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Category: Cartoons

Gone, But Not Forgetting
I'm a long way from my drawing board right now, but politics is somehow moving on without my cartoons. The issues are ripe and bursting with juicy irony, and I am experiencing withdrawals from being unable to satirize them.

Among the scenery moving around in my head:

1. Drump unhinged. He looked positively incandescent in that oval office meeting with the Rooskis. Like a navel orange on fire. His teeth seemed to glow neon blue, and his face bespoke a strange, overamped goofiness. Was he coked up again? His lips, we know, were especially loose.

2. The Republicans. They continue to exhibit the perfect antitheses of all the noble qualities that they claim exclusively for themselves: patriotic, strong on defense, tough on Russia, fiscally responsible, honorable in the extreme. No, no, no, no, and no. They've managed to give craveness a bad name. I am so tired of using the nice old elephant as a symbol for these turkeys. If only I could replace it with something more appropriate. A weasel, say, or a leech. Cane toad? Moray eel? Maggot?

3. The Dems. United for once, mostly, but too worshipful of the elites. Joe blow is still out there looking for someone who really cares. Could I make them a gelded Arabian stallion instead of a donkey? Or maybe a unicorn?

4. The rest of the world. They're pretty busy with their own control freaks, but I'll bet they're still gobsmacked that we could follow up our salad nicoise a la Obama with a crap crepe.

5. The planet. Tick, tick, tick. Just like Drump, only slower.

6. Truth. Not that hard to find, really. Your daily newspaper does a pretty good job. Oh, wait a minute, it disappeared. My #1 rule: don't believe anything that comes out of Drump's mouth. Unless it's a precious national secret, that is.

Okay, I'm feeling better about my cartooning now. The republic, though, not so much.
Caricature Assassination
A couple of weeks ago, I did a caricature of Donald Trump as Jabba the Hutt. I confess that I didn’t have any sharp political point to make with the cartoon; it was simply an excuse to draw him in the least flattering way possible. It was a cheap shot, in other words. I felt a little guilty about it for that reason, although I still had plenty of fun likening him to that loathsome monster.

Last week I had another Trump cartoon on my board. He wasn’t so ugly in this one, but I had done my best to convey a soul constricted by mendacity and greed. In the end, I spiked that cartoon and drew another one. The new one addressed the looming threat of the Zika virus and made no reference at all to the presumptive Republican nominee.

I’m not sure why I junked that Trump ‘toon. Maybe it didn’t measure up to my own standards of good satire. Maybe I wasn’t satisfied with the drawing or the contents of the word balloon. Maybe it was a guilt hangover from the Hutt cartoon. I don’t know, but when I tossed it and moved on to something meaningful, something not related to the latest Trump outrage, I felt a distinct endorphin rush. There was sense of release, too…as if I had passed some kind of psychic kidney stone.

I now believe that this might have been a turning point.

The whole ugly circus has finally gotten to me. It’s all just so stupid. I’m tired of the press not reporting plain truth. I’m tired of the breast-beating outrage on the left. I’m tired of the carefully qualified condemnations on the right. I’m tired of people who can’t smell the bullshit when there’s an enormous pile right under their noses. And I’m way, way tired of Donald Trump. So tired, in fact, that I’m not going to draw caricatures of him anymore.

This will not be an easy vow to keep. Barring a surge of righteousness in the Republican Party, he will be their nominee. He will be a central character in the biggest news story of the year. He will no doubt continue to engage in satire-worthy behavior. I will have to deal with him somehow. But no caricatures.

I should also point out that not only do I enjoy doing caricatures, but also that a Trump likeness is ridiculously easy to draw. The hair, the lips, the bloating, the orangeness, the inherent two-dimensionality — anyone can do it. Perhaps it is the easiness of doing it that has led me to this point. Just as reporters have simply reported his outrages and called that news, I have been cranking out unflattering caricatures and calling it satire.

It’s just not good enough. I am failing at my job. Not only that, by reproducing the toxic, hateful characteristics I find so repulsive in Trump, I might be running the risk of imprinting those same traits on my own character. I worry that the more Jabbas I draw, the more Huttish I will become.

So…no more bad hairdos, no more pouty lips, no more tiny hands, and no more using the blunt object of caricature assassination. I will be needing a sharper tool to carve up this fat Jabba.
Gut Reaction
I wrote a piece about cartoon abuse a while back that focused broadly on the advertising crimes of Big Pharma and particularly on the sad case of Jublia’s big, fungus-afflicted foot character.

Among other things, that poor creature suffers a fate that none of us, real or animated, should have to endure: poor conceptualization. It’s so sad…especially when we can see that it’s not really necessary. It’s possible to create a credible character to help hawk your fungicidal product. Lamisil has done it with Digger the Dermatophyte (its actual given name). Digger has a clear, discernable personality, and, unlike Jublia’s nameless monstrosity, his motivations are clear: he is a disease, and he wants to hurt you really, really bad.

To be sure, Digger has other issues. He is pretty close to pure evil, and he is capable of cruelties toward toenails that are truly disturbing. But at least he proves that it can be done. The disease is not the problem with these ads, it’s the so-called creative team. Digger the Dermatophyte may be scary — so scary, I would argue, that he might discourage potential customers — but at least his rationale as a character is coherent. To a professional cartoon/actor that’s all that matters. Furthermore, I want to make it clear that I do not object to the idea of cartoon characters selling drugs. The more cartoons there are in this world, the better. Besides, some can be quite entertaining.

My favorite is the Gut Guy. If you haven’t seen him, you’re not watching enough teevee. Gut is a tangle of pink intestines created to sell Xifinan, and he is a slightly disgusting delight. The Gut Guy (his given, trademarked, copyrighted name) has a clear identity: he’s a colon. The arms and legs have been added to give him both mobility and a pinch of simpatico. He’s not just any colon; he’s our colon. He may look like an unruly coil of Pepto Bismol-colored clay ropes, but he’s kind of sweet. Add to this that he suffers from is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one of the funniest maladies out there. If you can’t get a laugh out of that, well, then you probably have it.

I confess that I have never experienced IBS (though I have, at times, experienced some digestive grumpiness), so my apologies if I find the condition quite droll. It’s amusing in a potty humorous way, and Valeant Pharmaceuticals happily plays to those cheap seats in its online animation. Yes, that’s our little buddy, clutching at his rump area and making a mad dash for the powder room. That, my friends, is entertainment.

I think the Gut Guy definitely has a future in show business. Whereas the Jublia foot-thing is destined for cartoon character limbo, G.G. is just too lovably goofy to die. He might even score his own series. Who knows? Perhaps a career in the movies, then a line of sportswear? And, if all goes well and the world is ready, his own fragrance.
When the comic strip Zits debuted nearly twenty years ago, we got our first real look at the modern male teenager as cartoon protagonist. There had been other teens, of course, notably Archie and his friends, but teenagers in comics had generally followed the Alexander Bumstead model: a pale copy of the main character, with no discernible personality, and never worthy of delivering a punch line.

Duncan, the hero of Zits, comes much closer to embodying the reality of the teenage years than any of his predecessors. We all recognize the now-familiar joke themes of the strip: messiness, noisiness, awkwardness, appetite, fast growth, laziness, procrastination, cluelessness, and an uncanny mastery of all things digital. The chance for humor seems so obvious that you wonder why there had been no prior comic strips that tilled the same fertile subject matter.

Luann is the only other daily strip whose main character is a teenager (unless you count Spiderman, which I don’t). Unlike Cookie Bumstead (Alexander’s sister and yet another teenage non-entity), Luann gets most of the punch lines in her strip and has been given a distinct personality all her own. The strip doesn’t depend on visual laughs like Zits, and it isn’t drawn in the amusing, kinetic style that Zits' co-creator (and Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist) Jim Borgman uses, but Luann had a promising start and a good lead character. It has turned out, however, to be a bit of a disappointment for me.

There was a time when Luann looked like it was ready to do for teenage girls what Zits does for teenage boys. Luann, like most comic strip characters, does not age much. In the thirty years since her debut, however, she has grown out of her awkward, insecure persona and become a young lady who is finding her way in the world.

That may be a situation ripe with comic possibilities, but it’s not doing anything for me. I miss the younger, tormented Luann, the one filled with doubts and terrors. Those traits made me wince; I couldn’t help but feel empathy for her. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for humor; just ask Charlie Brown.

Maybe Greg and Karen Evans, the strip’s creators, got tired of that subject matter and wanted to grow their character out of her tortured adolescent phase. Perhaps they thought it was too disturbing for a daily strip to dwell on the unpleasantness of teen angst. I don’t know, but I see it as an opportunity missed. I do know that it’s tricky turning pathos into jokes. You run the risk of seeming flip or even cruel. Or worse, you wade too deeply into it and close the door on humor altogether. Maybe they gave up on that earlier Luann because it was just too hard for them to extract fun from her psychic pain.

Zits doesn’t delve into such matters. It is happy to stick with its tried and true repertoire of sight gags and slightly disgusting teenage boy subjects. That’s fine. I still like the strip, even though it’s lost some of its power to surprise. I’m tempted to say that girl humor is harder, but I’m a man, so what do I know? Signe Wilkinson, who also won a Pulitzer for her political cartoons, produces the daily strip Family Tree. It features a teenager named Twig, and she’s a typical modern teen, but I haven’t seen Signe leave the safe zone with her to tackle those tricky emotional issues.

So I’m waiting. Somewhere out there is a young woman who likes to cartoon and has the light touch of a Charles Schultz in her storytelling. She would need to walk the delicate line between jokes that are not too dark for the funny pages, and subjects that will explore the troubled internal world of a teenage girl. That is a strip that could, like Peanuts, advance our understanding of our own humanity. Yes, cartoons can do that.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon