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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 05/ 1/2009

The Interview: 'Slowpoke' Alt-Cartoonist Jen Sorensen

By Michael Cavna

Until last year, I had read the alt-comic "SLOWPOKE" on occasion, but I had not really READ "Slowpoke." That is, I had not pored over it as a book collection, in which editorial cartoonist Jen Sorensen's superbly ironic worldview comes into full cohesive focus.

Then I met Sorensen, a Charlottesville cartoonist and University of Virginia alumna, at a Small Press Expo in Maryland. I picked up her collections -- including her newest, "One Nation, Oh My God!" -- and not only laughed at her cartoons on the Metro ride home. No, I also smiled. Deeply. The way you do when you begin to fully appreciate a talent.

For The Post's Style & Arts section, I recently asked Sorensen about an economy-related cartoon of hers, titled "First Ironic Great Depression." She offered insights about how the cartoon came to be, as well as related matters, including what the economy has meant for business when you syndicate your own strip.

JEN SORENSEN, on how the economy is affecting her cartooning career:

I've lost several newspaper clients, including my largest, the Village Voice. Village Voice Media has suspended publication of syndicated comics until their financial situation improves.

Like bamboo-eating pandas, we alternative political cartoonists thrive in a very particular habitat -- the free weekly newspaper -- and we're rapidly becoming an endangered species. That's why it's important to let editors know you enjoy our work.




(courtesy of Jen Sorensen)

It's not all bad news, though -- I still have a number of clients, and I've been picking up a fair amount of illustration work lately. It's almost as though editors and art directors felt a disturbance in the force. I'll have a full-page 3-D comic in the June issue of Nickelodeon, and right now I'm working on a piece for the Wellesley Women's Review of Books.





(courtesy of Jen Sorensen)


SORENSEN, on her Ironic Depression cartoon (pictured above):

I thought of the basic premise for this cartoon one evening while I was eating dinner at home with my husband. We have a lot of those proverbial "kitchen table" conversations about the economy. It occurred to me that this recession -- or possibly depression -- was happening at the height of the Age of Irony. News gets quickly processed by the Onion, "Daily Show," Stephen Colbert and purveyors of wacky T-shirts. And cartoonists, I might add! We like to think we're post-everything. Yet no matter how much we try to encompass a situation through ridicule, some problems don't reduce to kitsch all that easily.

There's something very poignant about this. You can make fun of losing your job, but you still need to eat. This is not to say we shouldn't employ humor during difficult times -- far from it! But it has some limitations. It's worth remembering that people declared irony dead after Sept..11, and we saw how long that lasted. So I'm fully confident we will continue to laugh all the way through the Great Depression.2.0: Revenge of the Credit Default Swaps, especially when there are so many CEOs deserving of mockery.

The $150 Bear Stearns T-shirt in the second panel is based on a true story. Someone actually paid that much for one on eBay, shortly after Bear's collapse. Swag from defunct companies instantly becomes "vintage." Or, at least that's what the eBay sellers want you to think.

You'll notice in the fourth panel, the girl is Twittering from a soup kitchen. I'm quite certain some people would give up food before they gave up their cellphones. I can't imagine how the Okies got through the 1930s without the ability to broadcast the mundane details of their westward migration!

This cartoon received a favorable response from readers, though interestingly, more than one zeroed in on a tiny background gag in the third panel: the billboard reading "The Grapes of Snark." They found that to be the funniest part of the whole cartoon. That's how it goes sometimes.

By Michael Cavna  | May 1, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon  
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Comments

Good interview, Michael and Jen. Jen's stuff is great. I buy her newest book at SPX every year, no matter whether or not I had it already. I get a new sketch that way!

Posted by: Mrhode | May 1, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Jen's work is sheer genius.

Posted by: rhompson | May 2, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

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