Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville!

Here I sit in my new Nashville, Tennessee apartment, trying out a new restaurant for every meal, and finally drawing cartoons.  I finished my second cartoon in Nashville today – a busy, crowd scene cartoon about Obama and foreign aid to Egypt.  Here is my rough pencil sketch.
EgyptAidSketch600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

I drew this first with a light, hard, #5 pencil to get the people in the crowd into the right composition, so they are interacting with each other, have expressive body language, their faces aren’t obscured, the feet and arms are on right … all those details need to be thought through for each figure; better to do it in a sketch than on the fly in in finished art.   The line art is below.  I debated whether to go with just line for the black and white version that most people see in the newspaper.

136479 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

Here is the gray-scale version.  I thought it read a bit better with tone.  I do the gray-scale separately.  It isn’t just a gray version of the color cartoon.

136480 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

I usually avoid doing crowd scenes.  When I was an illustrator, I used to do a lot of crowd scenes.  I think art directors would sit in a brainstorming meeting and come up with a list of too many things that they needed to put in an ad – so they would call a cartoonist to jam it all into one piece of art.  Cartoonists get these jobs because the lists are too long, so the art has to be crazy. In fact, crowd scenes are usually not very effective compositions.  The most effective compositions show powerful character and expression, which is better done with large figures and faces.  With too many little figures in a crowd, the power of the expressions and body language are lost to tiny details.  That said, I hate to admit that sometimes a concept calls for a crowd scene.

Here’s the color cartoon …

136481 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

This one suffers from low resolution on the web, and will look much better in print, with crisp lines and texture in the tiny characters.  Here is a detail.

aiddetail Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

One funny thing about cartoon crowd scenes; when readers send me unsolicited ideas for cartoons, the ideas are almost always for crowd scenes.  The reader wants to say so much in his cartoon idea, that he comes up with a list of junk to include, just like the sloppy advertising art directors.  Some ideas I get start with, “draw an army on the left, and another army on the right …” or the reader will write, “fill the sky with helicopters …” Not only am I too lazy for this, all the tiny details would be ineffective in the composition, and the cartoon would be lousy.  For people who think in words, not images, these list-cartoons make perfect sense; to cartoonists, they are nonsense.

The previous cartoon is another Egypt/Arab Spring drawing.  Here’s the rough pencil sketch.  Notice that I drew Obama too low and made a note to move him up.  I make lots of mistakes.  Mistakes are easy to fix.  Better to make lots of mistakes and have no fear of mistakes – at least in cartoons.  I wouldn’t give that advice to my dentist.

AmericanSketch600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

Here is the line art version that most people will see in the newspapers.  No gray version for this one.  I like to keep them as line art if possible – there is something more elegant about not having to rely on tone.

136409 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

And here is the color …

136415 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

This cartoon is similar to one I drew a week earlier, with Obama and the Republicans.  I like the yellow ochre texture background for dirty fighting scenes.

135857 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons


Obama doesn’t actually wear pinstripe suits.  He wears plain black and blue suits, which are no fun to draw.  So I take some artistic license.  This recent Detroit-in-the-toilet cartoon also uses the yellow ochre, grungy theme that I’m fond of right now.

136000 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

Another recent one I neglected to post is this one about the chilly relations with Russia – not much of a cartoon, just an illustration of chilly relations.

135924 600 Egypt, Obama, Putin, Detroit and Nashville! cartoons

Sorry, with the move to Nashville I’ve fallen behind.  I’ll catch up soon.

Nashville is starting to grow on me.  I’ll get used to it soon – when it cools off and the humidity goes down.




A Cartoonist’s Thoughts On Scranton’s Salary Slash

Yesterday, the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania announced that due to ongoing budget problems and the threat of bankruptcy, all of Scranton’s 398 city workers — including cops and firefighters — will be paid minimum wage effective immediately.

I asked John Cole, the staff cartoonist for the Scranton Times-Tribune (whom I syndicate though Cagle Cartoons), what his thoughts were on the news:

Ask 10 Scrantonians who and/or what is to blame for their city’s seemingly inexorable slide into insolvency and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. OK, maybe seven. Or even five. Whatever the number, they’ll all be right to one degree or another. Scranton’s cash crunch has been years in the making and — in my opinion, at least — is the product of four forces: An eroded and aging tax base; Pennsylvania’s system of tiny, autonomous municipalities; expensive public-safety union contracts, and a fractious and parochial political culture.

The first three ingredients in that recipe would be manageable if the fourth weren’t so completely dysfunctional. The current mess is largely due to a power struggle between Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and a veto-proof “super-majority” on the city council that’s led by Council President Janet Evans. Doherty has been trying without success for years to rein in union labor costs through a state-backed recovery plan; the unions in turn have fought back furiously with the help of local pols like Evans. The result has been a back-and-forth stalemate of sorts, with the courts occasionally stepping in to make matters worse.

Here are seven cartoons drawn by Cole dating back to November 2010, tracing the arc of Scranton’s decline:

A state court sided with the police and fire unions, thus putting Scranton on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to cover back pay and future pay raises. The city hadn’t anywhere near the means to cover the tab. It still doesn't, in fact.
Just as the city pleaded poverty, the city discovered $3 million in parking meter receipts. It’s the latest example of a government too incompetent to account for the revenue it has on hand.
Barack Obama came to town, offering a reminder to Scrantonians of how similar their own local government is to the polarized, obstructionist and ineffective mess in Washington, DC.
Saddled with local school and city taxes while supporting a number of non-profit institutions (three hospitals, two universities and many social service organizations), Scranton’s tax base has been effectively picked clean.
Around Christmas last year, the state Supreme Court sided with the city's police and fire unions, effectively saying that the state’s recovery plan cannot preempt arbitration or the unions’ contracts and ending the city's legal argument. This set the stage for the city’s current financial nightmare.
In late June, the council super-majority voted not to pay off the Scranton Parking Authority’s city-guaranteed bonds, effectively placing the authority and city in default. Quite predictably, lenders took flight and the city’s credit line effectively disappeared. (The council furiously back-pedaled on this issue a week later, but the damage was done). Coincidentally, the council also pushed a 67-percent raise for its solicitor, who earlier had told the council he saw no problem with its decision to default.
Facing payless paydays for its employee and vendors threatening to cut off supplies for things like gas to power its police cruisers, Scranton weighs bankruptcy.