PORTLANDER MATT BORS is a nationally syndicated political cartoonist who several weeks ago embarked on a month-long tour of Afghanistan. Traveling with two friends—experienced war reporter and cartoonist Ted Rall and photographer Steven Cloud—the three men aim to explore the areas of Afghanistan that traditional, embedded reporters rarely cover. Bors is keeping a cartoon diary of his experiences on his blog, as well as collecting material for future long-form projects.
Can you give a bit of background, both on your own work as a cartoonist and the Afghanistan project?
I've been drawing editorial cartoons since 2003, right before we invaded Iraq. Since then I've run in places like the Village Voice and Boston Phoenix and eventually became syndicated a few years ago. This month sees the publication of War Is Boring, which was written by David Axe. So politics, war and foreign policy have been of interest.
This trip was conceived by Ted Rall, an editorial cartoonist and columnist who has been there a few times, including during the 2001 invasion. Now he is going back to write another book and see where things stand after nine years of occupation. Steven Cloud and I are tagging along.
What inspired the trip?
Ted Rall and David Axe are two of my colleagues that I talk to the most. I worked with Axe on War Is Boring and have got to know Ted well over the years. They are always going to various war zones for reporting and sitting inside my apartment in Portland for years got me itching to do some of it myself. I've toyed with the idea of going with them before but never really had the time or money. In February Ted asked me to go with him on his latest trip to Afghanistan and it was too good to turn down.
We've been in Afghanistan for almost nine years and there's no end in sight. With Obama's surge and the insurgency both ramping up offensives this is the most important time of the war, probably the beginning of the end, really. Public support is tanking and there appears to be no way out. If there's any time to pay attention to what's going on over there, it's now.
How detailed is your itinerary? Do you know exactly where you'll be traveling, or are you playing it by ear...?
The trip starts out in the northern city of Taloqan, where we will stay for a week, then on to Herat in the west where the on again off again trans-Afghan pipeline is being built. After that we will travel to the remote Southwest desert near Iran. (The Lonely Planet travel guide doesn't even have a section for it.) But we will be very much playing it my the ear while we are there. We are not traveling with the military, other media or any security so plans may change rapidly. Also, we are headed to some pretty remote regions that don't exactly have phone and e-mail set up. We'll be approaching locals when we get there and looking for a place to stay.
Are you approaching this journalistically, or more like your editorial cartoons? (ie to what extent are you going for objectivity, insofar as that is possible?)
All I can do is present the situation as honestly as possible. I don't imagine the cartoons that come from this will have the normal humorous tone of my editorial cartoons, but I'm also not pretending to be an objective journalist. I wouldn't want that anyway. "Objective journalists" have been reporting from Afghanistan for nine years and they rarely venture out of Kabul or their embed program. Our main goal is to see how Afgans outside of these areas actually live.
How frequently will you be updating your blog?
It depends on conditions on the ground. I plan to at least file a cartoon a week with my syndicate and periodic sketchbook pages that include drawings, writing and little comics. Ideally there will be a few a week, but I might save some of the better stories for when I get back and am able to sit down to draw longer pieces.
Is this in any way a collaborative project with the other cartoonists, or will you each by filing your own work? Any plans to ultimately compile it all in book form?
We'll be doing our own work. Ted has a book deal and will be doing a daily comic. I doubt I'll get that much material but I have lined up some work for when I get back with The Oregonian and vjmovement.com to do some longer pieces.
How is the trip funded?
Much of the funding is through Ted's kickstarter fund, which raised $25,000. The rest is from our own pockets. I raised a small amount through my site to help purchase supplies and pay for filing work via satellite modem.
Are you scared?
Follow Matt Bors' Afghanistan updates at mattbors.com/blog.