Editorial Cartoonery Last Month

Posted by on June 30th, 2010 at 9:03 AM

R.J. Matson’s melding of the BP logo with an oil-soaked pelican might yet be the best over-all emblem of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The combination seems an obvious one, but who else has thought of it?

The impact of Jeff Danziger’s cartoon below springs entirely—or almost entirely—from its verbal content: we barely need the picture to orient us to the issue the words address.

But that’s okay: the words are pretty strong. And, of course, as accurate as eternal Truth itself. Tony Auth’s cartoon just below Danziger’s visualizes the idea that I saw first in Faux News, a syndicate humor feature (not Murdoch’s actual right-wing tv wind tunnel) which comically alleged that President O’Bama commented: “The Gulf is already full of oil; we might as well use it as what it has become—an oil reservoir.”

The firing of General Stanley McChrystal a few days ago produced a mild flutter of cartooning.

Mike Keefe’s is beautifully emblematic: visually contrasting “gestures of respect in the chain of command,” it dramatizes the chain of command, O’Bama’s place in it, and the exact nature of McChrystal’s sin.

Incidentally, “reading order” is an important ingredient in single-panel cartoons, and this one is exemplary in that respect. We start out at the upper left, reading the words; then we move to the right, picking up on the usual “gestures of respect” in the military, arriving, finally, at McChrystal’s gesture, by which time we realize just how far out of line he was. Nicely done.

I love Mike Lester’s drawings—the spidery line, the pancake flat feet, the big noses, and, here, the skeletal hands waving in the air. His pictures are enough to make me laugh. Here, however, I think his message is off—that is, veering pretty far from reality. He suggests that the Taliban approves of the firing of McChrystal because he was such a potent threat to them. They feared him, and now that he’s gone, they rejoice.

Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t think he was so successful that he was widely feared by the Taliban. But then, I doubt that the Taliban would admit to being afraid to begin with. Besides, since McChrystal’s replacement, General David Petraeus, is as much an architect of the strategy in Afghanistan as McChrystal, how could the Taliban think the threat (if they perceive one) has disappeared?

Political cartoonists, being opinion mongers, are not expected to cleave to facts when mongering opinions, but Lester is the only commentator I’ve encountered that seems to be in favor of keeping McChrystal at his Afghan post. Every other noise of the gasbaggery has endorsed O’Bama’s firing of the General. Even George Will, stalwart of the Right.

In his column last week, Will cautioned those who believe that McChrystal is “indispensable”: “Any who may say that should heed the words of another general, one of the 20th century’s greatest leaders and realists. Charles de Gaulle said: The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”

About the firing, Will also notes a “thought” that he can’t suppress: “McChrystal’s disrespectful flippancies, and the chorus of equally disdainful comments from the unpleasant subordinates he has chosen to have around him, emanate from the toxic conditions that result when the military’s can-do culture collides with a cannot-be-done assignment. In this toxicity, Afghanistan is Vietnam redux.”

But let me end the month on a joyful note, namely Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher’s cartoon in The Economist a few weeks back, a delightfully hilarious comment on the relationship between the U.S. and China on the issue of Iran’s atomic aspirations.

The blend of word and picture, neither making the same comedic sense or delivering any kind of meaningful comment on the matter alone without the other, is a joy to behold. As perfect a cartoon as we’ve encountered lately. (Which is not to say that we haven’t encountered many of that sort: we have.)

And how, you may wonder, did Kal, an American cartoonist, wind up at the British Economist? Right afer Kal graduated from Harvard in 1977, he went to England to bicycle the countryside; he wound up staying for ten years when he became coach and player with the Brighton Basketball Club and, subsequently, political cartoonist at The Economist, the first staff editooner in the periodical’s 145-year history. He returned to the U.S. in 1988 and joined the staff of the Baltimore Sun, which, in a spasm of budget contraction, laid him off in 2006 after almost 20 years on staff. Kal continues to cartoon for The Economist and for syndication with Jerry Robinson’s Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate/CartoonArts International.

Having deposited that nugget of lore, I take my leave for the month of July, when I’ll be touring Illinois and going, once again, to the Sandy Eggo Comic-Con at the end of the month. Perhaps we’ll meet somewhere in the latter environs. I’ll be the lost-looking wanderer in the teeming aisles of the exhibition. See you here again in August.

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