‘This Modern World’
‘There’s a lot of competition for eyeballs in the world these days, and I want to put out work that’s worth the time it takes someone to read it.’
Tom Tomorrow is the nom de plume of Dan Perkins, who has been drawing “This Modern World” for 20 years. Now appearing weekly in The Pulse, the political cartoon is a fixture in alternative newsweeklies and appears in some 80 newspapers across the United States and on websites such as the DailyKos.com (where Perkins edits the comics page). His illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Spin, Mother Jones and Esquire, among others. In 2009, Perkins created the cover art for the Pearl Jam album “Backspacer.” His cartoon is the subject of nine published anthologies and he is also the author of the children’s book, “The Very Silly Mayor.” Perkins’ work has been awarded numerous honors, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1998 and 2003. As the late Kurt Vonnegut put it: “Tom Tomorrow is the wry voice of American common sense, humor and decency.” We couldn’t agree more, and engaged Perkins for an email interview to celebrate the launch of “This Modern World” in The Pulse.
The Pulse: Cartoonist Ted Rall wrote recently that political cartoonists are in danger of not only becoming extinct, but some are playing a role in their own demise through plagiarism and laziness. He also blames editors for going with “safe” cartoons and says a lack of quality has also been to blame. How do you keep your work fresh and what do you do to avoid repeating yourself?
Tom Tomorrow: I write one cartoon a week, and have been doing so for about 20 years. What that’s meant for me is that I have the luxury of spending a couple days each week writing and rewriting each cartoon, giving it a lot of thought. The gestation period is crucial. I’m not big on rushing work into print. There are exceptions, but you can generally tell when somebody didn’t really think an idea through. The other thing is to always keep the reader in mind. There’s a lot of competition for eyeballs in the world these days, and I want to put out work that’s worth the time it takes someone to read it. All that being said, I’m one person with a fairly consistent world view and a set of recurrent characters and themes, so there probably is plenty of repetition. I guess the trick is trying to keep the repetition fresh. It’s like something Keith Richards said about rock music once—you have a limited set of chords and riffs, and the trick is to try to do something new within those limitations.
The Pulse: Compared to other alt-cartoonists, you’ve got quite an enterprise going—the comics page of the Daily Kos website, books, album covers, public appearances, etc. You’ve been doing this a long time and it’s been tough going for cartoonists in general and alt-cartoonists, specifically. We’re happy to have “This Modern World” leading off our new comix page, but have you ever thought of giving it all up?
Tom Tomorrow: Oy! Every Monday morning, when it’s time to come up with a new idea. By the end of the process I’m usually pretty happy to be doing what I do. But those Monday mornings when I don’t really have any ideas in mind can be kind of brutal.
Also, I wouldn’t overstate Tom Tomorrow, Inc. For instance, I don’t have a book publisher right now—the Internet seems to have pretty much killed the anthology-publishing part of my career. I have a couple of open offers to do something long form, but it’s like a one-person Gift of the Magi—I have those offers because I am known for the work I do as a weekly cartoonist, but the work I do as a weekly cartoonist leaves me little time to explore those offers.