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Sac Bee political cartoonist Rex Babin knows how to push people’s buttons

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE<br>Rex Babin, who takes on the governator and the Bush Administration five days a week in the Sacramento Bee, was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2003.

Rex Babin, who takes on the governator and the Bush Administration five days a week in the Sacramento Bee, was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2003.

Like most kids, Rex Babin spent many an hour doodling with crayons and paper. Now well past his childhood days of hopscotch and foursquare, Babin is still drawing—but instead of stick figures, his drawings are sticking it to The Man.

The controversial editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee, who’s been drawing political cartoons since high school, says all people are born cartoonists.

“Every kid draws a little,” he said. “I just kept doing it.”

And he’s doing it well. Babin has made quite a name for himself in the realm of politics and journalism. Especially in the capital city.

With his most popular comic, “Caleeforneeya,” a series that follows the trials and tribulations of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s governorship, Babin has stepped out as a self-proclaimed controversial cartoonist.

His latest cartoon in the series shows Schwarzenegger, in full Terminator garb, barging into a home and blasting out a couple’s television showing a Spanish-language channel, while rattling off his most famous one-liner.

And even though he admits he’s getting tired of drawing President Bush, Babin still takes a fair share of jabs at the easy target, as well as hitting on immigration, the environment and even Paris Hilton.

There’s no doubt the 44-year-old Babin likes to push the envelope. And he says his goal is to entertain while forcing people to think more critically on the issues that affect their everyday lives. He credits political cartoons with being able to capture readers quicker than traditional written editorials.

“Editorial cartoons have the advantage of being so immediate,” Babin said. “You can make a provocative point right away and have a huge impact on the reader.”

Babin’s interest in news and politics began at a young age. When he was around 9, Babin said, his classroom received issues of the Los Angeles Times. That’s where he first saw the work of legendary political cartoonist Paul Conrad, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who won a spot on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List in 1973.

Babin knew he wanted to follow in Conrad’s footsteps.

“There were only two things in life that I wanted to be: a football player and a cartoonist,” he said.

Football never panned out, but Babin worked for the college newspaper at San Diego State University, where he graduated with a degree in English in 1985. He worked at the Albany Times Union for 10 years before making a home for himself at the Sacramento Bee in 1999.

His cartoons now run five days a week in the Bee, the nation’s 25th-largest newspaper with a circulation around 300,000. But that’s just the tip of the drawing pencil—Babin’s cartoons are syndicated in almost 400 papers nationwide. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

Babin will be the first speaker at the Chico Art Center’s lecture series, created by local artist Peter Bartczak, who owns Clownbank Studio in Chico and is a member of the art center’s board of directors.

Bartczak said he wanted to create a series that would focus on working artists such as Babin.

“I wanted to showcase people who have to tap into their creativity on a daily basis, like Babin does,” Bartczak said.

Babin, who never completed a single art course, said the creative process is a curious thing to him. Some days he is able to develop an idea easily; sometimes it can take him upwards of six hours to formulate an illustration.

Still, understanding his own creative process is something that still fascinates him.

“Creativity is something that you just can’t bottle,” Babin said. “It’s a mystery.”