An intimate portrait of Jeffrey Koterba


By Jacob Snyder, Contributor

Though he should be working on tomorrow’s cartoon, Jeffrey Koterba’s mind drifts. He begins to sketch a man. It is the same man he always sketches. This man is not him, but it is.

At first, he is smiling and calm. In the next frame, the man is shown squeezing one of his eyes shut and stretching his mouth grotesquely to one side. He is smiling once again in the final frame. Koterba said this is how he draws a person with Tourette’s Syndrome.

“Voluntary Gestures,” a short film directed by Stefan Moral, explores how Koterba’s careers as an Omaha World-Herald cartoonist, professional musician and writer, are intertwined with his Tourette’s, and how he deals with it on a daily basis.

Growing up, Koterba recalls how he was always drawing. He also sang and played the drums because it was something his father loved and wanted him to learn. Koterba also recalls how his father was continually urging him to get better in all these things.

“He would push the limits so I would not just copy what I saw,” Koterba said.

But drawing is Koterba’s passion. He remembers how his house did not have a kitchen table, so he would put his paper down on the floor and work there. Sometimes, he would even draw, sketch or paint sitting in the dark hallway.

“[Drawing] is my earliest, and it is so infused into who I am, that I do not know what it would be like to be human without it,” Koterba said.

For Koterba, drawing is a “full body experience.” He loves the idea of a blank canvas, seeing it as something “sacred.” Although Koterba may do some extraordinary things while drawing, when he gets really focused, he gets lost in it. Maybe that is why I like to do all these different things because I am constantly looking for opportunities to [do that],” Koterba said.

As for being the lead singer in his band, The Prairie Cats, and a writer, these are a couple of ways Koterba can “hide out” from his tics. They are places Koterba has created for himself. He said getting wrapped up in music or  writing gives him a sense of freedom.

“Voluntary Gestures”  is peppered with funny moments. Koterba is able to laugh at some of his own quirks, such as lining up his pinky with the building outside to help center his drawing. Laughing, he said maybe this is something that either grounds him or maybe it is just a weird tic.

This is a story people can relate to about an artist who has Tourette’s and must deal with it on a daily basis. And everyone has some burden they have to deal with, too. The thing we can learn from Koterba is to not allow that thing to take over your life. Instead, deal with it the best you can.

Toward the end, Koterba talked about trying to find his truth—as he put it, his

“capital T”—and pursuing your passion against all odds. That is a good lesson we can take from this short film.