Pia Guerra is best known as the co-creator and lead penciler of Y: The Last Man, but these days you’re more likely to spot her work on The Nib or in the New Yorker. Starting in 2017, Guerra has been drawing detailed editorial cartoons, tackling issues like school shootings, immigration, and possibly most importantly, critiquing the current American president. Me the People comes out today, from Image, dropping just in time to rile you up for the mid-term elections. I was able to ask Guerra a few questions about how she came to political cartoons from comics.
What inspired you to initially pivot to editorial cartooning from more traditional comic book art?
I did editorial cartoons for the high school paper, I always found it interesting but I felt I wasn’t quite doing it right; the cartoons never looked like the ones I saw in newspapers so I figured I wasn’t getting it. My main goal was to work in comics from very early on so I focused on that but every now and then I’d draw something in a sketchbook about a news story, something I was angry about and share it with friends. With Facebook and Twitter, sharing these occasional opinions got some nice responses so I thought about doing more. A few years ago I saw a documentary on Herblock that clarified the process and gave me a better perspective on how to approach it, applied some of those changes and the responses were even better. After the election I was really motivated to do more, these cartoons just started pouring out and people really liked it so I figured I’d keep going. I’m still doing comic book art, just letting this side gig take front and center for a while.
With newspapers cutting comics as they cut budgets, what’s it like getting published as a political cartoonist these days?
After one of my early cartoons, Big Boy, got a lot of hits, I was asked to be a regular contributor to theNib.com which is a website dedicated to editorial cartooning. It’s not a newspaper but it has a pretty good reach. Yes, most newspapers are getting hit hard but a few are still holding strong, especially in the current climate. People still want news, they still want editorial cartoons, they’re looking for it in places that are more immediate than newspapers. There’s this big shift right now and it’s all still evolving. I’m over in this one corner that’s managed to find a foothold. It’s probably very different from the old days. I’m too new to know if it sucks or not, I’m I just glad to have a platform to share some ideas on.
Have you noticed a difference in the reception of your traditionally published cartoons over things published online in The Nib? How do you capture that newspaper reading audience for online publication?
The only real difference is the interactivity involved. On Twitter, the responses are directly addressed to me, people ask questions, send compliments, troll or send veiled threats. The Nib itself doesn’t have a comments section so I don’t get to see how the traffic goes (sometimes Matt will let me know if a cartoon is getting a lot of views). Their Facebook page has comments but those are more like a message board and it doesn’t really work to jump in there and engage.
As for attracting newspaper readers, I have no idea. I have never published in a newspaper other than a little high school paper back in the 80s. I guess the readers will see one of the cartoons posted on their friends’ feeds and I hope they check out the site to see what else is there they might like.
What audience are you hoping to reach with your comics?
Whoever likes them? If they get something out of the cartoons or comics that gives them some enjoyment or food for thought, that’s great. If something I do is not for them, well that’s fine too, there’s a lot out there for them to check out.
Who are some of your favorite political cartoonists working today?
I’m pretty new to following editorial cartoonists, the ones that grab me most right now are Matt Davies and Bruce McKinnon. Other artists I love who I keep and eye out for: David Aja, Olivier Coipel, Kate Beaton, Sarah Andersen, Tom Gauld, Naoki Urasawa and a bunch more I’m blanking on.
Me the People is out in comic shops October 3rd, and in bookstores October 9th.