Jen Sorensen


Jen Sorensen (born September 28, 1974) is an American cartoonist and illustrator who authors a weekly comic strip that often focuses on current events from a liberal perspective. Her work appears on the websites Daily Kos, Splinter, The Nib, Politico, AlterNet, and Truthout; and has appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Progressive, and The Nation. It also appears in over 20 alternative newsweeklies throughout America. In 2014 she became the first woman to win the Herblock Prize, and in 2017 she was named a Pulitzer Finalist in Editorial Cartooning.

Jen Sorensen in 2015

Quotes edit

  • Cartoons are a great medium for demonstrating just how absurd something is, without ever having to say it directly.
    • Interview in Attitude: The New Subversive Cartoonists edited by Ted Rall (2002)
  • My goal with 'Slowpoke' is to present a solidly-written piece of humor that usually entails some form of social or political commentary exposing distinctly ludicrous aspects of American life.
    • Interview in Attitude (2002)
  • Anyone who thinks there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans is a dingdong, Lots of people generalize that they're the same because they both pander to corporate interests. It's true: we live in a plutocracy condoned by a totally ignorant public...I'm not saying Democrats are perfect, but I think there are a lot of good, well-meaning people trapped in the system
    • Interview in Attitude (2002)

Greetings from the Wasteland (2020) edit

  • A lot of my comics are informed by my background in cultural anthropology. That's what I majored in during college. I thought I was going to go to grad school and become a professor. There's a fair amount of overlap between cultural anthropology and cartooning, in that both are about observing culture and deconstructing all these things that we think are normal and set in stone. I've always found it fascinating to look at how we live and question why we do what we do. In college I started reading underground comics by Robert Crumb and Peter Bagge, and I was exposed to Matt Groening's Life in Hell and Roz Chast and Tom Tomorrow for the first time. I actually wrote my senior thesis about a womens' underground comics collective called the Twisted Sisters. One of my favorite cartoonists from this group was the awesomely funky Leslie Sternbergh, who I had the pleasure of befriending years later. Eventually, I got tired of writing papers and burned out on academia. I started to think that maybe I wasn't going to go to grad school, I was just going to draw cartoons.
  • At first, my strip wasn't very political. But after the 2000 election and then 9/11, the news was so intense that it felt weird to not talk about it. That's when my comic started taking a more political turn. I wish I could do more cultural strips just commenting on everyday life, like facial hair and clothing. But nowadays, with everything so apocalyptic, I feel like I'm being frivolous when I do observational humor, although I still try to slip it in now and then. Politics for me is not so much about individual political figures. It is about these larger cultural phenomena. I feel conflicted about using Trump in cartoons. At first, I didn't even want to draw him. I don't want to normalize him. But then I developed this Trump caricature that people really seem to like... But I think he's more of a symptom of a larger process. I don't want to isolate him as the problem because he's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • I know there have been some encouraging signs. I think people have come a long way even since I started cartooning-I mean, gay marriage wasn't legal when I started. I think our collective vocabulary for social justice issues has improved over time. So on a cultural level, we've made some progress. That keeps me going. I've had people tell me that I've radicalized their teenage daughters. But a lot of what I'm doing shouldn't even be considered radical.
  • With all this talk of immigrants assimilating (or not assimilating) into "our culture," it's often implied that said culture is white and Christian. But if you consider that America is, in fact, a highly diverse nation of immigrants, the true outliers seem to be those who view the nation as a monolithic body resembling themselves. If anything, it is these folks who have not fully integrated, and who reject American values.
  • Trump (and Bannon and other right-wing authoritarian leaders around the world) is often referred to as a "populist" because he displays faux concern for the working class and a resentment of science and education, but his policies are in fact grotesquely elitist. If by "populist" we mean whipping up resentment against immigrants and people of color, then we should say that. Otherwise, "populism" is just a lazy euphemism for racism.
  • Very Serious Thinkers are still churning out hacky columns using this dumb binary of "big" vs. "small" government. I saw an ad for The Economist bemoaning the unfortunate necessity of "big government" during the coronavirus crisis. As though the specifics of context and what that government is doing and who it benefits is secondary to some abstract notion of "size. The more relevant divide is "good government vs. bad," or "smart vs. stupid/sadistic."

2017 interview with Comicsbeat edit

  • I’ve always been interested in politics, but when I first got out of college I just wanted to have fun and do non-political work. What happened was the Bush vs Gore election and the Supreme Court [decision]. That was the event that really shocked me into starting to do political cartoons. It was just so outrageous at the time. Then 9/11 and the Iraq War. I prefer doing a mix of straightforward political cartoons and more cultural cartoons about trends and facial hair and things like that. Now I feel silly doing a strip about beards. [laughs] Maybe things will calm down and I can go back to doing cartoons about facial hair. As time went on and politics became more and more dire, that’s what really sent me down that path. Also I started picking up more and more clients that are explicitly political, like dailkos and The Progressive Magazine and once in a while The Nation will run a cartoon. That pushed me in a more political direction as well.
  • I’m doing a lot of worrying about humanity destroying itself these days. I think it is an important role of a political cartoonist. I think sometimes it’s probably more acute than others. It’s something that’s hard to deal with sometimes. Right now I find that these aren’t really funny times. There are ludicrous characters and you can make fun of Trump and these ridiculous nominees, but at the same time I don’t want to normalize him. I find myself not even wanting to draw him. I mean, I do and I will, but I don’t want to treat him like any other President. I’ve been struggling with that. How to be humorous at a time when things are just very serious. I guess what I wind up doing is somewhat darker humor, darker cartoons, and more informative cartoons that say, this is what’s happening, can you believe it? With the Bush administration things were terrible and there were definitely some dark times, but I felt like you could make fun of Bush for being a buffoon and the implications just weren’t quite as grave. It’s a different time now.
  • When I first started out I wasn’t even really political. I just wanted to do surreal R. Crumb-ish comics. In the early days, I wanted to be as weird as possible. In the late nineties, in alt-weeklies, it seemed like we lived in times that allowed for absurdist humor. That would feel a little more frivolous now. Over time I feel like I have a greater sense of urgency to make a point and to tell the truth. Hopefully in an amusing way. I’m not trying to be as weird as I possibly can. I think I’m trying to make things a little simpler now, and more accessible.
  • Print media started collapsing in the mid-2000s. When I first started out, it seemed like alternative news weeklies were the future of newspapers. It was a booming industry. It was a product of the nineties and that nineties mentality. At the time, I had a day job at the University of Virginia and I was sending my strip out and picked up one paper here and another paper there very gradually. I was building up a client list and then that fateful day where Village Voice Media dropped comics across the entire chain. I was actually spared the worst of that. I think I was just in the Village Voice at the time, but that was a big loss. Not that the pay was all that great, but it had been my goal to get into that paper. At the time I really wasn’t sure whether I would be able to continue, but then dailykos came along and picked up a bunch of alt weekly cartoonists and breathed some life into our industry online. They did really well on dailykos they were shared a lot and got good traffic and I think it set a precedent. Not that it was the first home for political cartoons online, but something about dailykos at that moment turned the tide a bit. A few more websites started running political cartoons – and paying fairly for them. People started realizing that they were highly shareable and that they could do well online. I’ll add that print has stabilized. At least it had stabilized under the second Obama administration. I actually added papers during that time. I wouldn’t say this is a growth industry. I think it would be very hard to break into now, but I did get the sense that print media had stabilized and some papers were doing okay. For me it’s really a hybrid now between print and digital. Certainly the digital side of things has grown the most in the past few years.
  • [Editing has] been a real learning experience. I think it makes you a better writer. Suddenly viewing things from that editor’s perspective it makes you aware of so much. I guess I like it. I feel like years of doing comic strips and constantly having to simplify them to fit everything into four little panels has given me tools to look at a piece and cut out excessive verbiage and to get things as concise as possible. It has been really interesting suddenly wearing the editor’s hat and realizing how involved an editor’s job is and how many details they have to keep track of. It’s certainly made me more sympathetic to editors. We cartoonists like to complain about them, but it is a tough job.

Slowpoke: One Nation, Oh My God! (2008) edit

  • I, for one, think good political cartoons retain their value for decades. You can learn a lot from those old "Doonesbury" books. I might add that we cartoonists who lambasted the Bush administration from the beginning have been proven more accurate than most of the highly-paid gasbags you see on television. Historians and television producers, please take note.
  • Many cartoons in this book are not overtly political. One can only write so many strips about torture before one needs to lighten up with a riff on Gucci flipflops. Lots of people seem to think we cartoonists will be struggling for material when Bush leaves office, but I will personally be relieved to get off this spiraling Swift Boat to hell.
  • I'm also tired of being called a "radical," a word that even many otherwise-astute progressives apply to themselves. Since when is it radical to not want mercury in my tuna salad? Or to have an aversion to killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians unnecessarily? I'm the normal person here. The people running the country are the off-the-meter nutballs.
  • I would like to propose a moratorium on the terms "values voters" and "moral issues." These are nothing more than Big, Fat Right-wing Euphemisms, and the media seem perfectly happy to deploy them uncritically. Such language falsely implies that progressives don't have values and don't care about morality, and that morality itself is pretty much limited to the circumstances under which people can bump nasties. As opposed to, say, dooming thousands of people to premature death every month from air pollution.
  • one of my biggest pet peeves is the term "political correctness," a destructive, right-wing phrase that is parroted even by many socially-conscious types. It is a label loaded with bias, frequently applied with a broad brush to anything progressives stand for. In reality, right-wingers are masters of "political correctness": ridiculous euphemisms and denunciations of anyone who does not parrot their insane ideas. I find this political correctness, with its insistence on blind patriotism, to be far more pernicious.
  • It's appalling how the puritanically correct in this country fixate on homosexuality to the exclusion of grave moral issues like the suffering of innocents in Iraq.
  • Once upon a time, the U.S. government was distinct from the private sector. It seems almost quaint now, but elected officials actually tried to protect the public good and maintain a degree of ethics in the marketplace. Now, corruption is de riguer for even well-meaning politicians. If you ask me, the only way out of our current system of legalized bribery is with 100% publicly-financed elections. Compared to the Iraq War, this reform would cost nothing. And it might help us avoid such wars in the future.
  • It must be nice to live in a world where the truth is whatever you want it to be. In addition to the former oil lobbyist's edits shown in the first panel, the Bush administration also watered down a 2005 G8 statement on global warming. One of the changes was the deletion of the opening statement, "Our world is warming." Global warming is a perfect example of something often treated as a "liberal" issue, one side of a two-sided argument. But it's not, unless you're pro-drowning the people of Tuvalu.
  • Not too long after the Iraq War began, I read an article that quoted a Hummer "patriotic." I guess that's what counts as sacrifice for the war effort these days: driving an overpriced, gas-sucking monstrosity that resembles a military vehicle. I'm sure the troops appreciated this show of solidarity.
  • I'm not sure how Bush's "ownership society"-that fun-sounding euphemism for paying for everything from your healthcare to your retirement out of your own savings-is supposed to work if people don't earn enough to own anything.
  • Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud says we identify with stylized characters like Charlie Brown more than with photorealistic ones. I agree, especially when it comes to CGI animation and video games. Give me Mario and Luigi in the chunky, two-dimensional mushroom kingdom any day.
  • This basic misconception is at the root of so many problems with our political discourse. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people who think I'm an "America hater" because I criticize the Bush administration. These same people, I'm sure, hardly perceived criticism of Bill Clinton's presidency as an attack on the country itself. I guess mocking the guv'ment is acceptable only when Democrats are in the White House.
  • This strip refers to the "War on Christmas," the rabble-rousing myth Fox News perpetuates every year, condemning those who dare to wish someone "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Interpreting a small effort to be inclusive of, say, Jews celebrating Hanukkah as a declaration of war on Christianity is simply the height of chutzpah.
  • There's often a "freedom from" that is the flip side of "freedom to." Isaiah Berlin wrote about this in his famous essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty." In an age when the word "freedom" is so abused, its double-edged nature is important to remember.
  • I know it's my job to find humor in the gradual destruction of America as we know it, but I sometimes reach a point where I am so repulsed by the Bushies, and so exasperated by the Democrats, that I can hardly stand to draw cartoons about them. So I drew a cartoon about being sick of politics. Yes, even we cartoonists get discouraged.
  • This is how politics works in the age of right-wing media domination: invoke a powerful stereotype, preferably in the form of a carefully-crafted sound bite, and people forget to think.
  • It's a classic Republican maneuver: redefining massive global conglomerates as YOU.
  • being opposed to poisoning humanity does not make one an elitist. Many progressives swallow the "liberal elite" narrative themselves, reproducing the right-wing frame. I call this participating in your own disempowerment.
  • In my opinion, the EPA's lie to New Yorkers that the air was safe to breathe after 9/11 it was not was one of the worst when its own scientists suggested it was not was one of the worst crimes of the entire Bush era.
  • Every so often, something happens that reminds you viscerally of the supremely unfair, amoral nature of the universe. For me, the death of Molly Ivins was one of those things. A genuinely funny woman with whom I agreed more consistently than perhaps any other pundit, Molly was often a source of inspiration to me. Her columns planted the seed for more than one Slowpoke cartoon.
  • People are suckers for plausible narratives that confirm stereotypes, no matter how untrue they may be.
  • Writers create so much value in the entertainment industry, it is criminal what a small percentage of the profits they get.
  • As I mention in the strip, I'm not saying Iraq isn't important. It's pretty damn egregious if I say so myself. But as John Edwards has said, "It's time for us to be patriotic about something besides war." The news media tend to elevate the importance of military matters above domestic concerns (that is, whenever they aren't talking about coked-up celebrity bimbos). Issues that affect millions of Americans, like the bankruptcy bill, receive comparatively scant coverage.
  • That so many people get their knickers in a bunch about other people's purported "laziness" while being grossly misinformed themselves has always struck me as a tremendous double-standard. Personally, I prefer the thought of my taxes going to some poverty-stricken place in rural America (where a majority of welfare dollars are spent) than to crooked contractors in Baghdad. But that's just me.
  • the excesses of the credit card industry illustrate why we need consumer protections.
  • overzealous worship of the 'magic of the market' becomes a religious belief system
  • One of the worst Bush administration acts you haven't heard about is their giving the green light to mountaintop removal mining.
  • I'm ethically conflicted about eating something smarter than my dog
  • There have been exceptions, but most of the time the effort to reclaim a regressive epithet fails as a political strategy. Among the worst is "tree hugger." Not wanting climatic catastrophe has little to do with the quasi-spiritual groping of conifers, yet that is how those of us concerned about the environment have been stereotyped. I mean, I like trees as much as anyone, but the term "tree hugger" is dripping with connotations of hippie-dippy hysteria. Using it ironically to reclaim it from the anti-science crowd may make us chuckle, but it's still letting them define us on their terms.
  • The GOP spends a lot of time trying to paint progressives as out-of-touch, ivory tower elites. But if anything, that distinction goes to the so-called "neocon intellectuals" like Norman Podhoretz, the inspiration for Dr. Plonk. In a 2007 Wall Street Journal editorial, Podhoretz said he prays "with all his heart" that we will bomb Iran, making the usual facile comparisons to World War II
  • Democrats remain consistently cowed by the threat of Republicans calling them "weak on terror." They're going to be smeared no matter what, so they may as well go on the offensive.
  • The Bush administration flatly denies plans for "permanent military bases," which according to the Opposite Rule that applies to everything the Bushies say, means we are building permanent military bases.
  • The presidential primaries are not for the thinking person. All the nonstop chatter about the candidates' temperaments makes me wonder why I even bother to learn about things like, you know, issues...In this precarious time of war, global warming, a health care crisis, and economic woes, this is how we decide the leader of the most powerful nation on earth?
  • When the most privileged and powerful members of society can escape the hassles and declines in service the rest of us must put up with, there's that much less impetus for change. Some might say, "They're paying for it. Get over it." While I understand that reasoning, it seems limited in scope, failing to question the larger system that created the neo-aristocracy in the first place.
  • We cartoonists have a term for the instances when multiple cartoonists inadvertently draw the same thing: a Yahtzee.

External links edit

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