(MIKE LUCKOVICH / Atlanta Journal Constitution / Used by permission of the artist)


PERHAPS RIGHT UP THERE with wit and talent, Mike Luckovich possesses one of the greatest traits a staff cartoonist should have:

“I thrive on rejection.”

Man alive, does he. Sometimes when deadline draws nigh, the best time-saver is the trusted brutal truth about the quality of your concept. And a powerful motivator can be the supreme belief that you can still find the best available idea — in the least available amount of time.

Exhibit A: Luckovich’s Tuesday cartoon, which satirizes the latest accusations to swirl around the campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain. Regardless of the viewer’s political persuasion, the artist’s technical deftness — the sleight of satiric hand — can be appreciated.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, however, this cartoon wasn’t what was on Luckovich’s drawing board.

“I'd come up with another idea,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist tells Comic Riffs not three hours after his sudden pivot.

The previous idea, as Luckovich recounts: “Cain is next to [fellow candidate Newt] Gingrich. Cain's pants, labeled ‘polls,’ are at his ankles. Newt's pants have moved up from his ankles to his knees. Newt's looking down and says, ‘Mine are rising.’ “

(Luckovich, of course, has a decades-long history of taking unflinching aim at Gingrich, his fellow Georgian.)

“Thankfully, my editor didn't think it was my best effort and told me,” Luckovich tells us of his Gingrich/Cain cartoon. “It was around 5, which is pretty late, but I like pressure, so I came up with this idea” of Cain with his trousers ablaze.

“I really appreciate when my editor or colleagues tell me an idea stinks,” Luckovich says, “because it motivates me. I thrive on rejection.”

The left-leaning Luckovich also is thriving on the current cluster of satiric targets across the aisle. “The Republican candidates this go-round ,” he says, ”are a combination of unprepared, unprincipled, unauthentic, unintelligent and unstable.

“It doesn't get any better than this.”