As a cartoon character, Hillary is definitely the best choice for president and her dive in the polls has some editorial cartoonists sweating.
As an editorial cartoonist I don’t make up my own characters; the world provides me with characters. Great characters. Better characters than I could ever make up. I sit around at my desk all day, watching Fox News and MSNBC. I get angry and I think of cartoons. It’s the good life.
Compared to a comic strip cartoonist, I’ve got it easy. Comic strip artists spend their whole careers developing characters in tiny, daily increments. It takes years and years of strips before readers know just what is in Lucy’s mind when she holds the football for Charlie Brown – that kind of intimate knowledge of character gives cartoons wonderful depth. When our readers know our characters, we can draw cartoons that are rewarding just because we see the character acting as we already know he will. A subtle bit of body language can be a punch line when readers really know the characters, and it is the best kind of humor when the gag was years in the making.
Hillary Clinton is a cartoon character that has taken many years to develop and every editorial cartoonist can claim her as his own. We know Bill Clinton as intimately as we know Charlie Brown. We know Hillary as intimately as we know Lucy. They are an editorial cartoonist’s treasure.
I drew a cartoon with Bill and Hillary that was probably my most reprinted, most popular cartoon ever. They were on a book tour, and I drew Bill and Hillary at a table together, signing books. Bill had his book open with a Playboy style fold-out dropping out of the book, and Hillary whacked Bill on the side of his head her book. There were no words, just facial expressions and body language. My readers loved it! Oh! The mail I got on that one!
As Hillary’s campaign prospects fade I’m seeing my best characters fade away. Obama is easy to draw, but there’s nothing behind the long face – no pain we all shared, no national embarrassment, no anger, no crazy, complex, cheating spouse. For all the excitement of his supporters, Obama is dull. He’s a straight man, commenting on the events around him, or riding the crest of a wave, or driving a steamroller over Hillary. There isn’t any facial expression I can put on Obama that will make the readers say, “I know just what he’s thinking!” The guy is a cartoon disaster.
John McCain isn’t much better. The term of art for McCain is “pudding-face.” In fact, McCain is more like tapioca, with a lumpy face that looks like he has his cheeks filled with marbles; that doesn’t help me much. McCain has a reputation for a hot temper, which is fun for a cartoonist, but we haven’t seen enough of his temper to expect it in a cartoon. Al Gore and John Kerry were stiff, dull and just as bad for cartoonists.
When President Bush ran against Sen. Kerry in 2004, there was no doubt that the best choice for the cartooning business was Bush. In the past eight years we’ve had great material for cartoons. We’ve had wars, terrorist attacks and some ugly times in Washington, but there have been some great cartoons during the Bush administration. Tough times make for good cartoons too. In fact, I’ll bet my cartoons would look better if I knocked my head against the wall a few times. I’ll try that when Hillary drops out of the race.
Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. Daryl is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. He runs the most popular cartoon site on the Web at www.cagle.msnbc.com. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Editions,” are available in bookstores now.