Portland cartoonist pokes fun with pointed pen
Matt Bors had to chuckle. With everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath, and trying to maintain a business in a tough environment, "I had forgotten all about the Pulitzer."
Back in January, when the world was "different," the Portland political cartoonist submitted entries for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. He became busy with other obvious pressing things to even think about the Pulitzer until Monday morning, May 4.
"I wasn't aware that I was a finalist until about two hours before (the winner) was announced," said Bors, who operates The Nib website and publications. "I tuned in and watched (the announcement) while eating lunch. They said my name.
"I had been a finalist before (in 2012) and it wasn't out of the question to be chosen again, but I didn't expect it. It was a nice little boost in these times."
Barry Blitt, a longtime New Yorker contributor, won the Pulitzer category. But it was nice just to be recognized, Bors said.
He had submitted cartoons about President Donald Trump and some moderate Democrats. News flash: He's not a Trump fan. The president has been pretty easy fodder for left-leaning cartoonists and writers. In his sketches, he depicts the president with a bulbous, orange face — "the guy's orange," Bors said — and "he's a strange guy all around, incredibly vain ... utterly bizarre."
Indeed, it has been a bountiful time for cartoonists such as Bors, although he continues to battle the reality of political cartoons. Magazines and newspapers don't run them much anymore, and when they do it's mostly freelance artists.
For several years, Bors submitted works for the alternative weekly Portland Mercury, which recently shelved its print edition for online only. And, his company, The Nib, was effectively dropped last year by its parent company, First Look Media, forcing Bors to go it alone as owner.
Then, the pandemic happened, and it led to Bors streamlining his staff. He still works with many paid freelancers for The Nib content, and Bors said his membership for digital and print publications remains strong.
Bors, the first alt-weekly cartoonist to win the Herblock Prize for Excellence in Cartooning, is fighting the good fight for the political cartoon industry. Originally from Canton, Ohio, Bors, 36, has been living and working in Portland for 12 years; he started The Nib six years ago.
The Nib features political cartoons, nonfiction journalistic cartooning and nonfiction comics, and it publishes daily content and quarterly "Power" magazines with themes — "Death," "Family," "Empire," "Scams" and, most recently, "Animals." An entire upcoming edition will be devoted to the pandemic. The Nib also has a strong social media presence.
"Luckily, we have a small but thriving publication that a lot of people seem to like," said Bors, adding that The Nib prints about 7,000 quarterly magazines.
More than 1,000 people signed up for The Nib membership in a two-week period after it was forced to become independent. "It's a 100% reader-supported publication," Bors added.
The website includes daily comics, including those by Bors. Magazine content includes short, nonfiction writing, personal stories, an interview section, features with cartoons and comic strips.
The pandemic has brought economic devastation to many industries, and political cartoons haven't been immune, despite the plethora of content these days. Bors predicts a depression on the horizon and, to go along with the thousands of deaths from COVID-19, he criticizes Trump.
Many cartoonists are left-leaning Democrats; it's just the nature of the business, Bors said.
"I'm definitely on the left, but I criticize Democrats and try not to shy away from that, but I do it from the left," he said. "I won't mind criticizing the Democrat nominee (presumably Joe Biden), and will do so this year, even though Trump's worse and needs to lose."
He added: "In The Nib, we don't run conservatives; we're not seeking balance in that sense. It's from the liberal/left spectrum, and there are not a ton of conservative cartoonists anyway. The world we come from, the indie comic world and caroonists, everyone is left-leaning for the most part. I'm running a publication with a point of view. ... I'm fine with taking a stand on that stuff (Trump, equality, social justice, climate change, etc.) and not hearing from the other side. We get plenty of that in the media."
The Nib has members from around the country. Bors said political cartoons are still an important medium.
Other than paying freelancers and himself, Bors' expenses include a printer, an editor and other help. The Nib used to have an office space in Portland. Now, it's Bors' Southeast Portland home and the home of an editorial assistant who does shipping and other duties.
"I'm going to do this as long as people are willing to support comics and make this happen," Bors said.
For more, see www.thenib.com.
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