Open to the journey: Pulitzer Prize-winning Buffalo News cartoonist Adam Zyglis discusses new book, what’s next for career

Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Adam Zyglis said many little steps have led him to where he is today.

“Being open to whatever the journey is I think is important,” Zyglis told News 4.

For almost two decades, the Western New York native has been sharing a piece of himself with The Buffalo News readers through his art.

Zyglis said he started drawing at a young age, and that his mother recalled how he would lay on the floor and draw for hours.

After graduating from Alden High School, Zyglis has a decision to make: whether to follow his passion, which was just a hobby at that point, or to study something practical. He chose both.

“From a young age I had hardworking, blue collar parents to instill in me that you have to work for a living, and art may not be something you can turn into a job,” Zyglis said. “When I started looking at colleges, I thought I would combine a desire to be creative in my art skills with my critical thinking and analytical skills. So I thought creative graphics may have been the solution.”

Zyglis started school at Canisius College, moving into the City of Buffalo close to campus.

“This was back in 2000 and 2004, and things were just starting to come alive a little bit. Hertel was starting to buzz and slowly, each year, the city was starting to get into my skin and into my blood,” he said. “My wife and I were dating at the time, and we would just go off and explore other cities. I think the more we would explore and enjoy other cities, the more we would come back home and think ‘this is actually pretty great here.'”

But as much as Zyglis said he enjoyed his time spent in the City of Buffalo, it was a different story inside the classroom.

“I was starting to realize my college experience, it wasn’t the vision I thought. Meanwhile, I was working on the school newspaper. That was this opposite experience where, computer sciences I was working with teams to solve these big problems, and the paper I was fully, 100 percent in charge of this four-by-five inch space that was completely my own,” he said.

Zyglis flips through a copy of his book, “You Know You’re From Buffalo If…”, which features one of his cartoons on every page.

It was when he won some college contests that Zyglis said he had the idea to pursue a career in cartooning.

After cartoonist Tom Toles left for a job with The Washington Post in 2002, The Buffalo News was left with a hole. Zyglis said he followed the advice of his advisor, who told him to send the paper some of his work – if they didn’t respond, just show up at their building.

“My thinking was, get in the door for anything and once I’m in there, try and pursue what I want. And that really, I think, was effective,” he said.

For almost 20 years now, Zyglis has been the paper’s editorial cartoonist, tackling different topics surrounding politics, sports and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like my responsibility is to the Buffalo reader, but we’re also global citizens,” he said. “The struggle is to get the right blend of national, state and local work.”

In 2015, Zyglis won the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of his work, something he said is one of his proudest moments.

“I felt Buffalo. I felt people being proud for me,” he said.

But now Zyglis is onto new adventures. He said he was first approached about putting together a book in 2020, and right away he knew what it would be about.

“I wanted this ‘You know you’re from Buffalo if…’ to capture what it means to be a Buffalonian; what’s unique about our experience and that’s multi-faceted – it’s sports, history, our dialect, our collective memory, culture, food,” Zyglis said.

Page by page, Zyglis illustrated what many who grew up in Western New York have experienced – whether it’s smelling Lucky Charms while downtown, greeting one another with a ‘Go Bills,’ or getting threatened you’ll be sent to Father Baker’s when you misbehave.

“I wanted the right mix of sentimental, sort of poignant pieces, and then other funny, clever in the mix. Sort of capture the overall mood of what it means to be a Buffalonian, so some of them it’s kind of poking fun at ourselves, others are celebrating us, and that was the goal,” Zyglis said.

We asked Zyglis if he ever envisioned he would be at this point in his life when he started at The Buffalo News in 2004.

“I did not, and that’s the key to my story all along the way,” he said. “I also did not realize I would be at this point where I’m interested in doing work outside politics and pursuing books and other endeavors like that. I’m excited to see what the next step is.”

Zyglis will be holding a book signing this Friday, Nov. 12 from 6-9 p.m. at Fitz Books and Waffles.

Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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