The Political Season

Posted by on October 15th, 2010 at 8:06 AM

Given all the panicky excitement these days about the Midterm Election (which was almost never news at all in the decades before Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” in 1994), I could probably devote most of these diatribes this month to displaying and commenting on editorial cartooning. But I have exercised restraint, admirably. Until now. (And maybe again next week sometime.)

In the grip of this admirable discretion, however, I have refrained—almost but not quite—from references to the campaigning and the forthcoming election with this week’s selection, forthwith:

Pat Oliphant’s comment on recent judicial action in the arena of stem cell research and other similarly scientific endeavors takes the matter to a ridiculous extreme. Exaggeration is at the heart of Oliphant’s comedy, and it makes his point hilariously and therefore memorably.

Nick Anderson, below Punk (the tiny penguin), takes on the issue of corporate funding of political ambitions wherein those who give millions to the cutely named “corporations” are never named. And so we don’t know if Crossroads of America, one of the cute ones, is funded by Pakistan or China or—who? Anderson’s visual metaphor is sharply barbed: Congress is in the pocket of these moneyed entities, but we don’t know whose money has bought the congressmen/women.

Joe Heller takes up the same subject.

But Heller is just being cute; and he knows it. Compared to Anderson’s looming question-mark head on a bloated body, Heller’s visual metaphor here is weak, but memorable.

Meanwhile, my friend Ed Stein, who, until the Rocky Mountain News collapsed over a year ago, did editorial cartoons there—and now does them only through syndication with United Feature—turns the oil spill crisis on its head to make a case for wind power. The idea of a “wind spill” polluting the shoreline is, of course, preposterous, which makes the case in favor of wind power.

Incidentally, in September, Stein and United Media launched his “something new, something old” comic strip, Freshly Squeezed. The strip revives a family that Stein invented 12-15 years ago to star in a comic strip, Denver Square, which ran only in the Rocky Mountain News and usually found its comedy in local news and events. In Freshly Squeezed, Stein brings back the family (Sam and Liz and their preteen son) and regales us with what happens when Liz’s parents, who have lost their house to foreclosure, move in with them, creating a household of three generations. And the usual conflict.

Clean, crisp fully accomplished art and, here, a nice exploitation of the medium. The center panel, a view of the family manse, appears, until we get to the last panel, merely as visual variety. But when we get to the last panel, we realize that the center panel is a sly transition—from one generation’s perspective to another’s—the pivot upon which the meaning of the strip turns. When we get to the finale, we see one more generation’s perspective on parents. It jolts us to re-consider the center panel. Who’s speaking in the center panel? Sam and Liz? Or Liz’s parents? Or their son? Doesn’t matter: the cleverness of the transition is that the dialog could be originating with any of the characters. All three of the generations that reside in this house get their say by the end of the strip. Neatly done.

To the extent that Freshly Squeezed will comment on current events, those will be national in scope rather than local. But Stein comes to the task with an advantage: after 12 years with the characters in the Rocky, he knows their personalities—and what makes them funny.

Political commentary, as we’ve observed here before, is not confined to editorial cartoons. For decades, comic strip cartoonists have occasionally gone AWOL from comedy to cast satirical asides our way. Non Sequitur’s Wiley Miller, who, between comic strip stints, did editorial cartoons, often can’t resist a swipe at popular culture or political idiocy.

In the first instance, Wiley takes a jaundiced view of Teabaggers’ taking their country back. In the second, his gag is not about politics so much as it is about the general state of things for human [sic] sapiens. And I suspect he found himself in trouble with a few religious fundamentalists. Mrs. Almighty?

In Frazz (below), Jef Mallett also addresses the political classes and their endless debate about issues that don’t matter much to anyone except those seeking re-election and those who vote for them (out of sheer devotion rather than rational deliberation).

My motto is: Vote the Scalawags Out Of Office. Never re-elect an incumbent: it only encourages them. What’s more, when you re-elect an incumbent, you’ve acted to perpetuate the career of a known criminal.

Below Frazz, we have Bruce Tinsley’s rampant right-wing effusion, Mallard Fillmore, but this time, seems to me, he’s strayed off the Gigantic Obstructionist Pachyderm’s reservation: he’s ridiculing the Birther branch of the GOP who think Baracko Bama isn’t an American citizen because, they frantically allege, he was born in Kenya. The hilarity that Tinsley’s committing here is, in effect, a savage attack on the Birther idiocy. I’d have thought Tinsley was in that camp; but I guess not. Shows you the pitfall of stereotyping.

Nice caricature of Harry Reid, too.

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