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UC Riverside Alumnus Wins a Second Pulitzer for Editorial Cartooning

UC Riverside Alumnus Wins a Second Pulitzer for Editorial Cartooning

Steve Breen, who got his start at the UCR student newspaper, is now at the top of the cartooning world.

(April 20, 2009)

Steve Breen at his desk in San Diego. Photo by Jim Skovmand of the San Diego Union TribuneEnlarge

Steve Breen at his desk in San Diego. Photo by Jim Skovmand of the San Diego Union Tribune

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Steve Breen, a UC Riverside alumnus and the editorial cartoonist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, has won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. It is the second time the cartoonist has been awarded journalism's highest honor.

He graduated from UCR in 1992 with a degree in political science and just five years later won his first Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning. Breen said it was his days at UC Riverside that put him on the path to professional cartooning. His UCR adviser at the time, Bruce Reynolds, suggested it.

“His drawing was mature, and he understood things about shading and making a point in a drawing in a way no college freshman had any right to be able to do,” Reynolds said in an interview. “He always had a sharp, even refined, appreciation and understanding of history, and that’s helped him to achieve excellence in his cartooning.”

Reynolds was particularly struck by how Breen could relate events of the past to current events, and then he could draw them so others would understand them. “Very, very few people have this talent, and still fewer discover it when they’re still in school.”

Breen spent hours at the Tomás Rivera Library sifting through the works of cartooning greats like Tony Auth, Jeff MacNelly, Paul Conrad, Patrick Oliphant and Don Wright — all Pulitzer winners. But it’s The Highlander that Breen — UCR’s only alumni to hold the honor — credits for his Pulitzer.

“You have to cut your teeth somewhere. The Highlander accepted my cartoons …even the bad ones,” notes Breen. “That’s the role of a school paper — to teach. I honed my skills there.”

Breen’s trip to his first Pulitzer was short and direct. After just a year as a full-time editorial cartoonist at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, he won journalism’s most coveted prize at the age of 27. This, after a stint as a paginator, his first post-UCR job and the Park Press’ only available position. Although he might have been perplexed by the win, others knew it was just a matter of time.

“I fully expected him to win the Pulitzer because of his style and his intelligence,” says Reynolds. “My complaint was that he was too nice, that he wouldn’t hit as hard as his competitors. I was right about that, but he won it anyway. Fundamentally, Breen is such a good person, he doesn’t have it in him to skewer people, including politicians, the way I wished then and still wish he would.”

“The thing about awards is the glow fades after a while,” Breen explains. How do you top a Pulitzer? “I guess winning a second Pulitzer. But most importantly, living a good life and being a good person is the brass ring.”

Now he has that second Pulitzer.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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