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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 10/27/2010

Georgetown talk: Pulitzer cartoonist MARK FIORE on the midterms, Meg Whitman & good ol' Mark Twain

By Michael Cavna

It's no overstatement to say that MARK FIORE has had a career year. Last December, the Bay Area-based freelance cartoonist was trying to persuade new clients to buy his political animations and trying to convince the good folks at Apple that his work belonged in their App Store. This was also about the time that his wife -- with the sort of clear-eyed conviction that sometimes only spouses have -- nominated her husband's portfolio for a Pulitzer.

With a one-two punch, the professional whirlwind soon struck.

In April, Fiore at age 40 became the first political cartoonist to win the Pulitzer Prize for a submission entirely composed of animation. That same week, when word got out that Fiore's app had been rejected by Apple, the headlines prompted the company to urge the cartoonist to resubmit his app -- and ultimately helped lead to Apple's publishing of guidelines for iPhone/iPad app submissions.

Fiore's profile and client list quickly increased, and today the self-syndicated cartoonist comes to our nation's capital to speak about political satire as part of the Georgetown University lecture series "In the Spirit of Mark Twain."

Comic Riffs caught up with Fiore to discuss the state of the Union, the state of his career -- and what the future holds for the cartoonist who says that he, like Juan Williams, was once booted from NPR after remarks made on Bill O'Reilly.

MICHAEL CAVNA: So what can we expect to hear at your Georgetown talk -- do you come to our fair city bearing any special message?

MARK FIORE: I'll be arriving in Washington, D.C., traveling from the Western Territories, as part of Georgetown's "In the Spirit of Mark Twain" lecture series. It's a huge honor for me to be speaking at an event that, among other things, commemorates the 100th anniversary of Twain's death, a celebration I'm sure he'd get a kick out of. While I will touch on the state of political cartooning in general, I'll probably spend much more time talking about the Tea Party, witchcraft and Aqua Buddhas, because clearly there is some sort of Cosmic Nexus of Satire underway.

MC: You've had roughly a half-year to see the wonders of a Pulitzer win transform your life. So: How has it transformed your life -- be it more clients, more attention or just better treatment 'round the house?

MF: Life after the Pulitzer has been wonderful. It didn't take me long to realize that, even though it feels like it, winning the Prize is not like winning the lottery, after all the celebration, you go right back to work. I've actually felt more pressure to live up to the Pulitzer Prize, which I think is one of the best things about a prize like this -- the never-ending post-Prize pressure to avoid professional slackery.

On the business side, yes, it made a bit of an immediate tangible difference, but the main difference is feeling like there are loads of opportunities on the plate before you. I'm finding, however, you still have to burn the midnight oil and work your butt off to make those opportunities a reality, whether it's in online political animation or maybe-possibly-perchance television.

MC: Catch us up, if you will, on your iPad/iPhone app: Has it proved at least as popular as you'd hoped -- and what are your thoughts now on Apple's changing its policy and providing "some" submission guidelines regarding satire?

MF: The NewsToons app story was definitely the second-biggest surprise to hit me this year. The app has done much better than I had ever thought possible, due in no small part to the efforts of Apple and Steve Jobs. And by "efforts," I mean tinkering and rejiggering their policy towards satire. I'm very glad Apple changed their policy towards satire and political cartoon apps, although the guidelines still seem a little funny to me:

4.10: Thou shall never defame or critique in a naughty way thy fellow man or woman ever, ever, ever.

4.11: Professional satirists and professional satirists alone shall defame and critique in a naughty way, man, woman, child or beast.

And for that I am grateful.

MC: With the midterms upon us, so many voters polarized and so many interesting figures on the electoral landscape, are you finding this an especially fertile time to be a political cartoonist? And do you have any favorite satiric targets right now?

MF: It is an amazing time to be a political cartoonist, it's hard to keep up with all the cartoonable characters out there. No matter what side you're on, you've got to admit that the Tea Party has been a godsend for political cartoonists. From Nazi symbolism to tri-cornered hats to nutty political views, the Tea Party has made my job much more entertaining. Wars, torture and foreclosures are the meat but Palinisms and anti-masturbation candidates are the fun fluffernutter of a balanced cartoonist's diet.

MC: Will you still be in D.C. for Saturday's Stewart/Colbert rallies to restore sanity/fear -- and any thoughts on their roles and would-be influence as fellow satirists?

MF: Yes, I'll be around for the Stewart/Colbert festivities. Both those shows are great, I'm so glad that talented writers and everybody who produces those shows are being meeting with such success -- it gives me more hope for the future of satire. They're probably the most powerful form of satire out there today.

MC: As a Californian, you've got the Meg Whitman-vs.-Jerry Brown race, of course, and a host of interesting issues -- has anything in the state particularly had you licking your chops as the best "red meat" fodder for a political cartoonist?

MF: The Meg Whitman/Carly Fiorina "lack-of-voting-until-I-become-a-rich-former-CEO-and-decide-to-jump-into-politics" has a special place in my heart. Being home to the most expensive self-financed race in the most financially messed-up state is not something that goes unnoticed by a political cartoonist. That, and yachts are fun to draw.

MC: Particularly since you're speaking in a university setting, any advice for any young people who might still entertain the hope and dream of a being a political cartoonist -- be it print or animation or via some other form?

MF: My main bits of advice are:
1.) if you really love it, just keep doing it;
2.) get the bad cartoons out of your system as soon as you can, it'll get better and you'll enjoy it even more; and
3.) join the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (of which I am a member). Meeting, talking and hanging-out with other cartoonists was invaluable to me when I was starting out, now they're all my friends so I still have to hang out with them. Seriously, it's an isolating sort of art, so it's very important to spend time with people who have a similar passion, you can learn a lot about your work, their work and the business in general.


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By Michael Cavna  | October 27, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  | Tags:  Georgetown University, Mark Fiore, Pulitzer Prizes, political cartooning  
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