64 and the Atari 800. Which were 64K, really early machines. I started designing these games and they saw that I was good at it and the games that I was designing were selling. So, I became the creative director of this funny computer company. But the company sort of failed.
"And then after that, I had a woman in my life who was a medical illustrator and she had some scratch board that she was working on and she gave me some, and I started drawing on it and messing around with it. I thought, 'Man, this is really fun! I have to do some drawings and I'll take them to the New York Times and see if they like them!' That was how naive I was! So, I made some Xeroxes and I put them in a folder and took them to New York Times, and I told them, 'I can do these kinds of drawings, would you like to buy 'em?' And they said, 'Sure!'
"This was probably in 1985, and after that, I just snowballed. I started drawing all the time and I went on to do animated commercials for United Airlines and McDonald's ... it was just a crazy time. It was the solid days of illustration! You can make so much money in that racket. I didn't realize what I was; I didn't realize what I had was a style.
"Then I broke my wrist. I slipped on ice on a manhole cover, and got a snap that just totally was bad; I was in a cast for two years, and I thought, 'Man, I got to figure out a way to make a living.' So, I needed to make a quick transition from drawing to making a living doing something else and so I decided I'd mess around with web sites.
"But, to tell you the honest truth, when the broken wrist forced me to stop drawing, I felt that it was some sort of answer, in a way. I was getting tired of illustrating and I was starting to recognize the fact that I wasn't in there as much as I needed to be, like I was at one time. I wasn't putting it all towards the work and it didn't feel as good as it used to, quite frankly. It started to feel repetitive and the broken wrist made the decision for me.
"I started experimenting with blogs, and remembering how much fun me and other illustrators would have just hanging out and I missed that because I love them. I thought I'd make something for everybody, that would sort of be a community like that. It would be like a local bar. It was just an idea. So I e-mailed a few people and said, 'Would you be interested in trying this out?' And we did it!
"Now I'm sort of the guy who works in a boiler room; I just wanted people to have it and I wanted to get out of the way after that. I'm not an illustrator, but I love them, and Drawger is like a gift to them.
"To me it's just about doing good work. All I do is I try to make something that's useful and that's beneficial and is done for the right reasons. I do that and for some reason I get rewarded for it."