Jeff MacNelly, the son of a publisher and portrait painter, was born in New York and raised on Long Island. He created his first strip in 1969, while working as a political cartoonist for a weekly paper in Chapel Hill, NC. A year later, he relocated to The Richmond Newsleader in Virginia, and in 1972, his work was awarded with the first of three Pulitzer Prizes. He stayed with the paper until 1981. In 1977, he started drawing the newspaper strip 'Shoe', named after and inspired by the legendary Jim Shumaker, for whom Jeff used to work at the Chapel Hill Weekly.
The strip featured a gang of wisecracking birds who run a newspaper called The Treetop Tattler. The comic became immensely popular, and was twice awarded by the National Cartoonists Society with the prestigious Reuben Award. By 1986, the strip was syndicated to 950 newspapers.
In 1982, Jeff MacNelly started working as an editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, where he received his third Pulitzer, and was honored three times as the "best in the business" among political cartoonists, in 1987, 1989 and 1993. In 1993, MacNelly created another strip called 'Pluggers'. He handed it over to his friend and assistant Gary Brookins in 1997. By then, MacNelly was already aided by Chris Cassatt for the creation of 'Shoe'.
Unfortunately, the sympathetic master of the strip 'Shoe' died of cancer on 6 August 2000 at the age of 52, but his strip has been continued by his wife, Susie MacNelly, and his two assistants.