The man who turns news into art

Bob Corujo is a virtually unknown artist, but millions have seen his work on 60 Minutes every week for 35 years

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Editor’s note: This video was originally published in October 2015. On June 30, 2016, after 35 years at 60 Minutes, Bob Corujo retired.

When 60 Minutes debuted in 1968, correspondent Harry Reasoner described it as “a kind of a magazine for television.” And, like every great magazine, it needed a cover - opening artwork designed to capture viewers’ attention and entice them to stick around. That’s where Bob Corujo comes in.

For the past 35 years, Corujo’s works of art have appeared behind the correspondents on the 60 Minutes set as they introduce their stories. Originally handcrafted out of cardboard and traditional drawing, painting and photography materials, they are known at 60 Minutes as “books.” By our count, Corujo has created roughly 3,000 of them.

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Corujo usually starts with a sketch. When stories are screened for the executive producer, he sits on the side of the room, quietly sketching in his notebook and then retreats to his office until he hits on an idea. It’s a creative process he undertakes for three stories a week, every 60 Minutes season.

Asked to illustrate a profile of Italian actor Roberto Benigni, for instance, he drew on a story Benigni told Bob Simon about meeting the pope. “I kissed him here and here and here, and everywhere I kissed him,” Benigni said, with his trademark exuberance.

For Corujo, that called to mind an image. “All that I was thinking about was, that’s what the pope saw,” he tells Silvio. “’Here comes this crazy wild man coming at me with all these hands.’”

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The book he created captures Benigni’s fluttering Italian hands - three pairs of them, in fact - forming a ring around his face.

For a 2002 story about frozen assets, he put a dollar bill in water, froze it overnight, and then chipped away at it just enough to reveal part of George Washington’s face.

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He borrowed Gregory Hines’ tap shoes in order to include them in a book, and used his own assistant as a model. Another book features a woman surrounded by flames. He tells Silvio he used his backyard barbecue grill to create a giant fire and then superimposed that image onto a picture of his wife.

If that sounds complicated, the art itself is not. It’s designed to convey the thrust of a story in under a minute, because that’s the entire length of time Bob’s books appear on television at the beginning of 60 Minutes stories. “I like simple because too much embellishment sometimes, you know, you get lost in the sauce,” Corujo says.

Many producers and correspondents at 60 Minutes are fans of the broadcast’s longtime resident artist. Correspondent Morley Safer, who passed away in May, lampooned the modern art world in several reports, but he called Corujo the real deal.

“He’s better than all of the artists I’ve lampooned,” Safer told Overtime in 2015. “In his job, you can’t just sit around sucking your thumb, thinking, ‘What am I going to do? What’s this next piece of brilliance I’m going to show?’ You’ve got to do it immediately. You’ve got to grab it and do it.”

Corujo did that when it came to his career as well. Raised in the Bronx in a Puerto Rican family, he has felt compelled to draw since childhood. He went to a vocational high school, determined to become a commercial artist, and was hired by 60 Minutes in 1980.

“For a kid from the South Bronx with no college to get this position,” he recalls. “Wow. To me, yeah. You did good, kid.”

The books are Corujo’s life’s work, but they also tell a bigger story -- the history of major news events from the past 35 years: Chernobyl, the Challenger disaster, the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11.

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“As a graphic artist, he gets the first crack at illustrating history as it happens,” Silvio says.

60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager agrees. “I think that we all define journalism that way, that it’s the first draft of history. And for him, it’s the first artistic look at history,” he says. “And there’s meaning to it. And a power to it, as I look back on these from the past. They’re lasting.”

For 60 Minutes producers, who proudly hang his books on their walls, they serve as a physical reminder of a body of work - both their own and Corujo’s.

Producer Bob Anderson’s office, for instance, is a virtual gallery of Corujo’s work. Anderson has produced more than 150 stories for 60 Minutes and the book for every one of them is on his wall.

Most producers at 60 Minutes can recount several times when Corujo just nailed it - coming up with the perfect image for a certain story. Draggan Mihailovich felt that way about the book for “Lost Boys,” a story on young refugees from Sudan.

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“You know, the worst that they can be is, ‘Hey, that’s really good, Bobby,’” Mihailovich says. “In this case, I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s brilliant.’”

Corujo is often called upon to illustrate the horrors of war or poverty. But sometimes, if the story allows, he can loosen up and make the book irreverent or witty. Take the one he did for a story about gullible investors, known as “pigeons.”

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“Are you allowed to have fun?” Silvio asks him.

“I think so, because it went on air,“ he laughs. “If it goes on air, I’m good to go.”