Cartooning in the USA: a conversation with Marty Two Bulls Sr.

Published on June, 18 2021

A few days after the Pulitzer Prize announced its awards, deciding not to assign one in the Cartooning category, we had the pleasure to interview one of the finalists, Marty Two Bulls Sr.

Marty is an Oglala Lakota originally from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He started drawing editorial cartoons at his high school newspaper, and that hobby became a profession. His cartoons are now distributed in various newspapers in the US, taking on themes related to the Native American community, a group that has been persecuted and marginalized by the dominant culture.

Marty, why did you become an editorial cartoonist?

I’m an artist, that basically means I’m working all the time. I draw all the time. When I was in high school I thought that working on the school newspaper was a great way to avoid English classes. But I didn’t want to write stories. So I did graphics and editorial cartoons. Never knowing I would do this as a profession.

We know that cartoons spread fast and often have a strong impact on the audience. What do you think they add to the public discourse?

I worked in daily newspapers and wrote editorials. I noticed nobody read them, but they do read and remember cartoons. It is a great way to get the readership to think and maybe form an opinion on topics that directly or indirectly affect their lives.

But being a cartoonist can be tough. What are the main challenges of your profession?

Finding outlets in newspapers, it seems cartoons are the first thing cut from budgets as the medium flounders.

“The medium is adapting and growing. Into what, when, and how, is anybody’s guess. One thing for sure is we will not be going away.”

That’s true. The number of cartoonists in the US shrank from more than 2000 staff cartoonists on the eve of the 20th century to around 40 nowadays! What do you think the function of awards is in this? Can they help?

They can. They offer recognition. Cartoonists work in isolation so it is nice to see that our work is appreciated. Also monetary. We are business people and the awards bring attention to our product.

And how did you feel about the Pulitzer Prize decision of not awarding cartoonists this year?

The decision on indecision. I think they were caught up in their own rules and in the confusion could not reach a consensus.

Why so?

The problem is that we are not judged by our peers. Sure there were cartoonists on the selection committee but the board was made up of writers and scholars. Many on the board came up the ranks in newspapers. These are the people young cartoonists rallied against to get their stuff printed. Many times an editor shot down an idea or made suggestions that killed the cartoon in the cradle. My big worry is that in the future Pulitzer contestants will only submit work that appeals to the board’s humor. Ironic latte jokes for instance.

How will the Pulitzer’s decision impact the world of editorial cartoonists?

Political cartoonists will always find a platform. We in the US are not valued but that is no big deal. In other countries our contemporaries are arrested and murdered. We write and draw these cartoons in the hopes that a small grain of truth will grow into something bigger.

How do you see your profession evolving?

We are in the middle of the computer age. The medium is adapting and growing. Into what, and how, is anybody’s guess. But one thing is for sure: we cartoonists will not go away.