How three editorial cartoonists took on 2016
It was a strange year for the world, but a great year for political cartoons. The Washington Post team shares the stories behind their sketches
Political cartooning has long been a staple of opinion sections across American newspapers, and at The Washington Post, we’re fortunate to have three award-winning cartoonists: Ann Telnaes, Tom Toles and Michael Cavna.
Among the three of them, they drew hundreds of cartoons commenting on the 2016 election and other global events. With the year drawing to a close, we asked each of these artists to pick the cartoon they felt best defined their work for the year and explain to our Medium readers how and why they pulled it off.
(Note: Like many cartoonists at major American newspapers, Post cartoonists’ work is separate from newsgathering operations, and their political opinions are their own.)
Last August a social media firestorm developed after several cities on the French Riviera imposed laws banning women from wearing the “burkini,” a type of swimsuit which covers a woman’s head, body, arms and legs. Although most people assume it is only worn by Muslims, it was created by an Australian and also used by women who want more coverage than the standard bathing suit, either for modesty or health reasons. Many saw the garment as an extension of the recent Islamic extremist attacks against France while opponents of the burkini bans claim it was just another example of Islamophobia from the Western world.
I’ve frequently used the image of women being completely covered up, usually in a burka or niqab, to comment on the oppression of women in patriarchal societies. However, I believe the key is whether or not this is a free choice. Personally, I think a woman should be able to wear a paper bag on her head if that’s what she wants to do. The problem isn’t whether she chooses to wear a bikini or a burkini, the problem is when governments or religious institutions deny women their human and economic rights.
After I decided I wanted to create an editorial cartoon on this issue I began as I normally do, drawing rough ideas in my sketchbook. The image of a push/pull situation kept coming back to me, so I decided to do an animated gif with two men alternately pulling on or pulling off a niqab with a woman standing in the middle.
Once I have the concept clear in my mind, I’ll create the individual frames which make up the movement of the gif. Here are the 13 drawings for the final animation:
The result? My cartoon: Men: Stop telling women what to wear
It’s fair to say I draw President-elect Donald Trump quite a lot.
While everyone assumed that the predominant physical characteristic of a Trump caricature would be his hair, I don’t quite see it that way. To me it’s his pursued lips, which look to me like a mini-donut of an unidentified orifice. Whether I draw this O as flat against his face, or extended out on a tube, it suggests to me his inner obnoxiousness and outward offensiveness in both his words and attitude.
In the particular cartoon you see above, I went all-in to depict what I see are his dangerous authoritarian tendencies. I believe it was this quality, more than his policy positions, or rather, policy ignorance, that was most worrisome in his candidacy.
His willingness to bait and stigmatize religions, ethnic groups and women as a blunt means of acquiring power was unprecedented and aimed squarely at our democratic, inclusive nation and its traditions. His willingness to indulge in and defend stunning conflicts of business interests, and his praise and admiration for foreign despots, was alarming, to say the very least.
It seemed to me that the warning bell of potential fascism needed to be hung on this man, and in no uncertain terms.
I deliberately chose imagery from the Nuremberg rallies of pre-World War II Germany, not because the situations were exact, but because the similarities were striking enough that I deemed getting people to consider them essential.
Some pro-Trump readers have asked me if I will draw a non-Trump cartoon ever again. That remains to be seen. And it remains to be seen whether he manages to yet obliterate the norms and laws of a functioning democracy. That is what I refer to as a significant story.
This past summer, while sketching in a Washington, D.C., eatery I frequent, I needed a pigment that would approximate the look of old-time-y sepia ink, so I asked a waiter for a small espresso and, using a dip pen, got a great effect by cross-hatching with coffee. This brown background behind my Capitol dome rendering provided a nice “vintage document” feel.
That illustration got me to thinking about other “found” art media and other historic Washington structures. The presidential campaign had become so ugly, with so much intensely nasty mudslinging from both sides, that I began thinking about mud as a physical medium. Then, after the hot-mic video of Billy Bush and Donald Trump was unearthed by The Post, dominating more than a few news cycles, my thoughts pivoted to actually “getting the dirt” on a candidate in order to paint with it.
Several days before the election, near dusk, I walked along the sidewalk at the Trump International Hotel along Pennsylvania Avenue, and got just enough dirt caked on my shoes, as any passing pedestrian might, so that I could later add water and make a small puddle of palette mud. Adding to the consistency was some sidewalk bark along the Trump shrubs; you can clearly see some of the splintered, raised bark chips in the final work.
Before leaving, I asked a hotel worker near the valet area whom he was voting for. “Trump!” he said, with a loud flourish that was either passion or sarcasm; it could easily have been either.
Once home, I used the dirt to paint a muddy Trump on Bristol board. I sketched the rest of the scene in graphite. Then I photographed the physical work and brought it into a digital art app, where I could paint it more fully.
Once done with the image, I simply wrote an “election portrait” caption; I shared it with some Post co-workers and referenced “no joy in Mudville.” The wording wasn’t quite right. But when just days later Trump won the election and his promises to “drain the swamp” echoed like the ideal metaphor, I had my apt wording. I returned to the work and the symbolism practically wrote itself.
After all, politics is one dirty business. And sometimes even a sidewalk satirist must stoop to conquer.