CSotD: Back to Basics

I don’t know if Paul Berge considers this a cartoon or if he just posted it on his page to amuse himself and his regulars.

Machs nix. When I used to do a presentation to high school students about political cartooning, I began by noting that they’ve usually got some wiseass who passes rude things around in class and that’s political cartooning.

And as wise-ass as this whateveritis is, it’s well crafted: He does a nice job not only of visually spoofing the Presidential cheat sheet but of depicting the decline of the presidential psyche.

Berge’s version shows the stream-of-consciousness with which Trump not only speaks but appears to think.

He’s not the only person to spoof that cheat sheet, but, of those I’ve seen, he’s done the best job. “I can has cheezberder” is a brilliant mash-up, while the general flow to madness is as well shown, perhaps better than it could be in a more detailed illustration.

And, if he did mean it as an actual cartoon, I’ll compliment him for its minimalism, because, as with stand-up comedy, much of the technique consists not just of knowing what to say but when to shut up — Jack Benny could bring down the house simply by remaining silent and letting his audience fill in the punchline.


That’s essentially what Nick Anderson does here: Jack Benny set up his silences by establishing his cheapskate personna, such that any reference to spending money could be met with that hand-to-the-cheek, and, in radio days, with even less of a cue than that.

Anderson similarly plays upon Trump’s well-known boast about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, but he doesn’t repeat the whole thing: He simply puts up the sign post and goes from there, the critical point being that Trump’s ability to escape guilt is, in Anderson’s cartoon, dependent on the Elephant’s cooperation.


By contrast, John Darkow has a good cartoon, pointing out that anybody who disagrees with Trump is branded and dismissed as a “Never Trumper,” including people he appointed to his own staff (though he then claims he never met them).

However, Darkow doesn’t trust his gag, and adds that giant label across the top, which is  insulting to his readers. Either they know who Hamilton, Madison and Franklin are, or they won’t get the point anyway, no matter how hard he rubs their noses in it.

More than that, it disrupts his timing. There used to be a bumpersticker that read:

Don’t drink and drive. You might hit a bump and spill some.

It was popular enough that it got ripped off, but the copycats didn’t understand comic timing:

Don’t drink and drive. You might hit a bump and spill your drink.

Talk about hitting a bump — they stepped all over the punchline!

Be clear, but don’t explain. Begin with the understanding that not everybody is going to get it.

And then know that, if you don’t allow them to fill in part of the punch line, even the people who get it are not going to laugh.

Comedy is not a lecture, but, rather, a collaboration between comic and audience. When you over-explain, you rob them of their chance to participate, and then it’s no fun anymore.


And while we’re on the subject

I get my cartoons from syndicate sites, from newspaper sites and from the cartoonists’ own sites or social media postings, and I’ve learned — thought I frequently forget — to look for copyright dates, because sometimes a cartoonist republishes a favorite, either because it has suddenly become relevant or to cover for a vacation.

Michael de Adder is one of my favorites, but when I saw this, I had a momentary sense of “Wait, is this a rerun?”

However, Guy Badeaux explains that sense of deja vu with a small collection of the same gag, plus a couple that make use of the familiar fish-lineup but without playing on the resemblance between a plastic shopping bag and a giant fish.

The number of similar gags argues against plagiarism and in favor of coincidence.

It’s common with popular topics like plastic pollution, but happens more often with breaking news.

I know cartoonists who automatically throw out their first idea because it’s too obvious, but we still managed to come up with more than 50 (I quit counting) weeping Statues of Liberty the day after 9/11.

And it’s how we have so many variations of people thrown under the bus this morning.

Out-and-out plagiarism is rare, and is more often self-plagiarism: I used to show the kids a cartoon (no name, please) of Reagan driving a car labeled “The economy” full of Congressional kids saying “Are we there yet?” and then a virtually identical cartoon by the same artist with Clinton in the driver’s seat.

This is lazy and artistically dishonest, but is at least more common than one cartoonist deliberately ripping off another.

What does happen from time to time is for someone to see a gag and then, considerably later, forget that they’d seen it and think they invented it.

It’s uncool, but it’s unintentional.

In this case of plastic bag fishes, I’d attribute it to it being a concept that is inventive but isn’t so off-the-charts inventive that it hasn’t occurred to someone else as well.


And then there’s this

Bill Morrison is not happy that Kaws ripped off his Yellow Album cover and that latter version sold for $14 million, which is a bit more than Morrison was paid for his work.


Obviously, it’s a ripoff, and nowhere near as transformative, as original in concept nor as satirical as the Mothers’ takeoff on Sgt Pepper.

It’s a complex issue, however, which Comics Beat addresses very well, but the bottom line is that Morrison can be pissed but he almost certainly can’t be compensated, for reasons which, among several other things, include the comics industry’s casual attitude towards copyright and trademark.

More enforcement would sure make Comic Cons less crowded, but I don’t know that it would help Bill.

Bill Morrison, that is. Not this guy. 

4 thoughts on “CSotD: Back to Basics

  1. To come clean, I created my little cartoon/meme/sketch/doodle as part of an on-line conversation started by a long-time acquaintance who questioned whether the photo of Trump’s talking points notes was real or fake. (My contribution: That was real, THIS is fake.)

    Steve is a die-hard Libertarian — both capital and lower case — with a healthy skepticism of all things Republican or Democrat … as long as we’re not discussing the Ron or Rand Paul.

  2. In the 80s, Texas was discussing (it’s a talking state) a bill that would have criminalized having an open container in a car you were driving, and a legendary friend of my cousin’s declared that he wanted a sticker that said:


    (He is now a lawyer in Texas.)

  3. We’re Only In It For the Money is political satire at its very best and with real guts and integrity. Musically brilliant takedown of the hypocritical “Summer Of Love” youth culture by Frank Zappa. Much of it holds up today.

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