For more than a quarter century, political cartoonist Jesse Springer has parodied and highlighted the uniqueness that is Oregon. His work has appeared in many regional newspapers across the state. Springer’s latest book, “Only in Oregon” is a compilation of several hundred cartoons taking on everything from climate change to COVID-19 to gerrymandering.
KLCC’s Brian Bull talked to Springer, and asked how he does political cartoons in these polarized times.
Springer: When I’m drawing a cartoon and trying to come up with a concept for a cartoon, I definitely want to think about readers who might not necessarily be predisposed to agree with me. I really don’t want to kind of bludgeon people over the head with my political point of view. That being said, a political cartoon does have a political point to it. So I’m not going to shy away from that. But I do want to try to do it in such a way. And I believe that that humor is that sort of special sauce to this, which is that if I can, if I can make my point with some humor, then hopefully, that will, a person on the other side of the political fence might not kind of immediately raise their armor. And the humor is kind of a way to kind of access people’s psyches a little bit that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get through.
Bull: I imagine one thing that’s changed since you started in the early 90s, is the need to really self-market your work, especially given the state of newspapers today.
Springer: Yes, absolutely, that’s, that’s definitely the backstory here since 1995 up until the present. The advent of people getting news online for free, basically has really dealt a serious blow to traditional news sources in particular, newspapers. And one sign of that is that I haven’t raised the rates of my cartoons since I started in 1995. Because I can see that newspapers, they’re cutting back. They’re looking for excuses to cut back in a way, and so if I said to them, “Okay, well, you know, inflation, I’m gonna raise my rates,” I worry that they’re gonna drop me. So that’s a huge thing, there’s a lot of turnover with editors.
I was running in the Salem paper for years and years and years. I got email from a person in Nashville, who said, “Yeah, we’re no longer running your cartoon and you know, this person’s title was, “Senior Executive Vice President of Customer Experience” or something like that. This is where the decisions are getting made. It’s no longer a local kind of situation and decision cost cutting decisions are getting made, you know, in the central locations. And so, that’s been a huge thing for me.
And just while we’re on the topic, I’ll mention that one thing I started a couple of years ago was a Patreon account. And that is a way for creative folks to monetize what they’re doing. So it’s sort of a subscription model as opposed to the classic model where I would sell my cartoons, newspapers, which I still do, but it’s becoming less and less of a reliable source of income as far as that goes.
Bull: So tell us a little about your new book, please.
Springer: So the title is “Only in Oregon.” I wanted that title to really say this is this is, first of all, all cartoons about Oregon. But I also wanted to say, these things, these events that I’m drawing cartoons about could have happened only in Oregon, it’s a very unique state. There’s so many things that that both politically and culturally, that are unique to it. And so I wanted to sort of capture that fact, and on the back of my book, it says, truth is stranger than fiction, and I really believe that some of the things that have happened to Oregon over the years are really sort of a strange but true.
The Bundys taking over the wildlife refuge. The laws that we have like The Kicker. Things that we have like we have PERS. We have vote-by-mail that we pioneered. We’ve also pioneered death with dignity. So there are all these issues that are very unique to Oregon. And you know, we’re also very strange, right? We’re sort of weird in traditional, we’re liberal and conservative, we’re urban and rural. So there’s just so many different ways in which we get pulled and we’re also very passionate about political issues and not afraid to speak our mind.
So it really it’s a it’s fertile ground for all these things from the comical to the controversial. And so everything in between. That’s what you’re going to find in this book and over 26 years. I’m kind of telling this story through this visual medium of political cartoons. And so there’s a lot of different ways that come at it, but I think you end up with this feeling of how that story unfolded over the course of the years.
Bull: It’s almost like a history lesson, just in comics format.
Springer: One thing I will mention is that in the book, each cartoon is accompanied by a little kind of true fact but dramatized newspaper headline. And so it actually gives you all the context you need to understand the cartoon. So you’ve got a cartoon from 2003, maybe you don’t remember exactly what was happening in March 2003. Well, I’ve got that that newspaper clipping there for you so you can kind of understand everything. so one thing that’s cool about this book is that you can get that history and you don’t have to be a political junkie or have to have been paying attention at that particular time to that particular issue to do get what’s going on here.
Bull: Jesse Springer, thanks for your time. Be well.
Springer: Alright, thanks! Take care.
Note: Jesse Springer’s latest book, “Only in Oregon” can be ordered online at SpringerCreative.com.