Episode 29: Matt Bors: The Pen Is Mightier


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Matt Bors is an independent political cartoonist. He’s never had a staff job, and he’s never drawn a banker holding bags of money where the banker is labeled “banker” in capital letters and the bags of money have giant dollar signs on them. You’ve certainly seen Matt’s work before, but you may not have known that he created it. You’ll recognize his style when you visit his site. Matt joins me from Portland, Oregon, to talk about his whole career with a special focus on the last year and a half.

Find him on Twitter @mattbors.

Show Notes

Herbert Block (Herblock) was a subversive and unrestrained political cartoonist active from 1929 to 2001! He coined the term McCarthyism. He funded a foundation that awards $15,000 to an awardee and $5,000 to a finalist (and pays for the taxes, too, so that’s a net amount).

Comic strips were traditionally and still largely are distributed by syndicates that contract a large number of cartoonists and sell the strips to newspapers. United Media is now called Univeral Uclick. Matt mentioned Rich Stevens (“Diesel Sweeties“) and Keith Knight (“K Chronicles“, “Knight Life“), who had come on board along with him due to Ted Rall, an acquisitions editor at the time.

Zach Weinersmith is a successful webcomics artist who appeared in Episode #15, “Serial Artistry.” The Times of India has the largest circulation of any English-language newspaper in the world. For all the complaints about declining circulation, tens of millions of people read a newspaper every day in America.

Matt’s Steve Jobs cartoon parodied the pearly gates notion of heaven, reminded us Jobs was a Buddhist, made fun of other obituary cartoons, and critiqued Apple’s outsourced Chinese manufacturing labor. Glenn took photos of the Apple Store near his house after Jobs had passed away: people created a makeshift memorial.

The Onion‘s editorial cartoonist, Stan Kelly, is a parody of every tired trope of editorial cartooning. The person who actually draws Stan Kelly is…a secret. But examine some popular cartoonists’ styles. The Webby Awards charges a high rate to enter, gets thousands of submissions, and grosses $3 million. I covered Matt receiving the Herblock Prize for BoingBoing.

Matt illustrated Scott McNulty’s article for The Magazine, “Roll for Initiative,” about how Dungeons & Dragons helped him work through some aspects of his introversion. We publish our pay rate. NSFWCorp is a subscription online and print publication that pays contributors well, too. Matt is creating regular work for them. NSWFCorp tried and shut down its porous paywall, which let people read a few articles a month.

The Order of the Stick raised nearly $1.3 million for its print editions and add-ons. Tom Tomorrow released a plush Sparky via Topatoco. BuzzFeed is becoming a real news organization.

Matt has an $18-per-year subscriber newsletter that has a few hundred members who get advance cartoons and other extras. His Kickstarter last October let him print thousand of books using the funds raised, and every one he sells now is gravy. I answered the question at the Economist, “Is it unfair for famous people to use Kickstarter?