Tom Tomorrow

"My wife teaches at Yale," Dan Perkins says, "and I'm often in situations where people have no idea what to make of me, this alt-weekly cartoonist they've never heard of. This [Pulitzer finalist] allows me to use two words that people understand."

Despite the snarky bite and ironic bent of his long-running This Modern World political cartoon, Dan Perkins (pen name Tom Tomorrow) today seemed to be in a good mood. He should be. Just yesterday he found out he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. 

It was kind of a surprise and kind of not. 

"I enter these things every year," he says. "I never expect to be a finalist. I've been on the outside for so many years. The last person from an alt weekly to win was Jules Feiffer in 1986. Ted Rall [1995 Pulitzer finalist] was in traditional syndication as well as alt-weeklies."

Perkins figured he had too many strikes against him, coming from the world of alternative-weekly newspapers and websites (last February he visited the Weekly's Press Club in Seaside for an art show of his work, which is still up), being the creator of a political cartoon strip that "has too many words" and didn't look like the others.

He was half-monitoring the Pulitzer announcements yesterday—"cringing, gritting my teeth," he says—when he got a text from Matt Bors, another cartoonist who was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer. It read: "Congratulations."

"I said 'ha-ha, stupid joke,'" Perkins says. 

But it wasn't. There it was on the Pulitzer Prizes website: "Dan Perkins, drawing as Tom Tomorrow, of Daily Kos. For cartoons that create an alternate universe -- an America frozen in time whose chorus of conventional wisdom is at odds with current reality."

Perkins figures that time and familiarity had finally caught up with him.

"This year I think people understand the media landscape is changing," he says. "Maybe there were judges who've been reading my stuff for a while. I lived long enough and worked long enough to get over."

He says the application process used to be arduous ("nonsense" is the word he used), requiring submissions of clips in a scrapbook, but that now it's online which has made it easier and faster. He says that a panel of several judges sifts through the entrants to find the three finalists. Then a board, including the president of Columbia University, where the prize first originated, chooses the winner.

This year's winner of the Pulitzer for editorial cartoonist was Adam Zyglis of The Buffalo News.

Earlier this year Perkins won a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators for a strip he drew conflating the original Star Trek with the more mundane or salacious corners of internet activity. His assessment of his own chances of winning or placing for the Pulitzer has been grounded in odds-making.

"I did it every year. I had a better chance of winning the Pulitzer than the lottery. I was one of a group of 200 to be able to win.

His assessment of his Pulitzer finalist nod is also grounded.

"I have to say, it would be lovely to get the brass ring. I don't know if I will ever make it over the Pulitzer board mountain. This may be as good as it ever gets. I'll take it."

Walter Ryce has been an arts writer, calendar editor, culture columnist, sometime photographer, and one-time web content coordinator for the Monterey County Weekly. He began working at the paper, which is based in his hometown of Seaside, in 2007.

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