Jen Sorensen, The Free Weekly’s contributing cartoonist, received the honor of being second place Pulitzer finalist this year for her witty, biting and powerful editorial cartoons.
That’s right. By association, we’re publishing Pulitzer-worthy stuff, y’all.
Working as a freelance cartoonist, Sorensen’s work can be found throughout the country in more than 25 alt-weekly newspapers like The Free Weekly. Her work seeks to speak to the absurdity in current events and bring lesser known topics to light through her cartoon characters.
Her editorial cartoons were selected by the Pulitzer committee “for a thoughtful and powerful selection of work appearing in a variety of U.S. publications and often challenging the viewer to look beyond the obvious.” We thought so too when we started publishing her work.
It’s not every day you have a Pulitzer finalist in a local newspaper. So we thought we’d seize this opportunity to highlight our brightest star and talk with her about her work and her achievement:
TFW: Where were you when you found out you were a Pulitzer finalist?
SORENSEN: I was at my friend’s apartment trying to get my cartoon done. I was all by myself. I knew the announcement was coming Monday, but it was during my cartoon crunch time. I wasn’t following it in real time. I got an email from one of my colleagues that said “Hey, congrats on being a finalist.” When I found out, it was this moment of extreme relief. I thought to myself, “Wow, not everything in the world is terrible right now. Some good things can still happen.” It feels like the last year has been a series of political disappointments. It’s easy to become very pessimistic. So I did a little happy dance, and then I had to immediately get back to work. I had a really difficult time focusing with Twitter notifications and my phone ringing. It was a real test of my ability to concentrate, which isn’t the greatest to be honest. The award belongs to everyone who’s ever run my cartoons. I couldn’t have done it without having a whole bunch of clients.
TFW: When did you start making editorial cartoons?
SORENSEN: I started in the late 90s. It was just purely surrealist. It was only around the 2000 election with 9/11 and the political events that followed where it became a lot more political, so about 17 years. I cringe that it’s been that long. Around 10 years ago I went full time as a freelancer. For the past two and a half years I’ve also been editing comics at Fusion.
TFW: What’s your approach to how you make your comics and come up with topics?
SORENSEN: The best approach is to go with whatever is upsetting you or makes you angry that week. Sometimes I feel like I come across things no one is talking about. Going with that initial impulse, this is what I want to talk about, that’s the first step. It’s not guaranteed that it’s going to work. Sometimes you can’t turn what you want to talk about into a funny cartoon. I start with a blank sheet, write idea bubbles all over it. Sometimes a strip will cohere from all of it. Then it’s a matter of going through several drafts before I start doing anything for real. I’ll get rid of excess verbiage and work on the pacing.
TFW: Your political opinions are clear through your work. What’s your perspective on today’s tumultuous events?
SORENSEN: I’ve been struggling with the frustration. I feel like last year I was trying so hard to communicate how we had to stop this before it happens. Some of my readers would write me and say, “Trump’s just a boogey man, he never gonna get elected.” It’s much better to stop these things before they happen when you have the power. Also, I’ve been impressed by the uptick in activism among progressives. I wish it could have happened sooner.
Getting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court… what the GOP did there was so vile and people should have been outraged about the travesty of justice. We just kind of let it happen and no one in any position of power did anything to get in the way of it. I feel frustrated that it’s too little too late. But I’m heartened by the level of political engagement and organizing around the country. People have to keep that up for the next four years, at least.
I think there’s a lot of things that happen under the radar. A lot of environmental stuff Trump is doing with protections Obama put in place… and I’m not saying Obama was 100 percent perfect, but few people are talking about it. There’s so many little things that are happening that just aren’t quite social media friendly. That’s one thing I try to address in my cartoons.
More than ever I feel like I need to include an informative component in my cartoons. When Trump was elected and even before, I felt like drawing him in a political cartoon normalizes him. This is beyond making jokes in politics. This is far beyond business as usual. It gradually became inevitable. I really want to avoid making Jay Leno-style gags. I don’t want to just go for cheap laughs. I think it’s important to educate and find humor in our current situation.
Here’s a few of Jen Sorensen’s cartoons we’ve published: