EVEN ON the road, during an 18-hour car trip through the South and well away from the Washington office, Ann Telnaes couldn’t get President Trump out of her head.
It was one month before the inauguration, and the editorial artist had been thinking of doing a book of Trump cartoons, yet a friend’s suggestion kept recurring: Why not do a political “ABC” book that resembled a preschooler’s early-reader introduction — except this alphabet would spell out its biting satire of the new president?
“I could only brainstorm by audio, so for the 18-hour round-trip drive, I kept repeating, ‘A is for blah-blah, B is for blah,’ ” says Telnaes, the Washington Post’s political animator and artist.
Telnaes recorded her ideas by phone as she traveled. “By the end of the road trip, it was completely written,” she recalls, “and after a few hours of thumbnail sketching, I had a Trump ABC book.”
The hardcover result, straightforwardly titled “Trump’s ABC” (Fantagraphics), is out this week, replete with watercolor illustrations that spoof — alongside rhyming prose — everything from the president’s treatment of women with his “itty, bitty hands” to what the author views as his abuses of power and conflicts of interest. Telnaes — the only woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Reuben Award for cartoonists — will appear Wednesday night in Washington, at the Politics and Prose bookstore at the Wharf, to discuss her book and perhaps break out a few orange paints for live rendering.
For “Trump’s ABC,” Telnaes is also drawing with satiric acid. Her poison-pen distaste for Trump drips from every colorful page.
“I don’t relish having him for president as a cartoonist, because I’m also an American who is alarmed at what is happening to the country,” Telnaes tells Comic Riffs. “I didn’t like G.W. Bush’s personality or politics either, and hammered on his administration hard, but this is a completely different cartooning experience for me.
“The amount of damage which has been done already by this president and his enablers,” she continues, “creates such a sense of urgency, I just begin each day frantically drawing and just trying to hold on.”
With that in mind, “Trump’s ABC” goes well beyond physical caricature to skewer this administration’s stances on such issues as abortion and health care.
“My concern was that I included actual issues, not just the silly stuff,” the author says. “Of course, not including a reference to Trump’s hair and coloring would be noticed, but things like a page devoted to ‘covfefe’ wasn’t a priority. For example, I wanted to devote a page to the issue of separation of powers, [and] checks and balances, so I changed from my original idea for the letter ‘S’ to the drawing of Trump in a MAGA crown cap.” (See above.)
One of Telnaes’s favorite two-page spreads covers the letter O and P. “Since Vice President Pence is part of the present problem, as well as a probable future one,” she says, “I really wanted to include him and his agenda somewhere in the book.”
Telnaes, who trained at Cal Arts and Disney, anchors her political renderings in inviting geometric compositions and confidently loose lines. “My approach to caricature,” she says, “is figuring out what the person is like inside, which is usually a process which has to develop over a course of months by watching press conferences and interviews.
“Caricature is definitely an evolution of listening to someone talk about their beliefs and watching their body language,” she continues, “so I don’t just look at a bunch of photographs of the person.”
Speaking of synthesizing visual and verbal information, aides have said that Trump is a highly visual learner. Does Telnaes think that increases the chances that the president might read her new picture book, as opposed to, say, a newspaper editorial?
“Not unless,” she says, “someone adapts it for television.”