Wiley Miller, the cartoonist behind the popular ‘Non Sequitur,’ told an audience for the first time on Monday that he nearly lost his livelihood and his marriage after scribbling a vulgar note to President Donald Trump that appeared in the newspapers from the country.
The comic that aired on February 10, 2019, premiered weeks before, a day like many since Trump took office. The president had said something that upset Miller, so he wrote the note in pencil.
Nearly six months later, Miller’s “Non Sequitur” is slowly returning to newspapers across the country, including in Spokane. Miller traveled to Spokane on Monday for a Northwest Passages Book Club event centered on his career as an artist and to welcome “Non Sequitur” to the newspaper.
Wiley Miller, creator of the popular comic book ‘Non Sequitur,’ signs a poster for fan Judy Cohen during the Northwest Passages Book Club on Monday, August 5, 2019 at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman -Review )
Miller first revisited his mistake and apologized. In an interview, he said he was reminded to heed his own advice: “Follow your instincts and do what you know is right.”
Looking back on that day, Miller recalls it being around Christmas with her house full of family and in the midst of a government shutdown. Miller works on his comics almost two months before the publication date.
“I was just furious at how ruthless it was,” Miller said of the politicians and the shutdown.
It was one more thing “among all the other outrages that were going on at the time,” Miller said.
He called the scribbled text a “cathartic exercise.” Apparently it worked, but Miller said he forgot to whitewash the text.
When readers took notice, Miller found himself in the middle of a Twitter storm in which most readers praised him.
His Twitter account tripled overnight. So Miller said he decided to play along rather than admit he made the mistake.
It was “the real stupid lapse in judgment,” he said. “I was really admitting a breach of trust with my editors.”
Newspapers across the country dropped “Non Sequitur”.
“I lost half my client list,” Miller said.
He and his wife lost their dream home and moved to another state following the blow to his reputation and income. The experience was “financially and emotionally draining,” Miller said.
Miller deleted his accounts and left social media. He began to push forward by sending a personalized apology letter to the newspapers that published his comic strip.
In a letter of apology to “editors and readers” published in Sunday’s edition of The Spokesman-Review, Miller wrote “Remorse is an understatement.”
“It always comes down to — I have to own it,” Miller said Monday night.
The Spokesman-Review asked readers if “Non Sequitur” should be returned to the comics page. The response was overwhelming, said editor Rob Curley.
Of the approximately 1,400 readers who responded, all but about 40 wanted Miller’s work back.
He drew a special Spokane comic to thank readers who welcomed the return of his work.
“I decided to do this because I’m so grateful,” Miller said of coming to Spokane.
An audience of about 500 people at Monday’s Northwest Passages Book Club event were also grateful.
Simone Ramel-McKay was excited when she learned Miller was coming to Spokane and had the chance to meet him.
“We were upset with his stupid mistake,” Ramel-McKay said.
However, that didn’t diminish how much she loved Miller’s work.
“I’m sure he’s going to be more conscientious,” Ramel-McKay said.
Miller thinks his work has changed and hopes readers will take notice. There has been a refocusing and redoubling back to basics, Miller said.
“Ironically, these newspapers don’t see the best work I do,” Miller said of newspapers that no longer publish his comics.
Miller’s current comics are just the most recent part of his long legacy.
Miller started drawing around age 6 and never stopped, he said.
His mother encourages his passion and enrolls him in drawing lessons with Tom McDonald, the designer behind the famous Mr. Magoo.
In 1980, he began drawing editorial cartoons full-time at the Press-Democrat in Santa Rosa, California.
In 1983, he created his first syndicated comic strip, “Fenton”.
He won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Journalism in Editorial Cartooning in 1991. A year later, “Non Sequitur” became his next syndicated comic strip.
“Each day was going to be different from the day before,” Miller said of the comic.
He drew on all of the skills he had acquired over his years as a cartoonist in both editorial and comic book design to create “Non Sequitur,” Miller said.
Miller mentioned his experiences listening to influential cartoonists speak and how they inspired him. Moments later, however, he was confronted with the fact that he was the one inspiring others.
At the end of the event, during a Q&A with the audience, 12-year-old Maria Friendshuh asked what it was like to make the transition to drawing as a career.
Friendshuh came to the event because she loves cartoons and drawing, she said.
“I want a job that has something to do with art,” Friendshuh added.
For Miller, being a cartoonist is more than a job, it’s a way of life, he said.
“I’m not in a profession that you retire from,” Miller said. “I’m in a profession you die of.”