Tune In To Political Cartoonist Mark Fiore On Relaunched Daytoncitypaper.com
By Mark Luedtke
One of the great advances of the Internet over print media is animation, and the honored profession of political cartooning has expanded to take advantage of the Internet’s power. In particular, Mark Fiore, the first animated, Internet-only cartoonist to win the Pulitzer Prize, is the nation’s top animated political cartoonist. Dayton City Paper is proud to feature Fiore’s cartoons on its newly re-launched Web site at DaytonCityPaper.com.
Fiore grew up in California, doodling then cartooning his way through high school. Because of his interest in politics and cartooning, being a political cartoonist seemed a natural career choice. Fiore headed off to Colorado College in Colorado Springs where he obtained a political science degree. Back then colleges didn’t offer many cartooning courses as Fiore explains, “I took quite a few art classes, more drawing and stuff that leaned toward fine arts. I was up against the fact there weren’t many courses in cartooning, so I figured cartooning was something you could pick up on your own just by doing it, and basically teach yourself, and pick up a class here and there when you found one. But the political side and the history side was something that was more important than how well you could draw a given character.”
After doing cartooning jobs for local papers and little money, building his portfolio and client base, Fiore landed a job as staff cartoonist for the San Jose Mercury News, but the power of the Internet wasn’t lost on him. When Flash was invented and enabled animation on the Internet, Fiore began exploring the possibilities:
“I switched from static to animation around the late 1990s. I was doing a freelance job for an educational Web site, and the people working there had heard of a program called Flash and said maybe we should experiment with some of this animation. So we started to do that on this job, then I took those skills and used that program for my political work. A year or so after that, I started showing that work to my existing print clients. By that time there were newspaper and online news sites that I could start distributing my work to.”
In 2001 Fiore ditched print media for good to focus on a career of online, animated political cartooning, and he never looked back. “The Internet has been great for my business, but also on the creative side, it’s something I enjoy more than a traditional print cartoon. Without the Internet, this wouldn’t be possible.”
Fiore has been good for the Internet, and the Internet has been good to Fiore. He won the National Cartoonist Society New Media Award in 2001 and 2002. He won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award in the cartoon category in 2005 and received the aforementioned Pulitzer this year. “It was in mid-April,” he said. “Oh, who am I kidding. It was April 12.”
Winning the Pulitzer has opened new doors for Fiore. Newsweek is the biggest fish he’s landed since winning. As for the other big opportunities it created, Fiore’s lips are sealed. He doesn’t want to jinx them before the deals are inked. But the main consequence of winning the Pulitzer is he’s become busier. “It makes you feel like you’ve won the lottery, but when you think about it you realize you still have to do this work. In some ways, it’s a double-edged sword. I’m super busy. One of the things about winning the Pultizer is now you have to live up to it.”
Then there’s the competition. The static cartoon business in the print media is cutthroat, and Fiore competes for awards with many talented, traditional cartoonists who aren’t thrilled with the new media. He catches a lot of darts from that competition. And while there aren’t nearly as many animated cartoonists, Fiore has to compete with all video on the Web. His competition is all of YouTube and any other source of video on the Internet, and new videos go viral all the time. Competition keeps Fiore on his toes.
Fiore’s characters include Dogboy and Mr. Dan, an anthropomorphic dog and his rabidly conservative friend, Bunker Buster the Friendly Nuke, Knuckles, a man in an executioner’s mask who enjoys torturing Guantanamo prisoners, Snuggly the Security Bear, a sadistic teddy bear who champions wiretapping and other domestic spying, and Cajun Buzzie the Fly who updates Americans on the rebuilding
of New Orleans after Katrina. But right-wingers aren’t Fiore’s only targets. He doesn’t pull any punches when attacking President Obama either.
Fiore has no connections with the Dayton area, but he says Ohio is a breeding ground for cartoonists. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State is the world’s largest repository of original cartoons. He calls Ohio native Scott Willis a mentor. He’s also a fan of Jim Borgman and Ted Rall, from Ohio and Dayton respectively. He’s very excited to appear on the DCP Web site. Still, for all his critical success, DCP is only his ninth account.
But while the Internet market for animated cartoons is expanding, Congress is waging war against Internet freedom with at least four prominent bills currently under debate. On the battle for Internet freedom, Fiore comments, “I think it will be an ongoing battle. Congress and the White House have been no friend to civil liberties when it comes to domestic spying and common sense. The good news is that the Obama administration’s continued use of the ‘State Secrets Doctrine’ will keep my characters working.” Fiore will never run out of material to write about, that’s for sure.
Fiore has some words of encouragement for children aspiring to be cartoonists or artists in other less mainstream fields. “There are a lot of options to have a career in cartooning or art. With all the movies and animation on the Internet, art has almost become an acceptable career,” he jokes. “It’s hard work, but if you really love it, keep at it.” For anybody getting started as a cartoonist, he recommends joining the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Many members of this organization helped Fiore get his start.
Welcome to the Dayton City Paper, Mark Fiore.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke