Jerry Scott

By Claire Wilson

December 11, 2023
Photo credit: Jerry Scott

As a young boy delivering newspapers in South Bend, Indiana, Jerry Scott liked to read the daily comics with a flashlight in the morning before anyone else did. In second grade, he started writing stories and drawing, sometimes copying his favorite comics. In high school, Scott excelled in art classes. He says, “I liked that more than anything. I had a great art teacher who would let me hide out when I really didn’t want to go to geometry. I could disappear in there and he would let me draw and stuff.” After high school, he enrolled at Arizona State University as an advertising design major, but landed a job at an advertising agency after his first year and decided to leave school to work fulltime. 

Scott continued to make comics, and in 1983 was chosen to continue Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy comic strip. After 12 years of Nancy, Scott started his own comic strip with Rick Kirkman, called Baby Blues. Interestingly, Kirkman was a major inspiration for the strip. “He got married and he had a baby and suddenly he wasn’t as available to do cartoons as he used to be,” says Scott. “I would listen to these stories about how hard it is to raise a cranky infant. I couldn’t understand the disconnect between this normally competent human being and the guy who could be so completely turned upside down by this little eight pound baby. It just seemed funny to me.” It wasn’t until he and his wife, Kim, had their own children that Scott began to better understand the challenges of raising a child. To this day, he still takes inspiration from his own experiences of parenthood. Much of his inspiration comes from “the tiniest, most unimportant stuff. If the washing machine breaks, chaching!” says Scott. 

In 1997, Zits went into syndication. It’s a comic about Jeremy, a teen boy, with a voracious appetite and a garage band, that highlights the dilemmas and ironies of adolescence. Much of the inspiration for Zits comes from Scott’s memory of himself during high school. The comic is mainly written by Scott, either in sketches or as a script, and illustrated by his partner, Jim Borgman. “If you want to condense it into ‘what do you actually do’, I try to make Jim Borgman laugh,” he says. Zits quickly gained popularity in the comic world, and even Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, once said jokingly, “Zits is the worst name for a comic strip since Peanuts." In fact, Scott and Schultz had been good friends since he started on the Nancy strip. “He would call me once as I’m sitting there trying to think of an idea,” he says. “And Sparky would say, ‘can you think of anything today?’ and I’d say, ‘no’, and he says ‘neither can I’. That always made me feel better.” 

Scott’s comics are some of the most popular in daily newspapers, and have impressive scope of influence around the world. Zits runs in 24 countries in about 1,800 newspapers and has been translated into 15 languages. Baby Blues is published in 13-1500 newspapers worldwide, and even had its own animated show in the 90s. Scott’s comics are especially popular in Europe. “Jim and I were rock stars in Scandinavia,” he says. “They would invite us to come for book signings and we’d sit at a booth and people would line up around the block, it was the oddest thing.” He shows me some of the foreign language versions of Zits compilations and explains, “the sound effects are especially funny in other languages. Ducks don’t say quack in Finland, you know. I get a kick out of that.”

Jerry Scott (left) and Jim Borgman (right) Photo credit: Comics Kingdom

Scott’s bookshelf is lined with copies of each yearly compilation of both Zits and Baby Blues, including foreign language copies. He has boxes of over 150 sketch books from throughout his career, which he and Borgman are currently sorting through. They plan to donate much of their work to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library at Ohio State University. In addition to sorting through decades of sketches, they are also currently filming a documentary in Colorado about their work. 

Although Scott’s comics have had a tremendous impact on the world of comics, reaching millions of readers worldwide, comics are quickly becoming a thing of the past. “The art form of daily comic strips, they’re starting to fade from the public consciousness,” says Scott. “It’s not as important to people's lives as it was when I was starting 40 years ago.” During Scott’s childhood, the daily comics were a common small talk topic. Nowadays, most people who still read the news get it on digital news sites, many of which do not have a comics section. Despite the decline in popularity of daily comics, Scott maintains that comics are still important. He says, “it's nice to have a little section in the newspaper full of usually terrible things, that isn’t terrible.” It’s easy to understand the fulfillment that Scott’s work gives him; the ability to create something positive every day that will reach millions of readers around the world. Smiling, he recalls, “I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve spent these years doing something that really doesn’t hurt anybody, it doesn’t take advantage of anybody, it’s just an offering of a smile.”