SAY THIS about Time magazine’s new cover: In its ability to distill a certain high-proof point, it’s trite and true.
When Time unveiled its uncommonly wordless cover Thursday, the striking visual pinged around social media, with some viewers hailing it as “brilliant” and “bold,” while others decried the White House-to-St.-Basil’s-Cathedral transformation as fake news.
Yet one outlet, MAD magazine, cheekily found fault with the image for another reason: The satirical publication arrived at the same idea a half-year earlier. Tweeted MAD in punning fashion: “Once More, With Stealing Dept.: TIME MAGAZINE RIPS OFF MAD MAGAZINE?” — a humorously savvy way to get some retro-credit for its work.
— MAD Magazine (@MADmagazine) May 18, 2017
But then Australian editorial cartoonist Sean Leahy of the Courier Mail, Brisbane, tweeted that he rendered the same idea last November, a month earlier than even MAD.
— Leahy Cartoons (@leahycartoons) May 18, 2017
Perhaps the real joke in all this, of course, is that in the professional world of Cartoon Kremlinology, this familiar visual has practically become Satire 101 and, within the Trumpian cycle, has apparently been bouncing around for more than a year.
It can be the bane of the visual satirist’s trade that common symbols also become common shorthand as tools of artistic communication. The Statue of Liberty weeps, Lady Justice is robbed blind and Uncle Sam rolls up his sleeves or dons a beggar’s barrel. Such tropes are so cliched that “Stan Kelly” (the character nom-de-toon of Ward Sutton) even spoofs them in his meta-guise as The Onion’s old-school hack of a label-happy editorial cartoonist.
Into this realm of the common, more recently, has entered the melding of Russia and the White House. In terms of visual mergers, it has not been a far leap from the Kremlin Towers to Trump Tower, either. The joke readily writes itself.
When a political cartoonist begins sketching out ideas that involve Moscow, the same old visual metaphors commonly cycle through the creative brain: the Russian nesting dolls, the ol’ Soviet bear, the trusty hammer and sickle. And of course, those Red Square spires, which in their iconic shapes and colors can prove artistically irresistible.
How often do they inevitably cycle through as a logical creative conclusion? Well, just consider a recent cartoon by Scott Stantis of the Chicago Tribune:
Or one by Bill Day of Cagle Cartoons:
Or syndicated Marian Kamensky of Austria:
Or Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic:
The syndicated Arcadio Esquivel of Costa Rica even gives those Moscow spires a Trumpian touch:
Steve Sack of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis has painted those Kremlin colors on multiple occasions, dating back even to Trump’s inauguration:
As far back as last summer, two other Pulitzer winners — the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mike Luckovich and Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News — were organically arriving at similar visual conclusions:
Get the big picture yet?
There might be little that’s new symbolically under the Red Square walls, even though cartoonists are encouraged to push themselves to invent and innovate and surprise.
Yet when it comes to a cover like that of Time, regardless of how deftly executed, should the visual redundancy matter?
Well, on one hand, a simple Google search would have revealed numerous satiric predecessors.
Yet on the other hand, if choosing to operate in ignorance, an artist is certainly free to render what might be fresh to them in this zeitgeist-y moment — even if putting on online blinders isn’t the most intellectually rigorous way to approach your work. You are at liberty to add yet one more image to the Moscow meme.
Just don’t call it an original.