washingtonpost.com
Line by Punch Line

Sunday, August 3, 2008

As the major-party conventions near, the nation's political cartoonists are still getting a feel for how to caricature the Men Who Would Be King. Lanky vs. squat, loose vs. stiff -- an election takes on a distinctive coloration when viewed through the eyes of these three Pulitzer Prize-winning artists. For them, after all, it's not just about a Democratic or Republican ticket; these faces represent their next meal ticket.

-- Interviews by Michael Cavna

STEVE BREEN (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Caricaturing -- an inborn talent or a skill painstakingly developed?

It came naturally. When I look at someone's face, there's something in my brain that just clicks -- that breaks down their face into the elements that go into a caricature. It might be like the way a chef tastes a dish and can break down into elements what went into it. . . . But I still had to study the art of caricature.

What's your process?

For some reason, photos work best. Video is helpful, too, because the more familiar you are with the subject, the more easily the caricature comes -- until it becomes like drawing your Uncle Frank.

Any cartooning bugaboos when it comes to caricature?

Women are more difficult to caricature than men -- partly because beauty is more difficult to caricature. John Edwards is a good-looking man and at first he was tough to draw. . . . If we had our druthers, all politicians would look like [Leonid] Brezhnev. Bring on the ugly!

How's it been, developing your Obama?

Obama's a good-looking guy, too, but you study. He has a long, skinny chin. He has heavy eyebrows and lines around his mouth and his lips are a darker pigment. And of course there are his ears, so you can zero in on them.

Size up McCain for us.

He's an old, white guy, which should be easy, but he's not. I can't put my finger on it. There's something with his chin and his neck, so you can have fun with that, but he's challenging.

What would make McCain easier?

Facial hair is something you can hang your hat on. . . . If we could talk McCain into growing a beard, that would be a huge help. And I would want him to dye it black.

Where's that line between cruel and kind caricature?

If Hillary has puffy ankles, I'm going to do the puffy ankles, not give her shapely ankles. But if you're too cruel in a caricature, then it takes away from the message of the cartoon and [readers] will say: "This guy is just out for blood and being a jerk."

Speaking strictly as a cartoonist, whom would you prefer to draw for the next four to eight years?

I want Nader to be president. He's the strangest-looking of all of them!

(Click here to see a video interview with Steve Breen about the craft of political cartooning.)

* * *

MIKE LUCKOVICH (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Does caricaturing come easy to you?

Even in fifth and sixth grade, I knew how to get a likeness. I knew how to look at a face. It's a series of measurements: sizing up the bottom of the nose, . . . the top of the lip. I was always good at that.

What's your process?

I go to Google Images and try to find the sort of angle that will fit my cartoon. I draw the caricature based on that photo. And I don't pencil anything in -- having no time really focuses me. I also go to Technorati and get video of the person talking, so you can understand how the face is working.

Size up McCain for us.

McCain has a smallish nose around his nostrils -- it's a short nose that widens going up into his eyes. It's interesting, because his eyes are kind of far apart, and he's got some weird cheekbones -- they're not symmetrical. The one on his right is more bloated and goes right into his neck. And his bottom teeth are very pronounced. I'm starting to understand his face. . . . It's like messing around with a Rubik's Cube.

And Obama?

His eyes are expressive -- he's got a very pleasing face, and you're drawn to it. And he's a good-looking guy. Some people say, "If a person's good-looking, they must be hard to draw," but I can capture his likeness pretty easily. He's got the long face and the big ears.

The political cartoonist's dream?

You want someone who's a bumbling idiot to be a president. And Obama's not bumbling.

Speaking as a cartoonist, you would prefer?

McCain, of course. You watch him give a speech, and it's incredible because he's so bad at the teleprompter, and he's got that goofy smile. . . . If Obama wins, he's going to be difficult. Maybe he'll have an idiot vice president.

Any other candidates you enjoyed drawing this year?

I liked drawing Hillary. She's got a slight overbite, and she's got that helmet-hair, and she has big cheeks. I always worked hard to capture her look. She was very expressive.

When caricaturing, anything that's just too cruel?

Sure. Hillary has these wide hips, for instance, but I never drew Hillary in a disrespectful way.

* * *

SIGNE WILKINSON (The Philadelphia Daily News )

What so engages us about caricatures?

People love to look at them because it's a kind of magic to have a few lines represent someone and people know who it is.

What's your process?

I'm too disorganized to have a process. I do try to get a lot of photographs. Whenever the candidates are on [TV] for a speech, I try to sketch from that -- just so I keep looking at them. . . . Cartoonists are the creators and keepers of our treasured national stereotypes and we have to earn that right. So it's a good idea to keep my eyes open.

Your Obama -- difficult?

He's pretty easy. He's got a clearly shaped face and he's got great eyebrows and a great mouth and he's a lean, skinny guy. He came prepackaged!

And how's your McCain coming along?

Oddly -- and I will charitably call him middle-aged -- middle-aged white men are a pain in the neck to draw because they're so pale. When they get white eyebrows and white hair and no discernible features, that gets difficult.

Size up, if you will, the best of the also-rans.

I like drawing Hillary. It's not exactly a policy discussion here, but she has great eyebrows, great cheeks and a good face-shape. . . . I also liked Romney. He looks like a 1950s actor in a Sani-Flush ad.

So anything you won't do, in terms of caricature?

I don't need to make caricatures so ugly that they're warped. . . . I was never fond of that Hillary-as-a-witch kind of thinking. . . . And black faces are still sensitive, but decreasingly so. Cartoonists are drawing an individual face, not a race.

As a cartoonist, whom would you rather draw for four more years ?

I pledge to draw the person who the American people choose to give me. I will be happy and grateful for their choice. But I hope whoever it is will not [again cause] me to have to draw zippers.

MORE ON POLITICAL CARTOONING: Join Comic Riffs blogger Michael Cavna starting Monday for a week-long look at political cartooning.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company