In American politics a politician can express a tone in complete contrast to their reality. It’s the tone that voters believe.
So the topic of artistic style in editorial cartooning came up over the weekend, and it occurred to me that it has been a long time since I stated publicly my personal philosophy of how and why I draw in a certain artistic style. In my case, it’s a combination of what I like to see personally – the kind of cartoons I like to read – and what I think goes best with the message, obviously affected by my personal limitations as an artist. That said, as the cartoonist Tony Millionaire learned when he commissioned me to substitute for him on Maakies one week, I can draw a lot more detailed and tightly than I do.
I have noticed that a lot of editorial cartoonists, and most notably the newer alternative ones whose work is, I think the best in the profession these days, tend to work in a cleaner, tighter, more cartoony style than I do. I have a theory about why that is. I think that what they have learned, and I agree with it, is that most readers tend to find that the rough edges of harsh commentary about American culture and politics goes down more easily with art that is pretty and round and fun to look at…easier on the eyes.
I’m a little bit older than most of my alternative cartooning peers, with the exception of Tom Tomorrow. Both he and I came out of the punk rock and New Wave periods of the late 1970s and 1980s, and we are much more into the harsher angular look that reflects the harsh times that we grew up in and obviously the very tough society that we have before us as America becomes increasingly authoritarian.
I like artwork that reflects and challenges more than art that goes down easily. I don’t feel that the American public deserves or needs to be catered to, but screamed at and shouted at. Obviously a lot of readers agree, which is why I have a fanbase, but it’s still interesting that this is not a topic that people talk about a lot. For the most part, there’s just aren’t many political cartoonists who draw in a rough, punk rock-influenced edgy style anymore. Someone like Ralph Steadman, who obviously was a brilliant artist and illustrator, is an exception.
Given everything that’s going on, from Guantánamo to Iraq to Afghanistan to drones to domestic spying and torture screams for a look at the country that makes people understand that they do not live in a pretty place. That’s why I show everything scuzzy and litter-strewn and broken down, and as the Empire crumbles, I try to do artwork that reflects that.