April 14, 2014
Siers’ self-drawn Twitter picture.

Kevin Siers daydreamed and drew through school, doodling as he listened. Then, in the fifth grade, he and his teacher had a talk.

“And he just took me aside and said, look, I want you to make me some comic books,” Siers said in a phone interview with Poynter.

So Siers created a superhero knockoff. The winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning didn’t launch into the local newspaper from there, though. Siers went to work in the ore mines after high school in Biwabik, Minn. But while there, Mark Washburn wrote on Monday for the Observer, he submitted a cartoon to The Biwabik Times. From the Observer:

“So I said, I guess I could do this,” Siers said.

When he returned to the university, he began doing editorial cartoons for the campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. He got to know Steve Sack, political cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and last year’s Pulitzer winner for editorial cartoons.

“Sack was my mentor,” Siers said. “He’d take me out to lunch and show me grown-up cartoonist tricks.”

Siers has been with the Observer since 1987, said Taylor Batten, editorial page editor, in a phone interview with Poynter. Batten said Siers is a voracious reader who doesn’t just read headlines and throw something together, but he approaches his work with knowledge and background.

“He’s a journalist first and a journalist who expresses his ideas through cartoons,” Batten said.

Siers was early to offer readers the chance to write their own captions, helping to get them involved online, Batten said.

“The New Yorker did it first, but I think he did it second.”

The win is the first for the Observer in 26 years, though it has been a finalist several times, Batten said. Siers thought he may have won because he’s not partisan with his pen. Some cartoonists seem to just take one party’s talking points, but he tries to look at both sides.

“If there’s a big softball sitting out there, I want to hit it, no matter which side pitched it,” Siers said.

Despite troubles the journalism industry now faces, there continue to be talented young cartoonists, Siers said, and he believes there’s a future for his craft.

“I think the medium is thriving online,” he said. “The trick is trying to find a way to pay the people who are coming up with such great content.”

That will take shape, though, because cartooning is a great way to comment on the news, Siers said.

On Monday afternoon, he was a little more concerned about his own immediate future. Siers was busy adding color to the 20 cartoons that won the Pulitzer, which will run Tuesday in the paper.

“And if I ever get that done,” he said, “then I’ll go have a beer and pizza.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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