The Kubert School Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School instructor or alumni, showcasing their work and journey as a comic book professional.

    Talent from The Kubert School


    Rob Tornoe

    Political Cartoonist

    Interview by Michael Kraiger

    The Kubert School: What originally prompted you to attend The Kubert School?

    Tornoe: I was working as a Human Resource manager for a drug store chain, and began get bored with my job. I’ve always drawn and loved comic books, so I figured I'd apply and give it a shot. The way I looked at it, I could always find a job in accounting or human resources, but if I didn't give an art career a shot, I'd regret it all my life. 

    TKS: Who are some of the artists/cartoonists that inspired you? 

    Tornoe: In the world of comics I seemed to be drawn to great storytellers, so Joe Kubert was always at the top of my list. I also loved the work of Alex Toth, David Mazzucchelli, Bill Watterson, and Wally Wood. Later, when I developed an interest in political cartoons, I was drawn to Jim Borgman, Jeff MacNelly and Michael Ramirez. 

    TKS: What got you interested in your current job as a political cartoonist?

    Tornoe: While I was at the Kubert School, I had a job working in the ad department at The Daily Record, a local NJ newspaper. I'd always been interested in politics, but I never thought to pursue political cartoons as a career until they began to publish some of my cartoons.

    TKS: Was there a particular class or assignment at the school that spoke to your interest in political cartooning?  

    Tornoe: Not really. I guess the two closest were Lettering, as Hy Eisman touched on newspaper strips and the history of hand lettering, and some assignments for Alec Stevens’ Design class that were  geared towards editorial illustrations for newspapers. 

    TKS: Is there any one aspect of attending the school that best prepared you for your current career?

    Tornoe: Just balancing the workload. As a freelancer and a small-business owner, time management is the most important skill. Knowing what assignments you can take on, how long it will take to complete them - those skills were honed by three years of the grueling workload at The Kubert School. 

    TKS: I believe you actually started doing and selling political cartoons while still in school. How did that come about?

    Tornoe: If I remember correctly, a weekly business newspaper called NJ Biz was looking to add cartoons to their opinion pages. I was interested, so I sent the editor my work. Eventually, I ended up drawing a cartoon a week for them, which got me noticed by other publications interested in my work. 

    TKS: What's your process for creating a cartoon with a political message?

    Tornoe: The most important aspect is the idea. I scour newspapers, websites and television news for ideas. With the cartoon I try to offer my opinion in a way that is as simple and direct as possible. Most often, I prefer to do this with humor, as I think there's a diffusing quality to a funny cartoon that allows a message to permeate better. But political cartoons don't have to be funny - some of the best cartoons can be sad, angry or even touching. It doesn't matter, as long as they evoke some kind of reaction from the reader. 

    TKS: Besides politics, a lot of your cartoons feature sports and sports fans. Do you feel there is an almost “political-ization” of sports that is equal to the entertainment value of politics?

    Tornoe: To a degree. The Republican Primary for President seems to share a lot of qualities with shows like Survivor, where numbskulls are forced to navigate dumb obstacles in order for win prizes and gain ratings. I think sports aren't as much politicized as they are over-hyped, reaching a point that nearly everyone knows who LeBron James is, but is clueless when it comes to Leon Panetta. 

    The big difference is that sports are meant to be entertainment; politics isn't. However it might be hard to spot much difference in the style of coverage coming from CNN and ESPN.

    TKS: Most of your work seems aimed at state level politics. Is that because that's the focus of your publisher?

    Tornoe: To a certain degree. I enjoy drawing local cartoons because they seem to have more of a direct impact than cartoons focused on national issues. I'm guessing Barack Obama doesn't see many of the cartoons I draw about him, but I know that NJ Governor Chris Christie has glanced at and gotten angry at a number of my cartoons. There's something gratifying about that. 

    TKS: One of your cartoons was used by U.S. Representative Jim McDermott to illustrate a point in the House of Representatives. What does it feel like when you get that kind of response to your work?

    Tornoe: Pretty cool. It certainly made my mother proud. What's funnier is the fact that the following week, I drew a cartoon about Rep. McDermott critical of a trip to Iraq he took that was secretly paid for by Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency (McDermott was one of a handful of lawmakers that were against the Iraq War). His staff e-mailed me and were a little ticked that I went after him after he showed so much love over one of my cartoons.

    TKS: Is it common to get feedback for your work?

    Tornoe: Yes. Social media makes it even easier for readers to get in touch, and I enjoy the give-and-take I regularly take part in on my Facebook page. I started drawing political cartoons in New Jersey when Corzine was Governor, and since I ridiculed him relentlessly, I developed a somewhat conservative following. Once Chris Christie was elected, he's been one of my favorite politicians to lampoon, and those same readers now call me a socialist, bleeding-heart liberal. I guess they all have short memories. 

    TKS: You've won some awards for your work as a cartoonist. Has there been a moment when you felt like you had achieved what you’d set out to do by coming to the school?

    Tornoe: It's been a bit overwhelming. I still sit back at times and smile that I can pay my bills by drawing cartoons. It's been a lot of hard work, and many sleepless nights (another skill I picked up at the Kubert School), but it certainly beats firing people and writing HR manuals. 

    TKS:What are you working on now and what should we look for from you in the future?

    Tornoe: Right now I'm having fun in two very different arenas. I'm drawing sports cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has turned me on to a completely new set of readers and characters to make fun of. Sports cartooning as a profession died out long ago, and there aren't many of us left in the country, so it's cool to try and work to re-invent it for the 21st century. 

    I'm also drawing cartoons for Media Matters, which is a progressive research center dedicated to correcting misinformation being spouted by conservative media. I get paid to make fun of Rush Limbaugh - what could be more fun?


    Philadelphia Inquirer, Media Matters