See All Topics

Home / Section: Editorial cartooning

Will an Obama presidency challenge cartoonists?

A couple of news items in the last two days raises the question of how an Obama presidency – the first African-American – would challenge editorial cartoonists.

NPR talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cartoonist Mike Luckovich and Mike Peters of The Dayton Daily News about the presidential campaign so far. Luckovich stated that “Obama is going to be very difficult to mock,” to which Peters chimes in, “it’s going to be the end of cartooning as we know it.” Luckovich explains it this way,”Obama so comfortable in his own skin. Now compare this guy, he just glides, that’s his personality, that’s the scary part for us cartoonists, he can actually string sentences together in a coherent way.”

Gawker takes a casual glance at the history of editorial cartooning and race and concludes that an Obama presidency would be more difficult for cartoonists to work with. It points to three examples as evidence of cartoonists who have caught flack for racial under (and over) tones including Pat Oliphant’s treatment of Condoleezza Rice, the now infamous Gordon Campbell cartoon depicting Collin Powell as a black Benedict Arnold and a recent cartoon of Glenn McCoy depicting an Obama cabinet.

The question of finding the funny in the Democratic candidate goes beyond cartooning, of course. Comedians have gotten considerable mileage out of a Republican administration, and if we’re looking at four years of ‘The Barack Obama Variety Half-Hour’, political laughs could be hard to come by.

Community Comments

#1 David Crews
October/28/2008
@ 11:33 am

It’s always harder to ridicule someone you agree with 100%. That covers at least 80% of all political cartoonists. How could they ever find anything to complain about with the eloquent, the smooth, the angel from on high, Barak Obama in office?

#2 Aaron Taylor
October/28/2008
@ 11:44 am

“They” did a pretty good job with it when Bill Clinton was in office.

#3 josh shalek
October/28/2008
@ 11:54 am

I imagine a challenge would be fun. Especially after 8 years of a president who essentially caricatured himself.

#4 Matt Bors
October/28/2008
@ 12:19 pm

Obama has to manage two failed wars and a collapsing economy. He’ll escalate the war in Afghanistan and may launch attacks into some of the countries we haven’t attacked yet. He can’t possibly live up to the hype and hope people have for him. That and Republicans will be frothing over the Democrat controlled Government.

Should be fun!

#5 Ted Rall
October/28/2008
@ 12:24 pm

Hear, hear Aaron and Matt!

I don’t understand cartoonists who think Obama will be tough to satirize. He’s a stuffed shirt who takes himself seriously. As Matt says, he’ll try to be all things to all people–which means he’s doomed to failure.

From what I’ve read, cartoonists had a field day with JFK.

Speaking personally, I’m looking forward to an end to kindergarten kartooning: torture is bad, liberals aren’t traitors, etc. I had much more fun with Clinton than Bush (though we shan’t see his like again).

#6 Rob Tornoe
October/28/2008
@ 1:38 pm

Obama also comes in with high expectations because of all his promises and demeanor, and the more he wins by on election night, the higher those expectation will be.

Plus, he has his merry little band of sidekicks that won’t have any checks and balances; Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Hillary & Bill Clinton, Barney Franks, Joe Biden. Fun, fun, fun.

I think cartoonists have a LOT more to worry about these days than an Obama presidency.

The greatest shift will be seeing Daily KOS, Huffington Post, Crooks & Liars, all turning into Rush Limbaugh’s of the left, carrying Obama’s water no matter what happens.

So we might all end up listening to Hannity for objective criticism!

#7 Brian Fairrington
October/28/2008
@ 1:51 pm

That quote from Luckovitch is absurd. Why wouldn’t we be able to criticize Jesus…er, I mean Obama? Would it be considered blasphemous?

That quote feeds into the very kind of negative image that had given the media a bad name among half the country, that their in bed with Obama. The truth is it’s pretty crowded in the bed already with Keith Oberman, Chris Mathews, Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and many, many others all snuggling together.

Good cartoonists should have no sacred cows.

#8 Brian Fairrington
October/28/2008
@ 1:53 pm

Hey- I can’t type!! That’s they’re not their and has not had.

#9 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
October/28/2008
@ 2:51 pm

I think Luckovich and Peters were being wags with tongue in cheek. All of us had plenty to do with Clinton, even before Monica, and I would expect this to be no exception. If one can’t find something in a new administration, then go into gag cartoons or something else.
About the only time I can ever remember where the bulk of the editorial cartoonists stopped doing their jobs of criticism and ridicule was in the aftermath of 9/11 towards Bu/sh. Only the catastrophe and blatant incompetence evident due to Katrina did the pencils and wit become sharpened.

Still, I could never be without material if Pa/lin were available. Don’t know if I could take it, though. I’ll have to settle for showing wingnuts heads exploding in the interim.

#10 Mike Lester
October/28/2008
@ 3:16 pm

â??Obama is going to be very difficult to mock,â? -Luckovich.
â??itâ??s going to be the end of cartooning as we know it.â? -Peters

Why would two silly men (listen to the NPR piece and wince) say such a thing? What is so different? What makes Obama so difficult to mock that he would portend the end of cartooning?

Why do I keep hearing that this is the most historic Presidential race in history?

This one’s a real brainteaser so if anybody’s got a hunch why the room smells like elephant, get back to me. Thanks.

#11 Abell Smith
October/28/2008
@ 4:19 pm

I’ve always thought that the one good thing about Dubya was that he was so incredibly bad, more people than ever felt the need to school themselves in political minutiae. I don’t recall a time before in my lifetime when, say, the Secretaries of State and Defense were household names who elicited such strong opinions. I was getting a Political Science degree during the Clinton years, and I still didn’t follow current events nearly as much as I do now (I think I would’ve been a lot more pissed at Clinton back then if I did)…

Hopefully people will stick with it, especially if Obama starts capitulating again on issues like FISA…

#12 Tom Wood
October/28/2008
@ 4:21 pm

I intend to revisit some of the material thrown out during this campaign. If the Reverend Wright stuff is used and re-used for comic material over the next four years, it won’t be very usable by the Republicans in the next election. Wear it out.

#13 Kal Kallaugher
October/28/2008
@ 4:45 pm

The radio piece did make me wince as well. I guess satirizing Obama will be difficult if we editorial cartoonists are all just a bunch of 7 year olds as described in the piece.

#14 Leah Barnett
October/28/2008
@ 4:54 pm

Whether Obama turns out to be the presidential messiah or not, goofy things are still going to happen in the White House and cartoonists are going to be there to capture it. I’m not worried.

#15 Darrin Bell
October/28/2008
@ 5:42 pm

“Why do I keep hearing that this is the most historic Presidential race in history?”

I’ll answer that as soon as you answer mine, which is “Why have I never heard that this is the most historic Presidential race in history?”

Anyway, I think their comments were just stating the obvious: it’s a lot harder to come up with provocative material without a provocative subject. For the past eight years, all we had to do was hold up a pad of bristol paper to our TVs for a few minutes, and presto, a cartoon would magically appear. They wrote our cartoons for us. Gave us huge, simple themes to hit over and over again (big lies that cost lives are bad, torture’s bad, eating cake and playing the guitar while an American city is drowning, bad). They were liars who appointed incompetent cronies to important positions to predictable outcomes. They fiddled while America burned and their buddies roasted marshmallows over the flames. That was the fundamental theme, anyway.

What’s the fundamental theme about Obama? He knew people that Joe the Plumber wouldn’t like? He’s too popular? He’s too articulate? He won’t be able to live up to the hopes of his supporters? I don’t think any of those themes are going to make for provocative cartoons.

I don’t think the theme has presented itself yet, and when it does, there’s little chance it’s going to be as black and white or as resounding as “torture bad, not lying America into war good.” There’s just no way around that.

#16 Mike Cope
October/28/2008
@ 7:27 pm

Nothing funny about this politcal SUPERHERO? C’mon, use your imagination, folks …

Super BO saves the economy!

Super BO attacks global warming!!

Super BO brings world peace to the Middle East!!!

Man, these gags just stink … But the t-shirts will sell like hotcakes if the cartoons don’t :)

#17 Carl Moore
October/28/2008
@ 10:09 pm

The fundamental theme of an Obama presidency is obvious – overreaching to the left.

With Obama in the White House, Reid and Pelosi riding shotgun, get ready for a flood of Tax-and-Spend up the wazoo, oppressive regulation of business, harrassment of corporations by the likes of that clown Henry Waxman, protectionist walls erected and the end of free trade, government control of drug prices and, with it, the end of pharmaceutical innovation, a weakening and hollowing out of the military and a flabby do-nothing foreign policy, Al Gore generated legislation that will pore money into snafu environmental projects that won’t pan out, and on and on…

Oh, an Obama administration is going to be a gas!

#18 Rich Diesslin
October/29/2008
@ 1:54 am

The Mikes must be speaking tongue-in-cheek, it should be a piece-of-cake. It’s going to be the Carter years all over again. Michael Ramirez has already been knocking them out right and left. Check out http://ibdeditorials.com/cartoons.aspx

And, while I don’t do many editorial cartoons, even I can do them for Obama. http://www.the-cartoonist.com/vault/toons/display.html?image=richdiesslin_obama_carter.jpg

It’s more like hiding my wallet that I’ll be worried about. ;)

#19 Mike Peterson
October/29/2008
@ 2:52 am

If, in January, the weatherman says it will be nice out, he doesn’t mean 80 degrees. If, contemplating McCain vs Obama, a cartoonist says Obama will be the end of cartooning, same thing. McCain would be four more years of easy work, Obama will make it more challenging.

Remember that a lot of the Clinton jokes were pretty lame, mostly depictions of Bill and Hillary in a canoe on a raging stream labeled “Whitewater” or of Bill the Big Mac Eater or Bill the Henpecked Tom Cat. Cartoonists won’t have much of that to work from, at least unless Richard Mellon Scaife invests in promoting some Obama the Muslim and Obama the Ayers Buddy material for them.

Also, the Clinton administration wasn’t marked by a lot of major policy shifts and the economy was doing fairly well, so actual, substantive political commentary had to be more nuanced. By contrast, while W the Nitwit and Cheney the Growling Menace have been good stock characters, there have also been a lot of actual policy issues to run them through — the war, Katrina, the economy. My suspicion is that, as Obama works on the economy and the war, his own role is going to be somewhat Teflon-coated, since he’s not as prone to over-the-top “This is going to fix everything!” statements as W has been.

#20 Peter Murphey
October/29/2008
@ 4:03 am

You’re saying, Barak “We are the change we’ve been waiting for!”
Obama is going to be nuanced work for cartoonists?

#21 Abell Smith
October/29/2008
@ 4:41 am

Easy, Carl… breathe buddy… everything’s going to be alllll righhhht….

#22 Mike Sieber
October/29/2008
@ 9:19 am

If not Obama, then I’m sure Biden will prove to be a good target. His gaffes aren’t quite up to W’s standards, but they’re pretty good.

#23 Mike Witmer
October/29/2008
@ 11:23 am

“Oh, an Obama administration is going to be a gas!”

Wow…someone is worked up. LOL. I have no fear that regardless of who gets in office, cartoonists will always have plenty of ammo. From a cartoonist’s perspective it would be a shame if Palin didn’t get hired, wouldn’t it? She’s pure gold.

#24 josh shalek
October/29/2008
@ 12:10 pm

Darrin said what I was thinking, but with more eloquence.

As long as there are political candidates, there will be political cartoonists. (At least, I hope so.)

Heck, Trudeau felt he had it so easy with Bush, he just pulled W. quotes and posted them as a comic. That was as much a satire of the current state of political cartooning as it was of the President.

#25 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
October/29/2008
@ 6:52 pm

There are racists among us, and they do not depart quietly.
They are insidious…corrosive, yes…they are evil.

Do you deal with them, or pretend to ignore them?

#26 Phil Wohlrab
October/30/2008
@ 8:41 pm

I liked this one.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/215/gallery/53515-a53742-t3.html

#27 Rich Diesslin
October/31/2008
@ 2:01 am

Phil, that is a good one.

#28 Jim Bradford
October/31/2008
@ 1:18 pm

Obama’s primary and presidential run has provided ample fodder for satire and ridicule especially when coupled with the gift that keeps on giving, Joey Biden. If he wins the White House, the potential for commentary will increase greatly, however, my gut tells me that McCain will triumph come November 4th making the premise of this discussion thread pointless.

#29 Monty Rohde
October/31/2008
@ 8:34 pm

I’ll always remember something Steve Sack said to me,

*not a exact quote*
“…I missed Nixon when I began my I career and I was disappointed because I never thought we’d have that great of a villain again. Then Bush came along…”

There will be worse Mr. Rall. Just hang around for another 30 years.

#30 Monty Rohde
October/31/2008
@ 8:41 pm

Either Obama or McCain will make for great fodder. Obama will just require a shifting of gears.

#31 Phil Wohlrab
November/1/2008
@ 7:00 am

My gut doesn’t tell me anything. In Blue Jersey there is this weird vibe. There aren’t any bumper stickers on peoples cars, like the last two elections. A few here and their but they are very rare. No doubt this state will go Obama.

If Obama wins and he’s too tough to go after, make fun of his advisers, like our failed governor John Corzine, who’ll likely want to put new tolls on every road in America and hike them 800% over the next ten years.

#32 jeff pendleton
November/5/2008
@ 2:29 pm

I can’t believe that anyone would be so in the tank or politically correct that they would consider “the one” to be off-limits. hell, im hoping to make a career out of an obama presidency. then he can take it all away from me at tax time. everybody wins.

#33 Wiley Miller
November/5/2008
@ 4:19 pm

Who would ever consider President Obama “off limits” for satire?

#34 John Cole
November/5/2008
@ 4:33 pm

“… then he can take it all away from me at tax time.”

If you’re a political cartoonist, I daresay the gov’t’s take will be meager

And here’s a cartoonist conceit for you: Draw a nation of alcoholics who have run out a $10 trillion bar tab, and instead of resolving to pay it decide instead to leave their kids at China’s doorstep.

#35 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
November/5/2008
@ 6:22 pm

Good rejoinder, John. I often marvel at the fuzzy thinking of those that conflate paying for society’s benefits into some kind of a personal grudge.
I have a neighbor that was grousing like “Joethephonyplumber” about “sharing the wealth” with government. I said, “What wealth, Clyde? You think the government is going to confiscate your surfboard? Because other than that, You have no wealth!”.

Nice Keystone state ‘toon, too. You kinda lucked out there, anatomically wise, John.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.