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In Character with Matt Bors

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Matt Bors isn't worried about a Higher Power when he sits down to compose his political cartoons. Irreverence is his specialty and it crosses political, geographical and religious boundaries.

Few topics are off limits for Southeast Portland political cartoonist Matt Bors, who, appropriately enough, has a thought balloon tattooed on his left wrist. Bors, comics journalism editor at the website Cartoon Movement, has traveled to Afghanistan and Haiti in recent years in search of material.

Portland Tribune: One doesn't generally think of Haiti as cartoon territory.

Bors: After the earthquake, I wanted to go there. Originally, I was going to do my own work, and then I figured because I'm editor of Cartoon Movement I wanted to get some Haitians to do some work I could publish. We've published a 75-page graphic novel about life in Haiti drawn by Haitian artists, and each chapter is written by a different Haitian journalist.

Tribune: I've got a hunch this is not light reading.

Bors: We published a cartoon by a Haitian named Raphael. It's a woman sitting in a tent camp and her kids are painting something. She grabs the paint, goes over to a sign that says 'Refugee Camp,' and she crosses out 'Refugee' and writes, 'Cholera.' In the last panel, the foreign press shows up and is interviewing her. There are a lot of people languishing in tents that are being ignored, but if the situation becomes worse and they get cholera, they can count on press attention.

Tribune: Any subject off limits?

Bors: No. I did a cartoon about God's approval rating. There apparently was a poll done where (it) had sunk to 52 percent. The cartoon had a chart that showed God's approval rating over time. It dipped during the Crusades and when Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles.

Tribune: High points?

Bors: I didn't list high points.

Tribune: What do you mean? What about the invention of crepes? Or coffee?

Bors: All of the good things human beings take credit for, and the horrible things God takes the fall for.

Tribune: I don't know. I'll bet thousands of times each day someone in the world says, 'Thank God for coffee.' Maybe God needs to take out patents or copyrights so he (or she) gets credit.

Bors: He certainly needs a better PR strategy. God's involvement in everyday life used to be thought to be a lot greater by religious people. A woman in my comic says, 'Let there be light - now that's bold leadership. Where is he today? Appearing on toast in Nebraska.'

Tribune: Are you at all religious?

Bors: No. That's why I make fun of it. They are all equally absurd to me.

Tribune: But what if you're wrong?

Bors: What if we're all wrong about Zeus and that's the real, true religion? I guess we're all bound for Hades, although I'd have to check. Do we all go to Hades or the underworld?

Tribune: What cartoon has gotten you in the most trouble?

Bors: I did a cartoon about Osama bin Laden's driver, who was held in Guantanamo Bay. The cartoon made its way down to Guantanamo through email, and his lawyer had it translated for bin Laden's driver. I sent him a signed print, which he said he hung in his cell.

Tribune: What did the cartoon show?

Bors: We got his driver. We'd get his tailor, his chef, his wives, take away his support network. The punch line was it showed bin Laden naked, curled up into a ball in the desert because he didn't have a tailor, a chef or a driver…

Tribune: What about your angriest reader response?

Bors: It contained a lot of curse words. I had taken to defending the Mohammed cartoons that caused riots in the Middle East. A Muslim woman wrote me and said she was praying for the day that I'd die and fall face down in my own … she signed off with, 'Praying for Matt Bors' (expletive)-filled death.'

Tribune: I can't write that word in the paper.

Bors: You know what we do in the comics for that? We use the cash symbol, the add symbol and the pound sign for curse words.

Tribune: I've wondered about that. Is there a standard set of symbols for each comic curse word?

Bors: No, but you can kind of use certain symbols to make it look close to what you're trying to say. If you're trying to say, 'A smelly pile of (expletive),' you could use a cash sign, a pound sign, then an asterisk and an exclamation point. You've got four letters and the first one kind of resembles an S. An @$$, it's kind of hard to miss what word you're going for there.