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In the Bleachers

Former Lake Oswego Review sports editor and cartoonist Steve Moore hits the big time with his nationally syndicated comic panel 'In the Bleachers' and the recent release of 'Open Season,' a full-length animated film that Moore wrot
by: Steve Moore,

As the saying goes, everyone who's anyone had to get their start somewhere. For nationally syndicated cartoonist Steve Moore, that 'somewhere' happened to be the Lake Oswego Review.

Fresh out of Oregon State University, Moore breezed into the newspaper's office one day back in the 1970s and asked for a job - any job.

That same day, he walked out the newspaper's sports editor and in-house editorial cartoonist.

With his boss' encouragement, Moore wrote about high school sports, played photographer and illustrated humorous happenings around town, where comedic fodder seemed endless.

'It was really that wide open,' Moore said by phone from his home in Boise, Idaho. 'You couldn't really do that at the L.A.Times.'

Moore cultivated an appreciation for that small-town gig years later, after he found success as both a newspaperman and the oddball-minded artist behind 'In the Bleachers,' a sports comic panel that today can be read in more than 200 newspapers.

An avid sports fan, Moore relishes getting paid for poking fun at the insanity and absurdity of organized athletics.

'I'm not one of those people who put paint on their face for their team,' Moore said. 'I love observing people like that. I'm fascinated by the spectacle of sports and I get a lot of ideas from that.'

This fall, Moore added another form of media - film - to his resume upon the release of 'Open Season,' an animated movie based on Moore's original story about domesticated wildlife living off resort town scraps - then getting kicked out.

Now in area theaters, the movie follows the Boog, a domesticated grizzly bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) who helps his scrawny mule deer friend Elliot (voiced by Ashton Kutcher) escape from Shaw, a mullet-sporting hunter (voiced by Gary Sinise).

When they are accidentally relocated to the wild just as hunting season begins, their life of luxury is turned upside-down. The duo develops a strong bond not only between themselves, but also with the wild animals in their attempt to drive the hunters out of the forest.

'It's about problem animals being returned to the wild, and about animals turning the tables and being smarter (than humans),' Moore said. 'That's in pretty much every one of my cartoons.'

The idea behind 'Open Season' found its start about four years ago, when veteran film producer John Carls approached Moore about using humor from his 'In the Bleachers' hunting parodies to create a plotline for a movie.

By that time, Moore had moved up the chain of command to become an executive features editor at the Los Angeles Times and a famed cartoonist with a fanbase.

'My nose was too close to the drawing board' to see the potential for a film, Moore said.

But his comic strip - a series he started when he left the Review for the Maui News in Hawaii - had grown enough for Moore to take a financial risk. The idea of working from home was also looking pretty good to Moore, now a married father of three.

'I have always been a closeted Hollywood wannabe type of guy,' Moore said. 'I always wanted to get into Hollywood somewhere, and writing seemed the most obvious way.'

With help from Carls, the story was polished, presented to the company and bought for production.

As co-executive producer, Moore traveled between Boise and L.A. to help develop the film - from choosing the professional actors who would bring its characters to life to giving input into the animation.

'As I went along, I would ask (my kids) about certain characters,' Moore said. 'I'd show them early animation clips just to see how they would react. It was usually a good reaction.'

'Open Season' marks a first attempt at a full-length animated feature for Sony Pictures Animation, whose sister company Sony Pictures Imageworks won an Academy Award last year for 'best visual effects' for Spider-Man 2.

But Moore shrugs off any pressure to make box office bank or win critical acclaim.

After all, we're talking about a man who won a coveted spot out of 10,000 entries to get 'In the Bleachers' syndicated, then went on to work with several Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting teams.

'When I took the project there and saw who was going to be working on it, it made me relax because they all had huge pedigrees,' said Moore, who gave the movie a few personal touches of his own.

Moore's ode to Oregon can be seen in the fictional town's name: 'Timberline.' And although he didn't contribute vocally, Moore has definite plans to become a character in his next animated feature.

When he's not working on big screen projects, Moore can be found at his house, jotting down ideas for 'In the Bleachers' on a legal notepad.

If he thinks the joke's funny enough, Moore uses ink pens to complete the comic panels five to six weeks ahead of publication and then submits them by postal mail.

'I haven't gotten around to changing my habits,' he said with a chuckle.

And in true journalistic form, Moore occasionally suffers from 'byline syndrome,' or the feeling of insecurity when the outside world becomes your audience.

Most days, Moore feels proud of his illustrated jokes. Other days, he wishes he could call the packet of drawings back before it's read by strangers across the country.

'I don't have to be around when they read it, so it's a safe comedic act,' he added.

Moore - who never had any formal training in illustration -doesn't consider himself a good artist, just an avid doodler with a bizarre sense of humor.

'I draw well enough to get the joke across,' he said. 'My humor is off-the-wall, so the bad drawings often go with it better.'

He returns to Lake Oswego often to visit his mother, Joan, and his sister, Debbie, and her family. Eventually, he plans to give up film and make a comeback to journalism.

'If I was going to live anywhere, other than Idaho, I would love to live in Lake Oswego,' he said, musing about whether he'd return to the Review if given the chance.

If it weren't for the Review, Moore said, he might have never discovered his love for cartooning, and 'In the Bleachers' would be an idea gone unrealized.

'That's what gave me my ground work,' Moore said of his first job. 'I'm sure a couple of times the editors regretted (hiring me), but they gave me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. That was so valuable.'