AS SCORES OF THE NATION’S top political cartoonists descend upon Washington for their official annual shindig, Comic Riffs is greeting their entrance at the city gates with a question that has nothing to do with birth certificates, IRS returns or a required photo ID.
Friday is the first full day of #!&% Cartoons!! 2012 — A Festival Celebrating the Political Cartoon, a pageant of editorial cartooning panels based at George Washington University hosted by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. And the stellar programming for the two-day-plus convention spotlights cartoonists on both sides of the political aisle.
So fresh off the national conventions’ rhetoric, Comic Riffs has decided to post a litmus-test query far more telling that “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” No, the question we posed to 18 noted political cartoonists was this:
Not as a citizen but strictly as a cartoonist, whom would you prefer to see as our next president: Obama or Romney?
In other words: Who would be a better target for your satire, and whom would you prefer to caricature?
The cartoonists — who collectively tote carry-on résumés that boast more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes, several Herblock Prize honors and a veritable raft of national awards and recognition — were willing to play along before taking the stage these next two days (and if you happen to be near Washington, their presentations will be worth checking out).
So without further ado, here are their ballots, as well as the reasonings behind their renderings. And the winner is . . . .
LALO ALCARAZ (Universal Uclick):
“As a lazy, slovenly cartoonist [myself], of course, Mr. Romney would be the best. He already is a caricature of a human being, visually AND and in his, uh, robotic humanity. As a good friend of the Twitter sensation @MexicanMitt Romney, (the name says it all), I pray for a Romney victory, because MMR’s spoofery is outrageous and hilarious. Besides, Mexican Mitt is an unemployed millionaire, just like Gringo Mitt.”
NICK ANDERSON (Houston Chronicle):
“Clearly, Mitt Romney. Supply-side economics and deregulation will drive our country back into the ditch again. That’s great for cartooning. Unless, of course, my job gets eliminated in the next fiscal catastrophe brought on by reckless tax cuts and wanton deregulation.”
PATRICK BAGLEY (Salt Lake Tribune):
“As a Utahn [who was] Mormon (retired), served an LDS mission and attended BYU, and occupied the catbird seat to the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics scandal/rescue, I would like to see Mitt Romney elected. For purely selfish reasons.”
NATE BEELER (Columbus Dispatch):
“I’ve really enjoyed drawing President Obama, and I feel like I’m nearing a comfort zone with his caricature. But four years just isn’t long enough to get it perfect! That said, I wouldn’t mind a change of pace and the oodles of fresh material that would come with a Mitt Romney presidency. Like Obama before him, he’s been responsible for buckets of eraser shreds from my attempts to scribble out his features. Cartoonists don’t like drawing handsome dudes with symmetrical facial features. It’s difficult to nail down my caricature of him because he is a bit of a walking, talking ‘Ken doll.’
“Despite all that, I might lean toward pulling for Romney purely because I’d welcome the change of scenery. I’d bet that after a while I’ll start getting bored drawing Obama . . . having to mine the same old imagery and metaphors. . . . After all, his message is still ‘Hope and Change,’ which is so 2008, right? If Romney ends up winning, though, I will lament the loss of my daily routine — which started with President George W. Bush — of drawing grotesquely large, pointy ears. Any chance he might flip-flop on getting ear extensions?”
CLAY BENNETT (Chattanooga Times Free Press):
“Editorial cartooning is, by nature, a negative expression. It’s an art form based on dissent and one fueled by a cartoonist’s frustration and anger. Understanding that, the best candidate for me is always a determination made on the politician’s beliefs and not his facial features or personality. Simply put: The worse the elected official, the better the editorial cartoons. Obviously, that would make Mitt Romney my preferred presidential candidate.”
STEVE BREEN (U-T San Diego):
“I say Obama. I’ve come to love his thin frame, nice eyebrows, big smile and, of course, those ears. Mitt is too good-looking. That’s never helpful.
On the flip side, Ryan — with his big eyes, square jaw and magnificent widow’s peak — is a better subject than Biden!”
MATT BORS (Universal Uclick):
“I don't really focus on having a greatly exaggerated caricature as much as I do creating a solid personality that runs through my characterization of a president. As a corporate stooge and unemotional robot, Romney makes good fodder. And given his reaction to the diplomatic crisis in Libya and Egypt, he'll have the world hating us again in short order. I guess that makes for good cartoons — the entire world hating us as we cut taxes for the rich and struggle to find work. Obama has a bit more complex personality if you ask me, but he'll be an aloof, drone-happy lame duck two weeks into his second term, so I wouldn't mind ripping on him, either.”
MATT DAVIES (Tribune Media Services):
“Unequivocally: Mitt Romney, with Paul Ryan cast as his Gen-X Dick Cheney. The easy part is not the gaping ideological differences I have with these two, but the fact that Romney has very publicly forsaken his previous ideological self, and literally sold his soul . . . to placate the money-givers in the party. A man who has to wrestle with, and contradict himself every day while in the White House will be a disturbing theatrical spectacle, vulnerable to a sarcastic, gallows variety of satire. And my caricature preference is the same answer, for the same reason.”
DAVID HORSEY (Los Angeles Times):
“I always say, the worse things are for the country, the better they are for editorial cartoonists. With that in mind, my job security would be improved by having Mitt Romney to target for the next four years. He has flip-flopped on every major issue and continues to say contradictory things on the campaign trail, so it is not easy to know exactly what Romney would do as president. But to the very limited extent that he has detailed his economic plan, it appears Mitt is offering the same supply-side prescriptions as George W. Bush did and look where that got us. Romney would be ripe for satire.”
MIKE LUCKOVICH (Atlanta Journal Constitution):
“Romney. This guy is such an out-of-touch, flip-flopping phony, that he would be even better than George W. Bush was for cartoonists.”
JIMMY MARGULIES (The Record, N.J.):
“I would like to write in Rick Santorum . . . but since he is not one of the choices, I’ll go with Mitt Romney. Physically, he is not the greatest target, since he is a very good-looking guy. But he more than makes up for it with a target-rich environment of words and deeds: Strapping his dog to the roof of the car, making a serious of gaffes or insensitive statements, hiding his wealth in tax havens abroad, refusing to release his tax returns . . . not to mention a series of flip-flops. Oh, and did I mention his rather wooden public persona?
“But I have always adapted be able to comment on presidents I may have favored in the election, and those I have not, as well as governors in New Jersey, where I work. Everyone in office does things [that] are fodder for cartoons, and going after the opposition to the current officeholder also presents plenty of opportunity for satire.”
JACK OHMAN (The Oregonian, Portland):
“I really don't like Romney as a caricature subject. His head is very elongated, and, like John Kerry's, it throws off the proportion of a horizontal drawing. I suppose it's too much to ask that I'd prefer to draw Charlie Brown as president. Obama is superficially a better caricature subject, but when you have someone who has self-caricaturing features like a big smile or large ears, it's really easy to miss their truly identifying features . . . for me, it's Obama's lower mouth lines. I have always emphasized them — to me, caricature is about posture and attitude and less about the actual physiognomy itself.”
PATRICK OLIPHANT (Universal Uclick):
“Definitely ‘R & R’ — may they live in infamy. Cartoonists live backwards — what’s bad for the country is good for them, and vice versa.”
MIKE PETERS (Dayton Daily News):
“Without a doubt, as a cartoonist: Caricature-wise, politically, personality-wise, Romney would be my Camelot!”
JEN SORENSEN (Slowpoke Comics):
“My initial thought was that Mitt Romney would provide some fresh fodder, but after a few months, I think it would start to feel like the Bush years all over again. After eight years, I was exhausted of drawing comics making fun of whatever awful thing the Republican administration was doing that week. It was very hard to say something new. Also, you can only do so many jokes about Romney being a robot. Trying to hold the Dems’ feet to the fire can get tiresome, too, of course. From a cartooning perspective, President Camacho from ‘Idiocracy’ would be more fun than both.”
SCOTT STANTIS (Chicago Tribune):
“I want the best person for my country. However, from a cartooning point of view, both Romney and Obama are fun to draw. President Obama with the ears, and Gov. Romney with the hair. Both offer opportunities for hilarity. Sadly, the joke is on the American people.”
TOM TOMORROW (Daily Kos):
“I used to say that what was bad for the country was good for cartoonists, but this country is in such bad shape on so many fronts right now — the wars, the economy, civil liberties, climate denialism — I think cartoonists will have plenty to write and draw about no matter who’s in office.
On the face of it, you might imagine Mitt Romney would be more fun for cartoonists — the weirdly robotic, gaffe-prone rich guy who can’t commit to a single position on any issue — but that’s all pretty obvious stuff, and it’s already starting to wear thin. I’m sure a Romney-Ryan administration would keep us all busy. But it’s not as if there’s been any lack of material under Obama, from his penchant for preemptive compromise to his embrace of indefinite detention and the drone wars. And with Republicans in Congress increasingly enthrall to their most ludicrous fringe elements, the only challenge I see for satirists in the years ahead is to keep up with reality.”
SIGNE WILKINSON (Philadelphia Daily News):
“I let the voters decide.”