Two Native American writers, novelist Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe) and poet Natalie Diaz (Mojave/Pima), won Pulitzer Prize winners in 2021. In a first for Indigenous comic artists, another Native storyteller was a finalist for the prize. Oglala Lakota artist Marty Two Bulls Sr. was nominated for a Pulitzer in Editorial Cartooning “for innovative and insightful cartoons that offer a Native American perspective on contemporary news events.”
Ultimately, the committee did not select a nominee in the category for 2021. This is the sixth time the committee has not selected a winner for the award. The last time was 1973. The controversial decision set off many conversations on social media and elsewhere about the importance of editorial cartooning.
In Indian Country and beyond, Two Bulls’ comics and “editoons” have long been a source of insight and laughter. After studying commercial art at the Colorado Institute of Art, Two Bulls worked in television, commercial printing, and newspaper journalism. He later returned to college, where he received a BFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Today, his work primarily appears in the Lakota Times and has been widely shared across social media and on his website, www.M2Bulls.com. He recently spoke with First American Art Magazine (FAAM) about his work and its reception.
FAAM: You began drawing cartoons in high school. When and how did you decide to make a career of it?
Marty Two Bulls Sr. (MTB): I’m a multidisciplinary artist, and my focus has always been toward my art. Cartooning is a way for me to express my opinions through a different medium. At other times I will paint or sculpt to share my ideas and visions. The graphic design and illustrations are a way to finance my work and keep a roof over my head. I have been doing cartoon work probably because I enjoy the weekly deadlines. But mostly because I love the medium.
FAAM: Native people have a particular sense of humor — and of course, individual tribes and communities have their own humor that can be very specific. Where do you get your sense of humor, and how did you find the courage to share it on such a large stage?
MTB: My humor comes from my family and the way that I was brought up in a tribal community. My tribe, the Oglala Lakota (our enemies call us the Sioux), is a nation of warriors. Historically, we produced nothing but great war chiefs. So our humor can be very rough at times, but we still care for one another and will take any opportunity to tease each other. Our humor has helped us overcome adversity even the hardest of times. With the advent of the internet, my work has found a wider audience that was not possible when I started out, so for me, it is easy to share.
FAAM: Your work always seems to be written for us Native people, yet it has a wide appeal outside Indian Country. Why is it important for Native cartoonists and other artists to focus on our own communities as audiences?
MTB: The first rule of any writer is to know what you are talking about. Native people come from a rich heritage that we must record and share. We have stories to tell, and for them to be told truthfully, we have to be the ones to tell these stories. In this new computer age, we artists are finding a platform for our work. We can reach our intended audience (Natives) and appeal to non-Native people along the way. This platform makes it possible to reach readers beyond our borders with very little effort. In turn, we can be critical of non-Native people making fun of us or attempting to appropriate our religious ceremonies.
FAAM: The last few years have been especially fertile ground for your “Editoons,” and you have not held back. What advice would you give to younger or emerging cartoonists about how to gain the confidence to speak boldly with words and images?
MTB: As a political cartoonist, if you are not making someone angry with your work then you are not doing your job. Remember that no matter what do you in life, there will always be someone who will be critical of you. Just remember that you create your own enemies, which also means you can un-create them. You give people the power to hurt you with their pronouncements and you can take that power away.
FAAM: You and the other 2021 Editorial Cartoon Pulitzer nominees (Ken Fisher/Ruben Bolling and Lalo Alcaraz) have responded with grace and humor to the lack of a prize in the category this year, but the Pulitzer committee’s decision has been criticized by many. A different kind of attention is placed on you and the other nominees than there might have been otherwise. How are you dealing with it, as an artist?
MTB: Artists are business people. We produce a product that must be manufactured from raw materials, promoted, and sold. Some of the greatest artists in history were competent entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the business side makes it possible for us to produce our work and so is a necessary evil. Having said that, entering and winning contests is part of the promotion to bring attention to our work. Attention, good or bad, is still attention. I’m of course honored by the awards, but after it is all said and done, one must get back to work.
Two Bulls’ comics and cartoons can be found on his website and social media.