JUDGING BY THE shadowy job done at Gobbler’s Knob this year, as Punxsutawney Phil proved less weather-reliable than a windy Dylan lyric, 2013 hasn’t exactly been a sterling year for East Coast prognosticators.
Which means that before the Pulitzer Board dispenses its trophies, Comic Riffs must dispense its usual caveats. To wit:
1. Comic Riffs would not be shocked, surprised or gobsmacked if any prior Pulitzer winners picked up the hardware again this year. OK, wait – let me rephrase that: I would be shocked if a prior Pulitzer winner from a different category won the Editorial Cartooning prize (yes, I’m including even Weingarten). And I would be even more mystified and long-jawed if a dead prior Pulitzer winner won for cartooning in 2013.
But with those nitty caveats safely behind us, you get my meaning, fellow fans. (I also would not be blindsided if a previous Pulitzer finalist – like last year’s Jack Ohman, who recently relocated to the Sacramento Bee – was recognized after his several decades at the board.)
2. I also would not be stunned or stymied if a “Mike” or “Matt” had his name inscribed on the new Prize. That is, of course, because you can’t swing a dead cartoonist’s crowquill pen over your head without hitting a Mike or a Matt, let alone a Mark. (See: Luckovich; Ramirez; Thompson, or Wuerker; Bors; Davies — etc., ad infinitum and ad nauseam.) What can we say: For a generation or three, the Biblically named M’s have flocked to cartooning.
With those formalities dealt with, let us now plunge into the hits and abysses with Five Things to Look for as the Pulitzer Steeplechase Approaches:
1. Will an “alt” cartoonist be among the finalists?
This, I’d certainly love to see. It’s been more than a quarter-century since Jules Feiffer won the Pulitzer for his Village Voice cartoons. The syndicated “altie” Matt Bors was a finalist last year, so it just might be his time. But it’s more than that: I hope that the Pulitzers might take a (weekly) page from the Herblock Prize and carefully consider not only Bors (who won the 2012 Herblock), but also Jen Sorensen (the 2012 Herblock finalist) and their generational alt-father, Tom Tomorrow (the nom-de-toon of Dan Perkins), who later this month will pick up his Herblock winner’s check at the Library of Congress. Consider just those three and Brian McFadden, for starters, and it’s already a rich crop from which to harvest.
2. Will someone from the “younger generation” of political cartoonists grab the brass ring?
Besides the left-leaning Bors, Sorensen and McFadden, the “under-40” class of political cartoonists in a somewhat graying field prominently includes the right-leaning Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch. It would be a sign of healthy recognition and encouragement if any one of those four makes the final cut.
3. Will a woman win the Prize?
It’s been more than a decade since The Post’s Ann Telnaes won the cartooning Pulitzer, becoming only the second woman to win the Prize, after Philadelphia’s Signe Wilkinson in 1992. Telnaes continues to create stellar animation, and Sorensen is a bitingly hilarious master of the multi-panel — so those two women, in addition to Wilkinson and the Post News Service-syndicated Lisa Benson, are certainly worthy a very close look for their work in 2012.
4. Will a comic “stripper” be among the finalists?
Comic Riffs raised this same point last year: that “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau — the first comic-strip cartoonist to win the Pulitzer — is overdue for a second Prize. He is a three-time finalist, and his satire remained razor-sharp in 2012. An eye-catching portfolio would most likely consist of: (a) his stories that focus on the military, often on the front lines; (b) his controversial abortion-law strips that were pulled or moved by scores of newspapers; or (c) both.
Also tackling serious social issues last year — to name just two — were Tom Batiuk’s “Funky Winkerbean” strips about protests over a gay couple going to prom, and the Trayvon Martin story-arc in Darrin Bell’s “Candorville” (which is distributed by the Post syndicate).
5. Will a “mixed” portfolio win out?
The Bay Area-based freelancer Mark Fiore continues to be the first and last cartoonist to win for a portfolio consisting entirely of animation. But even a portfolio that’s part-animation, part-static cartoon could prove attractive to judges — especially given the level of craft exhibited by such cartoonists as Telnaes (though her Post work is animation-only), Houston’s Nick Anderson and Detroit’s Mike Thompson.
With all those questions in mind, Comic Riffs should also note: There are comics journalists and graphic novelists who are worthy of Pulitzer consideration. Topping my list would be the stellar Joe Sacco, whose career achievement could be recognized with a special citation for his 2012 “greatest hits” collection, “Journalism”; as well as the superstar Chris Ware, whose 2012 “book-in-a-box” “Building Stories” is a rare and towering achievement in multi-form storytelling.
The Pulitzers smartly honored Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” more than two decades ago with a special citation; it is time again to recognize a great “graphic novel.”
Just not, of course, in the Editorial Cartooning category.
Those are my thoughts on Monday’s Pulitzers — what are yours? (All predictions welcome.)