ON THURSDAY NIGHT at the Library of Congress, political satirists Garry Trudeau and Matt Bors each offered just the solution for navigating the current perilous shoals of their chosen profession. As in “The Graduate,” advice boiled down to one word — just one word:
Sci-fi was deftly mined for such prime humor at the Herblock Prize ceremony, in fact, you’d have thought the two featured cartoonists had been chaffeured to the event in Doc Brown’s DeLorean.
Bors, the night’s prize-winner, joked that as a political cartoonist lacking a staff job, the best way to get a newspaper to hire the 28-year-old would be for him to leap into a time machine and dial it backward. The Portland-based syndicated comics journalist — the first alt-cartoonist to win the Herblock honor — had told Comic Riffs that he’s not even shooting for a traditional staff position at this point.
(Bors also kidded that because the Herblock award comes with a $15,000 tax-free cash prize, he’d be happy to lend money to Politico’s Matt Wuerker, who “only” received $10,000 for this year's Pulitzer — eliciting a laugh from Wuerker in the audience.)
[WHITHER POLITICAL CARTOONING? A Conversation With Matt Bors]
Trudeau followed Bors onstage with the Herblock Lecture, and soon painted a verbal picture in which his own family members were encouraging him — in his early 60s — to pursue a career reinvention not so dependent on newspapers. The Pulitzer-winning “Doonesbury” creator then launched into his version of time-travel: He read his own obit, which had Trudeau — after dying at age 93 — being best remembered not as one of cartooning’s greatest satirists, but rather as a point guard ... for the New York Knicks.
With expert pacing, Trudeau unfurled his comic conceit. The cartoonist had abruptly switched careers — abandoning the four panels for the hardwood floor panels — and become perhaps the best “short,” white, middle-aged-to-old ball-handler in the league (and the Knicks’ latest Ivy League signee); he had hovered near midcourt, exploiting the 4-point shot the NBA instituted in 2013; and he was fondly remembered by former teammate Carmelo Anthony and courtside heckler Spike Lee, with whom he later co-authored the books ”Your Mother “ and “Your Sister.”
The Herblock crowd was now in the palm of his shooting hand.
Trudeau time-traveled, too, through the power of nostalgic memory, recalling how he was signed out of Yale in 1970 by the fledgling Universal Press Syndicate, and how “Doonesbury” — as the new “dispatches from the youth front” strip -- depended for sales on the old-guard publishers eventually, but inevitably, dying. The cartoonist effectively stoked the warm glow of those halcyon heady days when, as he joked, cluelessness could be misinterpreted for courage. It was an era of newspapering in which Trudeau -- straddling fiction writing and journalism — could trailblaze his own rules of satiric engagement.
Trudeau also offered one last bit of science-fiction. He said that his generation — the Baby Boomer generation — had invented the notion of ”forever young,” clinging to it today well into the AARP-qualifying years. So much so that in a poll of Baby Boomers, many of them cited 80 as the age when someone first becomes “old.” The average life expectancy is 78, the cartoonist wryly noted — meaning that "old" now begins two years after death.
Like the best humorists, Bors and Trudeau are true masters of timing. And both made it clear that we are living in a golden time for smart, informed, sometimes nuanced satire. It’s just not a golden time, comparatively, to be doing it from the pages of a newspaper. As the field navigates the shoals, that was one of the night’s undercurrents. Another was that satire, in some form, will survive and thrive.
Trudeau and Bors are the present and future of political cartooning, and both nodded to the past by citing the memory of Herblock and the current reach and support of his foundation, 11 years after The Post legend’s death.
On this night, even Herblock himself, through his living legacy, seemed to defy time.