Not terribly long after arriving at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News to chronicle the local sports scene in the form of newspaper cartoons, Drew Litton turned the world on its ear at the expense of Broncos kicker Rich Karlis.
In back-to-back weeks late in the 1984 NFL season, Karlis doinked potential last-second, game-tying field goals off the uprights—the right one week, the left the next—prompting what turned into one of Litton’s signature images. “The Karlis forked uprights is probably my most well-known cartoon,” Litton says, speaking from his home in Centennial. “They put that one on television, and that changed the course of my career a little bit.”
Litton, 63, is considered one of the country’s last great sports cartoonists, going back to his days when he cut his teeth at the El Paso Times in west Texas and then getting his big break at the age of 23 when he was hired by the Rocky Mountain News in 1982. Until the newspaper’s shuttering in 2009, Litton was the creator of the popular sports-themed Win, Lose & Drew.
Yet the end of the Rocky Mountain News era didn’t mean the end of Litton’s career. Not even close. Since then, it’s been a steady stream of freelance gigs for Litton, most notably cartoons for KUSA 9 News in Denver (most recently the Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup), in addition to ESPN.com, the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Springs Gazette, University of Colorado, Colorado Sun, the Colorado Rockies magazine, and Denver Broncos kids magazine as well as an annual sports calendar.
This year marks 40 years since Litton made the move to Colorado. “I’m still doing what I do, just keep on keeping on,” says Litton, whose work is currently syndicated by Andrews McMeel. “I’ve been very fortunate to cover Colorado sports during a historic time. I’ve been here for all three Stanley Cups, all three Super Bowl wins, the Broncos getting John Elway and Peyton Manning, when we got baseball for the first time, and all of those times, I was able to chronicle each in cartoons. I’m proud and lucky to have been blessed to be there for those times. There’s no place better than being a sports cartoonist in Colorado. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”However, there’s more Litton wants to do with hopes of coming full circle, thanks to a chance encounter from the early 1980s.
Mentor Meets Understudy/Future Mentor
Not terribly long after arriving at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News to chronicle the local sports scene in the form of newspaper cartoons, Drew Litton met a kid, maybe 13, named Rich Moyer. His mom called the paper to see if he could shadow Litton to witness what newsroom cartooning was really like.
“That opened my eyes. To see that people can make a living drawing editorial cartoons and for their opinion on the news was completely fascinating,” says Moyer, a Denver-based artist and syndicated cartoonist, who recently started illustrating children’s books and graphic novels for kids. “He was so generous with his time and mentorship, and that led to my getting syndicated and later into animation. He’s been a longtime friend, and we talk all the time.”
During the 2010 NFL season, the two collaborated on an ESPN.com weekly feature called “Monday Matchup Madness” with Litton doing the cartooning and Moyer adding the animation to preview each Monday Night Football Game and the Super Bowl. “I remember taking my computer to his house,” Moyer says. “He’d be drawing as fast as I could piece it together and animate it. We had a talented voice talent to do all of the character voices. It was super fun.”
Moyer, a 52-year-old father of two daughters, recently earned a three-book deal from Penguin Random House, the Ham Helsing series, the first two of which—Vampire Hunter and Monster Hunter—were released to rave reviews. Perhaps no one is happier than Litton. “Rich’s books are doing well, and he’s one of my best friends,” Litton says. “My hope has always been, somehow, by doing what I do, I’d be able to influence other editors to hire other cartoonists. I was his mentor, and he’s my mentor now that I’m old. And I’d love to do children’s books and graphic novels at some point, to do what he’s doing.”