At the front of PLNU’s Colt Forum, facing an audience of about 20 students, faculty and staff, sat Steve Breen, hunched over a desk with his reading glasses perched at the end of his nose, inking his latest cartoon to meet his 5 p.m. deadline.
This was during the Coffee & Politics event hosted by the Institute of Politics and Public Service with special guest Steve Breen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his work as a cartoonist at the San Diego Union-Tribune (SDUT). Breen’s work is nationally acclaimed for being edgy, provocative and bold. His politically motivated cartoons have been known to ruffle a few feathers, but he remains true to his art form.
“I try to be at least somewhat careful with what I create because every cartoon wants to make a point and start a debate or a dialogue,” Breen said, “but when you put hyper-provocative imagery in a cartoon, people stop thinking with their brains and let their emotions overpower them.”
That doesn’t mean he holds back all of the time, though. Breen’s visit to PLNU came a day after Donald Trump’s comments about being a self-proclaimed “nationalist.” Breen explained to the audience that he originally wanted to publish a cartoon of Trump saying those words with Hitler high-fiving him; however, after his editor talked him out of it, he changed Hitler to a random white nationalist giving Trump a high-five instead.
“People are so polarized these days, but I’ve had to learn that it’s politics, it’s not personal,” Breen said of his sometimes controversial work. “On Tuesday, people will say that my cartoon is absolutely genius, but then on Wednesday, I’ll draw a cartoon that’s on the other side of the fence, and those same people will be like ‘you blithering moron, how could you do this’…it’s interesting; 10 or 20 years ago, I would’ve never gotten some of the reactions I get now.”
Breen is right about one thing: his cartoons continue to get people, from both sides of the aisle, talking, a fact that he is grateful for. In fact, he revealed that, until recently, he was not allowed to draw any cartoons about the GOP, only cartoons about the Democratic party and Barack Obama, orders that came straight from the former SDUT owner.
“I liked what he said about how the best cartoons contain no words and that the purpose of it is to be provocative and start a debate,” said senior Sarah Keung. “It’s also interesting to hear about his cartoons from both sides of the spectrum, it shows how complex today’s political climate really is.”