CSotD: The Right Tools For The Job

I wasn’t going to post any more New Year’s Babies, but Tom Richmond, who, IMHO, is in a photo-finish with Kal Kallaugher for the title of best caricaturist in the business, offers this one and I just can’t resist.

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the coming year, most of them having to do with an awakening of the citizenry that exhibited itself in the midterms, which were not a crushing “blue wave” but strong showings within a limited number of opportunities to change things.

My Prime Directive is to not single out cartoons for snark. However, I’m going to single a few out for criticism today, within, I hope, professional bounds.

The usual “horserace” coverage that plagues our politics is now being joined by click-bait media economics in which it’s more important for a candidate to make headlines than to make sense.

This puts a burden on editorial cartoonists, whose job it is to offer opinions and to attempt to steer the public in particular directions.

That requires that they research topics, not just rely on one-source reports, but their first rule, their most important standard, should be clarity.

Thomas Nast, as noted here recently, was a bigot in a bigoted era, but, however you judge his cartoons on that count, you were never left in doubt as to his intentions and his opinions.

Opinions are by definition subjective, but clarity is, first and foremost, a matter of using the right tools for the desired effect.

So let’s look at our first

Juxtaposition of the Day

(Jimmy Margulies)


(Phil Hands)

In both cases, the cartoonists attack the Democrats for sticking with the old guard and not putting forward younger figures, though Margulies is addressing potential presidential candidates while Hands is discussing House leadership.

Margulies seems to be criticizing same-old, same-old, within the context of trotting out the warhorses we’ve already seen lose the race.

I’ve been a Bernie fan since he was mayor of Burlington, but given that he’ll be 79 next go-around, I hope he won’t run again. We already watched Reagan fade in the White House and it was better for Saturday Night Live than it was for the country.

And Biden I see, not so much as a perpetual bridesmaid, but as a perpetual VP, a power behind the throne, much like the first George Bush, who was a very good vice-president but didn’t do well at all in the Big Chair.

Which brings us to Nancy Pelosi, who I think is, like Bernie, too old to take a run in 2020, and is therefore, like Biden, more suited to be a powerbroker than the main attraction.

Pelosi has hinted at retiring when Trump is gone, though she clarified that she’s not interested in stepping down before the next elections.

I don’t see her age as a detriment to her being an excellent Speaker. Watching her slice-and-dice Dear Leader in that meeting with him and Schumer makes Hand’s depiction of her as a doddering old lady seem more ageist than insightful.

And given that young, dynamic Paul Ryan, like John Kelly, is more known for what he kept from happening than for what he actually did, I think the cartoon fails the clarity rule; Hands is generally progressive and seems unlikely to be mourning the change of direction.

I suspect, rather, that he’s saying the same thing as Margulies, but with less clarity.

Meanwhile, there are a group of upcoming, younger Democratic women who are not taking a lot of crap silently, among whom I would count Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

As a progressive, I like the strategy — planned or accidental — of having a Wise Old Woman with no presidential ambitions take Republican fire for two years, sparing the others while they build up their resumes and establish their partnerships.

But the guns are already trained on Warren, which leads us to our


Next Juxtaposition of the Day

(Paul Szep)


(Keith Knight)

This is more a case of knowing your tools, though that necessarily brings up the issue of clarity.

Is Szep celebrating Warren’s willingness to stand up to the bully, or mocking her for defending her family story of having native blood?

And is Knight telling us what happens to a dream deferred, or is he having a Bill Cosby “pull your trousers up” moment?

In Knight’s case, I suspect the former, though he’s also clearly expressing regret for the image in the second panel.

However, any lack of clarity in his cartoon may be more of a lack of clarity — his or possibly ours — about whom he is addressing.


I mentioned Ollie Harrington yesterday, and his character Bootsie often said and did  things that would have seemed inappropriate for a general audience. But Harrington appeared in the Black Press, for an audience that understood the implicit criticism and mockery.

It’s not that African-American cartoonists like Keith Knight and Aaron McGruder are any more rude or sharp than Harrington, but, when they speak to an integrated audience, they lose the protection of that closed-group intimacy and are more apt to be misunderstood.

I don’t have a problem with that, but it is a challenge they face which Harrington did not.

By contrast, Szep is, AFAIK, not Native American, and so, without self-mockery or insiderism as an explanation, hasn’t the standing to use racist images.

But, since he does, it’s impossible to tell if he is defending Warren or attacking her.

It’s not a matter of “political correctness,” a term used to defend racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of deliberate cruelty.

It’s a matter of knowing your tools.

A professional carpenter doesn’t use his screwdriver as a chisel or the back of his wrench as a hammer.

A professional cartoonist does not portray African Americans as monkeys, Jews as pawnbrokers, or Indians as waving scalps and speaking gibberish, unless the intent is to be insulting.

Because that’s what it is.


And even when that is the intention, you’re better off delivering it from within the community.


One thought on “CSotD: The Right Tools For The Job

  1. No contest: Tom Richmond is easily the best.
    Kallaugher has a nice crosshatch technique — reminiscent of Jack Davis — but his subjects are (to me) awkwardly posed and not easily recognizable, and I usually have trouble understanding what point he’s trying to make.

Comments are closed.