How to Draw President George W. Bush
Political cartoonists are not much different from comic strip cartoonists; both draw an ongoing daily soap opera featuring a regular cast of characters. While comic strip cartoonists invent their own characters, the political cartoonist’s characters are given to him by events in the world; we are all drawing our own little daily sagas starring the same main character, President Bush.
Around the world, cartoonists almost always draw President Bush as a cowboy. Outside America, a Texas cowboy is seen as: uneducated, ill mannered, a “trigger-happy marshal” or outlaw who is prone to violence. Cowboy depictions of the president by worldwide cartoonists are meant to be insults, but Americans see cowboys differently. In the USA, cowboys are noble, independent souls, living a romantic lifestyle by taming the wilderness and taking matters into their own hands whenever they see a wrong that needs to be righted. We are a nation of wanna-be cowboys.
The image of President Bush evolves with each cartoonist’s personal perspective. Bush started out as most political cartoon characters start out, as a caricature of a real person, meant to be recognizable from a photograph. As time goes by, the cartoonists stop looking at photographs and start doing drawings of drawings, then drawings of drawings of drawings, so that the George W. Bush drawings morph into strangely deformed characters that look nothing like the real man, but are instantly recognizable because we’ve come to know the drawings as a symbol of the man. It is surprising that each cartoonist’s drawings of the president look entirely different, but each is easily recognizable as representing the same character.
For some cartoonists, the president’s ears have grown huge; a strange phenomenon, since the president doesn’t have unusually large ears, and isn’t well known for listening. Some cartoonists have seen President Bush shrink in height; a combination of these has the president sometimes looking like a little bunny rabbit.
The president who shrank most in cartoons was Jimmy Carter. At the end of Carter’s term he was a Munchkin, standing below knee height on almost every cartoonist’s drawing table. President Bush has shrunk for only some of the more liberal cartoonists. President Reagan grew taller during his cartoon term in office. President Clinton grew fatter, even as he lost weight in real life. Bill Clinton’s personality was fat, and the cartoonists drew the personality rather than the man. President Clinton is now skinny, but he will always be fat in cartoons.
Another cartoon characteristic that has grown from years of drawing President Bush are his eyes, two little dots, close together, topped by raised, quizzical eyebrows. The close, dotted eyes are an interesting universal phenomenon, shared by almost every cartoonist, that doesn’t relate to the president’s actual features. Over time, most cartoonists will draw a character with eyes that grow larger, but President Bush’s eyes shrink, while his ears grow. There may be a political message in that, but I can’t figure it out.
I once played “Political Cartoonist Name That Tune.” The game went like this:
“I can draw President Bush in SIX LINES.”
“Well, I can draw President Bush in FOUR LINES!”
“I can draw President Bush in THREE LINES!”
“OK. Draw that President!”
…and I did, two little dots topped by a raised, quizzical eyebrow line. It looked just like him.
Daryl Cagle is the political cartoonist for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to over eight hundred newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His book, “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005 Edition,” is available in bookstores now.