Tom Tomorrow

From Academic Kids

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Dan Perkins with a stained glass of his popular This Modern World charcter Sparky, an outspoken liberal penguin.

Dan Perkins (born 1961 in Wichita, Kansas), better known by the pen name Tom Tomorrow, is an editorial cartoonist. His award-winning weekly cartoon, This Modern World, a comic strip that comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the USA and the online magazines and Working for Change. Perkins currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, he writes a daily political weblog, also entitled This Modern World, an excellent and incisive commentary on US political life.



In the words of the man himself:

"I was born on April 5, 1961 in Wichita, Kansas. We moved to Michigan and then to Iowa City, Iowa, by the time I was five--foreshadowing the impermanence and dislocation, which have defined much of my life, I suppose. My parents divorced when I was about ten, and I went off with my mother and spent the next few years living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Stone Mountain, Georgia--birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan--and a couple of very small towns in Arkansas, before going back to live with my father in Iowa City to finish high school and spend about a year and half attending the University of Iowa, which brings us in a roundabout way to the answer to your second question. "

"I moved to New York City for the first time in 1981, and spent the first month or so sleeping on the floor of a friend-of-a-friend's flat in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The neighborhood has gentrified considerably since those days, when stores along Fifth Avenue would stock maybe three items--a candy bar, a single record album, something like that--and have a Prohibition-style shutter set into a door in the back where the real business of the store was conducted, in five and ten dollar transactions. And prostitutes would solicit business as you came up out of the subway in the shadow of the Grand Army Plaza Arch at night, something that's hard to imagine in Park Slope today."

"A group of friends and I then moved to Williamsburg, which has become an exceedingly hip artists' colony, but which was in those days just a strange intersection between Puerto Rican immigrants and Hassidic Jews, with the occasional starving artist thrown in here and there. I remember that our back window looked out on a burned out building, and an overgrown lot with a junked, overturned car, though there was no clear path to the street wide enough for a car to have been brought through, at least that I could ever see."

"There were four of us living in a three-bedroom apartment -- one guy dragged in a bunch of old wooden packing pallets and partitioned off a section of the living room for privacy. We were all dirt poor--I was living on about $100 a week, which was no mean feat in New York City even in 1981. I used to pretty much survive on ramen noodles and, when I really felt I could afford to splurge, the occasional slice at Ben's pizza. I was really, really skinny when I left New York."

"I worked on a magazine about comics for a while, and then when the magazine folded, drifted through a succession of crappy jobs -- making copies, doing picture framing, things like that. The magazine's office was in Tribeca, as was the art supply store where I was a picture framer, and eighteen years later, I'd have a loft studio in the neighborhood for awhile, so the whole World Trade Center area was my back yard for a lot of my time in New York."

"After a couple of years of living hand-to-mouth like this, with no particular focus, I moved back to Iowa City, spent a little more time in college before following a girlfriend to Champaign-Urbana and then to Chicago, at which point I decided I'd had enough of Midwestern winters and headed to San Francisco. This would be right at the end of 1984."

"I actually stayed put in San Francisco for about twelve years--which is, I believe, the longest I've lived in one place in my entire life--and would probably be there to this day, but I fell in love with an East Coast girl and for various reasons, the only way to make it work was to move back East for awhile. That was about five years ago now, and we've been married for two and a half years. And strangely, this long circuitous route led me back to Park Slope, where we live, though as I say the neighborhood isn't quite as funky as it used to be. We have no children yet but I think that may change within the next year or two."

Political Outlook

Perkins is in global terms pretty middle of the road politically. In Europe he would be regarded as centre or centre left. In America he is seen as left or extreme left. Perkins himself describes himself as liberal or progressive in that he cares about environmental issues, civil rights issues, and global justice.

He supported Nader in the 1996 and 2000 US presidential elections, even providing an animated cartoon at one of his rallies, and supporting him in person.

By 2004 however, Perkins was convinced that defeating Bush was the most important thing to do, and to that end supported Kerry. Many other progressives, worried that the 2000 election was lost to Bush due to Democrat voters defecting to Nader took a similar view.

Perkins has been consistently opposed to the Iraq war, and often satirises the Bush rationale for war in his cartoons.

Cartooning Style

First published in Processed World, a magazine about the information age from the point of view of office workers (which has a tradition of contributors taking pen names to protect them from employer retribution), This Modern World was conceived as a photocopy collage tour through consumer culture and the drudgeries of work.

His cartooning style has developed over the years, and evolved into its current form by the early 1990's.

As the strip began to reach a wider audience, it shifted from a focus on consumerism to the media and politics. Perkins says this crystallized during the Gulf War. "This was about the time my strip began running in San Francisco," he says. "Up to then, readers were sort of an abstract concept. Suddenly, I realized that people were actually reading what I was doing." Angered by local coverage of a massive anti-war demonstration which was "balanced" by equal time for fifteen pro-war protestors, Perkins realized that he could do more than "yell at a voice mail machine" at the TV station: He could do a strip on the coverage (It is found on pg. 53 of Greetings From This Modern World).


Perkins' outspoken views have lead to his being censored on a number of occasions.

He worked for "that most staid of publications" (his words), U.S. News & World Report, until it was dropped by the editor in February 1998 following pressure from the owner Mort Zuckerman.

From Perkin's perspective, his short tenure at the newsweekly "confirms everything I've ever said about mainstream media, and the range of acceptable opinion allowed within."

The most nototrius example of censorship occurred when he satirised the Media's obsession with sex over the Lewinsky scandal. Perkins himself explains that the incident was triggered by:

"... a recent meditation on the media's excessive coverage of the presidential sex scandals or more accurately, triggered by the visual metaphor with which I attempted to represent these excesses, an admittedly envelope-pushing orgy scene taken from 18th-century engravings. Papers across the country received a deluge of complaints from readers shocked and appalled by this "so-called comic"; as one typical correspondent noted, "If this is what the modern world is about, I can see Satan is having a field day." And while the cartoon in question ended with a mocking reference to "media elitists (who) seem to believe that Americans won't pay attention to anything unless it involves sex," hindsight forces me to acknowledge that the disproportionately vehement response of these readers has rendered my point invalid. Satire has been transformed into a simple statement of fact: as it turns out, there really are a lot of people out there who don't pay attention to anything unless it involves sex. Ironically, most of them seem to be conservative Christians."

"The center of the storm was in Oklahoma City, where oddly-named State Representative Forrest Claunch, along with a group of knuckleheaded right-wingers calling themselves Oklahomans for Children and Family, went so far as to file an obscenity complaint with the local police against the paper which ran my cartoon there, the Oklahoma Gazette. (The district attorney, apparently having some passing familiarity with the Constitution, declined to prosecute.)"


Perkins gained greater notoriety, and an international audience when he started a weblog. This was started just after the September 11th attacks, and provides some witty commentary on contemporary US politics. It also links to his archive of work on and Working for Change.

Posts to the weblog were also provided for a long time by Bob Harris, the political commentator, screenwriter, and comedian.


There are six cartoon anthologies currently in print:

  • Greetings From This Modern World
  • Tune in Tomorrow
  • The Wrath of Sparky
  • Penguin Soup for the Soul
  • When Penguins Attack
  • The Great Big Book of Tomorrow

All of these are published by St. Martin's. The most current, The Great Big Book of Tomorrow, was released in the Spring of 2003.


Similar cartoonists to Perkins include:

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