By: Rob Tornoe
Skewering politicians is the meat and potatoes of what an editorial cartoonist does for a newspaper. Subtlety is not expected — cartoonists are supposed to take their ink-drenched sledgehammer and pound away at the injustice of the system one pithy cartoon at a time.
Which is why elections are so much fun for cartoonists.
As most Americans bemoan the start of yet another campaign season of wacky candidates and broken promises, the nation’s political cartoonists prepare for their Super Bowl, sharpening their pencils and cleaning their brushes as they are introduced to a slew of new personalities to eviscerate.
An expert at capturing the likeness of politicians, Washington Examiner cartoonist Nate Beeler (syndicated by Cagle Cartoons) has come up with an interesting process that helps him develop his unique and uncanny likenesses. Unlike most other cartoonists, Beeler starts his caricature process by imagining what the politician looks like before going after any reference materials or photographs.
“I figure your subconscious works out the caricature before you even put pencil to paper,” Beeler said. “The tricky part is properly translating that image into language your drawing hand can understand.”
Another expert at caricatures is Jimmy Margulies of The Record in Bergen, N.J. (syndicated by King Features). Margulies employs a bold, simple style that showcases the candidates while allowing his cartoons to look good regardless of how they are printed.
“I enjoy doing Perry because he has a very caricaturable face, which I find easy to capture,” Margulies said. “Plus, Romney is way too careful and scripted, while Perry is more prone to speaking his mind despite the fallout.”
Not surprisingly, Margulies enjoys drawing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but laments the fact that many cartoonists focus solely on his weight and ignore his policies.
“While I do draw him as being very fat, I have not done any cartoons that criticize him for being overweight,” Margulies said. “His actions as governor are a much bigger target, and I am interested in doing cartoons that will be more penetrating.”
“Until he dropped out, I was giddy that the left fawns over Michael Moore and in the same breath makes Chris Christie fat jokes. Mmmmmm … delicious hypocrisy,” said Mike Lester of the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune (syndicated by Washington Post Writers Group), speaking about Christie’s decision to not run.
The conservative Lester points out that caricature isn’t his strong suit, and as a result his cartoons don’t rely on it to make political points. But even as a cast of Republican characters lines up to be made fun of, Lester has loftier targets.
“As long as President Mom Jeans occupies the Oval Office and dictates everything from electric cars to contraception, nobody else really matters,” Lester said.
Another Obama-centric cartoonist is Gary Varvel of The Indianapolis Star (syndicated by Creators). The conservative cartoonist is having fun sketching the current crop of GOP candidates, drawing Perry as a cowboy who can’t shoot straight, Romney knocking himself out with his own health care plan, and Gingrich in boxer shorts with hearts on them as a reflection of his personal life (incidentally, when cartoonists draw politicians in boxer shorts, they always have to have hearts). However, like Lester, Varvel prefers to skewer the commander-in- chief.
“I know more about him, his politics, and his idiosyncrasies than I do the rest of the candidates,” Varvel said. “Besides, Obama’s class warfare, and tax and spend policies make it a lot easier for me, as a conservative, to draw about.”
Mitt Romney could be a difficult nut to crack for cartoonists. His handsome face and rugged good looks don’t lend themselves to the facial contortions that cartoonists like to draw.
One artist very familiar with drawing Romney is Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman (syndicated by Tribune Media Services), who had the opportunity to lampoon him for eight years while he was governor of Massachusetts.
“One thing people may not have picked up about [Romney] is he’s kind-of goofy,” Wasserman said. “He doesn’t ever really seem to belong in any setting I see him in.”
Wasserman uses this goofiness in his drawings of Romney, placing the former governor in settings that reinforce his social awkwardness. In one cartoon, Romney appears loosening his tie and messing up his hair in order to better relate to a local patron at a diner. Instead, the person remarks, “Say, aren’t you Charlie Sheen?!”
Another cartoonist able to study a candidate for a long period of time is Nick Anderson of The Houston Chronicle (syndicated by Washington Post Writers Group). Like Wasserman, Anderson has enjoyed the ability to hone his caricature of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Even though Anderson doesn’t particularly like his own caricature of Perry, he’s still the cartoonist’s favorite candidate to draw.
“He gives me so much material,” Anderson said. “He is full of contradictions. He’s a colorful, swaggering, bible-thumping, coyote-shooting, pretend cowboy.
In fact, the ink-slinging Pulitzer Prize winner hopes (strictly from his point-of-view as a cartoonist) that Perry wins the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency.
“I could lie in bed and draw with my feet for four years,” Anderson said. “Although if he’s elected, I’ll have to change my position on Texas seceding from the union.”
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor & Publisher Magazine and edits the satirical humor magazine Delaware Punchline. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.