THESE ARE HEADY days for political cartoonist Dan Perkins, better known to Tucson Weekly readers as Tom Tomorrow. Just last week, a "Super Rally" for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader at Madison Square Garden opened with two of his new animated shorts on a Jumbotron above the sold-out crowd.
Perkins described the moment as "utterly surreal." Which pretty well describes modern politics, if you think about it. After all, who would have ever thought Pat Buchanan would form an alliance with a black Marxist cult leader in order to take over Ross Perot's political party? Or that the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton would bring down much of the Republican House leadership?
In these strange days, Perkins' strip, "This Modern World," continues to function as a virus in the body politic. Unlike most political cartoonists, Perkins isn't afraid to use a lot of words along with his illustrations. The four-panel strips skewer, as the Los Angeles Times noted, "everything from corporate duplicity to political deception to media doublespeak."
The animated program is a new project for Perkins. The debut cartoon, a cliffhanger featuring his signature character Sparky the Wonder Penguin, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and the aforementioned Ralph Nader (who lent his celebrity voice to the first two episodes), is now on the Internet at www.thismodernworld.com.
Besides the animation work, Perkins has just released When Penguins Attack (St. Martin's Press), a shiny new paperback with a high-tech holographic cover. It joins his four previous collections, Greetings From This Modern World, Tune in Tomorrow, The Wrath of Sparky and Penguin Soup for the Soul. The latest book collects strips from 1998 through the middle of this year, which means there's plenty of great stuff about the clowns currently seeking the presidency of the United States, as well as the goofballs who didn't make it through the primary. In addition, we see a lot of the other moments from the last two years of the news, including the Clinton impeachment and the rise of the New Economy.
Perkins considers the publication of the newest book to mark his 10th anniversary in cartooning. And it's been quite a decade for him, as he's risen from obscurity to running the occasional strip on the op-ed page of The New York Times and in The New Yorker.
Which is not to say he's moved into the mainstream. It wasn't that long ago that Perkins was fired from U.S. News and World Report because he reportedly made publisher Mort Zuckerman uncomfortable with his criticism of Corporate America. And a gig with Brill's Content fell apart before his first submission ran.
But Perkins has had some measure of success, at least in the alternative media. And he wouldn't have it any other way. As he himself notes in his preface to When Penguins Attack, "The important thing is that for 'ten years' (ahem, give or take), I have had the privilege of appearing weekly in alternative papers (and a handful of small dailies), and that enough of you have paid attention that I've actually been able to carve out a livelihood doing this. There is only one conclusion to be drawn here: I am an absurdly lucky man."