UPDATED: Cartoonists Not Fond of Obama Art on ‘New Yorker’ Cover

By: Dave Astor

Barry Blitt’s satirical July 21 New Yorker magazine cover showing a Muslim Barack Obama and a gun-toting Michelle Obama is not getting rave reviews from other artists contacted by E&P.

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists President (AAEC) Nick Anderson said he understood what Blitt was trying to do (show how the Obamas are perceived by some people, not as they really are). But he noted that the cartoon was done “clumsily.”

The Houston Chronicle/Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG) creator added that it would have helped if the cover art had a title such as ?The Politics of Fear,? or showed enemies of Obama painting or imagining the picture.

AAEC President-Elect Ted Rall said “everyone with two brain cells to rub together gets” Blitt’s cartoon, but the drawing is “shallow and non-contextual.”

“If The New Yorker wants to get into the political cartoon business, it ought to hire some political cartoonists,” added Rall. “Until they hire some smart editors, The New Yorker ought to stick to what they do well: gag panels about Upper East Siders at cocktail parties.”

The Universal Press Syndicate cartoonist also criticized the “dull, Taliban-like humorlessness” of the Obama and McCain campaigns, which both decried Blitt’s cover. “Will the two candidates ban sarcasm if they win?,” quipped Rall, who’s also acquisition and development editor at United Media.

Philadelphia Daily News/WPWG editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson’s first reaction to E&P’s query was: “If you’re spending time on this, it must be summer!” Then Wilkinson, who also does the “Family Tree” comic for United, added: “After the obligatory ‘tasteless and offensive’ huffing and puffing, Obama strategist David Axelrod said they weren’t going to be spending a lot of time on it. I would recommend that the rest of the media do as David Axelrod does. It’s satire.”

Ann Telnaes, whose work includes animated political cartoons for WashingtonPost.com, said: “I think people need to get a grip. The cover was meant to be a satirical comment on the rumors about Obama’s religion and so-called lack of patriotism.”

She added that there are more important things to get outraged about. “Just this morning I read a Wall Street Journal article about the Dutch cartoonist who was jailed and his computer and sketchbooks confiscated because his work was considered offensive by the government,” Telnaes noted by way of example.

Scott Stantis — who does editorial cartoons for The Birmingham (Ala.) News and Creators News Service, and the “Prickly City” comic for Universal — said The New Yorker is “usually pitch-perfect in its use of satire for its often-provocative covers.” Among those “perfect” covers, he recalled, was the famous one showing an Hasidic man and African-American woman kissing in a way that imagined the healing of the rift between the New York communities those two people represented.

But Stantis added that the current cover “struck me as remarkably tin-eared. While I understand they’re trying to portray the Obamas as their more strident opponents would have them seen, I take the opposite view away. Maybe it’s not over-the-top enough? Or perhaps the anti-Obama forces have been too good and this is, indeed, how they are portrayed in the popular mind. Either way, this piece of art did not work for me on any level.”

Detroit News/United editorial cartoonist Henry Payne said “Obama’s campaign overreacted. The New Yorker has every right to run the cover.”

But, Payne added, “I think a point that’s being missed is that Blitt’s satire has little basis in truth — the foundation for satire after all…. No respectable figure in the GOP, or McCain’s campaign, or any editorial publication I know of has suggested Obama is Muslim…. The Obama/Muslim confusion is one of ignorance; a view held by a minority of the electorate, Dems and Republicans alike.”

Payne e-mailed E&P a few minutes later: “On further reflection, I think the cover is just plain fun. Sometimes we in the satire biz take ourselves too seriously.”

Mike Smith, whose Las Vegas Sun editorial cartoons and “Stockcar Toons” comic are distributed by King Features Syndicate, asked: “What’s the point of being provocative if you’re not communicating clearly? The intended message in this art is lost because the execution of the message allows for different interpretations.”

Ron Rogers of the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune said he understands that The New Yorker art is “caricature — an exaggeration of the rumors surrounding Barack and Michelle Obama. But knowing the inflammatory atmosphere in this campaign, I think they went over the line. I think more thought should have been put into the presentation of the artwork and its impact.?

In an E&P story posted earlier today, “Tom the Dancing Bug” cartoonist Ruben Bolling of Universal said “more indicators should have been utilized in the cartoon in order to make the target of its satire clearer.”

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