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Biwabik native wins Pulitzer Prize for cartoons

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Tucked into the late 1970s archive of the Biwabik Range Times can be found now-historic treasures: cartoons by a Pulitzer Prize winner.

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Biwabik native Kevin Siers won journalism’s most prestigious award Monday for his work as the editorial page cartoonist for the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina.

In a way, it all started in a classroom in his hometown, Siers said Tuesday.

“I had an elementary school teacher who recognized something,” he said. “He encouraged me to make a comic book.”

High school English teachers were just as encouraging, he said. The News Tribune also played a role, as Siers mimicked the Sunday cartoons he admired: Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, Pogo.

“I imitated everybody,” Siers told a colleague at the Observer on Monday in its story about the Pulitzer. “I stole left and right. Eventually, I came up with my own style.”

In his 20s, while doing work at a taconite plant, he approached a friend who owned the local paper about doing some cartoons.

“They weren’t very professional,” he said of those early works.

But it was a start, and soon he was doing cartoons for the daily paper at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He would save up money made at the plant and then attend classes. He ended up officially graduating in his early 30s.

He said he looked “like Jerry Garcia” back then and was able to find a picture Monday to prove it. It still had a fortune from a cookie at a Chinese restaurant attached to it.

“It said ‘Someday all of your hard work will pay off.’ I guess it did,” Siers said.

Siers said the Iron Range was a “fun place politically” because of the dichotomy found in a Democratic stronghold that was also socially conservative.

Siers began working at the Observer in 1987. The Pulitzer is the fifth the newspaper has received. Two other cartoonists at the paper have won Pulitzers — one in 1968 and one by Siers’ predecessor in 1988. Siers, who at one time was an acquaintance of Steve Sack, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, thanked the cartoonists who came before him for paving the way.

The Observer’s editorial page editor, Taylor Batten, said in the Observer on Monday that the 20 cartoons sent to Pulitzer jurors shows that Siers has a wide range and “is so plugged into what’s going on, he’s able to use that base of knowledge to inform through his cartoons.”

Siers said he once wrote to the News Tribune about a cartooning job.

“I didn’t get a reply,” he said.

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