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It’s the familiar lament of the political cartoonist. As a human you hate the politician and want them gone as soon as possible. But as a cartoonist, you want the same person to stick around for a long, long time. This has never been more true than with Donald Trump. Who wants to spend four years drawing Hillary?
The problem is not an acute one for me as I am no longer a professional cartoonist. I’m a writer and probably should stick to what I do best, but every four years or so I feel some sort of evolutionary, almost primal, prodding to pick up the pen and dip it in ink. It worked out pretty well with Romney and I was pleased with my caricature of him (which was challenging since he is blandly handsome). Trump has given me fits, however. I think it’s the same with satiric writing about him: how do you caricature someone who has pushed himself beyond caricature? But for me it’s even more basic than that. I don’t have him yet, and that bugs me. While my wife self-medicated (red wine) to get through the debate, I sat there with my drawing board in my lap drawing Trump after Trump after Trump. Sometimes I felt so close to capturing him…it should be so…easy….that strange little pouty kissy thing he does with his mouth…..the Grinch-like frown…..the brows pulled down like an angry Dad…..the sighs and overblown body language…..it’s just sitting there, a caricature already, so why can’t I just get it? I draw forty more Trumps and still, like a disobedient dog, he won’t come.
I google “Trump cartoons” to see what’s out there, and with a few exceptions, I see I am not alone in my struggle. I no longer have an insider’s sense of what is going on in the political cartooning world. By the time I quit it seemed like a kind of stupid art form to me, just beating a dead horse, and then beating it again, even though it was really dead, and then again and again. But Tom Toles, who is now with the Washington Post, brought a lightness, absurdity, and real sense of humor (which is surprisingly rare) to the art form, just as Patrick Oliphant had earlier elevated the form through sheer artistic genius. Toles could never hold Oliphant’s brushes, artistically speaking, but his caricatures, quick sketches that are like slightly fleshed-out stick figures, are genius of their own sort. And I see that his Trump is pretty damn good. He seems to have wavered for a while but is now going full Kissy Face. Like this:
My most serendipitous presidential caricature was Gerald Ford, who I first drew when I was about my daughter’s age, thirteen. I wasn’t even trying to draw Ford, who with his bland features and bald head defeated much better artists than me, when a kind of fetal Frankenstein just jumped off my pen, all at once, full-blown and full-born.
Of course the only President who I ever feel I got cold was Reagan. That was partly because he reigned during the time when I cartooned full time, before writing took over. I drew him all through college and then, after graduation, drew a poster of him that my friend Dave Rotman and we marketed (or tried to market) nationally. Before I drew the final version I spent a few weeks up in the attic of my house on Cape Cod drawing Reagan after Reagan, auditioning various versions for the poster. That poster, thirty-three years old, is thumbtacked to the wall above me where I type now. Here is a photo my Reagan’s face:
I would like to do the same with Trump, though I’m an amateur now, with a day job and without the time for the necessary obsession. Still, I can’t feel like Trump is right there, on the other side of an invisible wall. And if I keep sketching, doodling, maybe he will suddenly appear, right there under my pen. I hope I get him before he’s gone. Of course more than that I, or at least the non-cartoonist parts of me, hope he’s soon gone, whether I get him or not.
P.S. The only Trump cartoon I’ve done that I’m truly pleased with has been one that is too crude to publish. It’s the only one that’s “jumped off my pen,” so to speak. Since this is a little further down in the page I’m going to sneak it in here: