Profile: Political cartoonist Rob Tornoe

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You may have noticed something funny around here lately: political cartoons.

Rob Tornoe, a political cartoonist based in Delaware,is now drawing original cartoons for The Center, based on our stories. You'll see his work pop up on publicintegrity.org, our Facebook page and on Twitter. Tornoe also draws cartoons for The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Press of Atlantic City, Media Matters and Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY, among others. You can follow him on Twitter, and Facebook, too.

We asked Rob a few questions to get to know him a little better:

When did you first know you wanted to be a political cartoonist?

Rob: During college, I worked at the local daily paper in town building ads and doing layout. Every so often the editors would let me draw local cartoons for the op-ed pages, and that was the first time it dawned on me that I could turn my love of politics and drawing into a career. Once I started, I was hooked.

So, if you weren't a cartoonist, you'd be a . . .?

Rob: No sure. I have a business and accounting degree of all things, so I guess I'd be a comptroller working for some company counting down the hours until I could retire. Or maybe I would have been a forensic accountant.

Anything — or anybody — off limits in your work?

Rob: Nothing is off limits per se, besides what normal decency would allow. But I do try to exercise caution around controversial subjects, like religion. I don't mind slamming religious groups or individuals if I feel they deserve it, but I wouldn't draw a cartoon mocking religion just for the sole purpose of mocking it. There would have to be a greater underlying point behind it.  

Take us through the “how.” How do you come up with ideas? Do you write the words or draw the images first? How many revisions? How long does it take?

Rob: Everyone always wants to know "how." Honestly, there's no single way. Sometimes a great idea comes to my head right away. Other times, it's a struggle that involves reading about a subject, figuring out all the ins-and-outs that I could play with visually, trying to find the humor, etc.

I tend not to go with the first idea I come up with, since that's the one other cartoonists (and readers) thought of first, too. I always try to dig down to the next layer, and to inject humor into my cartoons. That's not to say political cartoons can't be serious — I just find a funny, thoughtful political cartoon to be quite effective in conveying a message.

Unlike many cartoonists, I still prefer to draw on paper with brushes, pen and ink. Then I scan it and do all my coloring and corrections on a computer before sending it off to editors. Technology has been a dual-edged sword — it's harmed the revenue of newspapers, who happen to employ the large majority of political cartoonists in the country, yet it has afforded me opportunities I would have never had 10 years ago.

Who’s easier to satirize — Republicans, Democrats, Tea partiers, Green Party-ers?

Rob: Even though the tea party really makes it easy at times, they're all equally as goofy and incompetent. I have drawn plenty of cartoons criticizing Obama, and the duo of Romney and Ryan appear as though they'll be cartooning gold during this election cycle.
 
What do you read, watch or listen to everyday?

Rob: I read The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and listen to NPR in the morning. Throughout the day, I'll switch back and forth between MSNBC and Fox News and read countless websites and blogs (but unlike Sarah Palin, I'm unable to read them all). I also love social media sites like Facebook, Reddit and Twitter — they help get a sense of what people are talking about and what stories are emerging.
 
Does your work reflect your own opinions, or does it attempt to reflect popular opinion?

Rob: They are all my opinion. I try to comment on topics that are relevant to readers or part of the broader policy discussion, but the opinions of all my cartoons are my own. I find drawing political cartoons is a lot like boxing. Boxers don't swing as hard as they can with each punch — it's a delicate balance of lighter jabs punctuated by one power uppercut.

Do you think political cartoons have the power to influence voters?

Rob: Well, they certainly have the power to help inform them. Cartoons work well in our over-saturated media environment because they're quick to consume, visual and in your face. They work equally well across all devices, and good ones spread like wildfire across social media. I try to add humor to my cartoons, because I find it has a disarming quality that allows my opinion to permeate better.

I always wondered why political consultants or media websites didn't hire more cartoonists. After all, we're trained since we were kids to read the comics, and while it's easy to throw away that mailer or gloss over a 700-word editorial, people tend to be drawn in by the quick, powerful message of a cartoon.

 
 

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