We can’t get away from Donald Trump. Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, internet, Twitter(!). Everywhere, every day, every hour. Some people feed on it. Others tune out. Others are angry and want action, if not to impeach him, to make sure he’s not reelected. One thing for sure, the presidency of Donald Trump has been a gold (no, yellow and orange) mine of creativity for political illustrators and cartoonists.
“We work in a world where it seems impossible to effectively shame the shameless,” comments New York-based satirical illustrator Victor Juhasz. “But we keep trying. Boss Tweed was shamed and humiliated by cartoonist Thomas Nast. Even Nixon, with his massive ego, could be shamed. The current White House occupant exhibits zero self-reflective capacity, and his minions feast on his shamelessness like rare steak. Do our illustrations and cartoons change anything?” Juhasz asks rhetorically. “Satirical illustrations are appreciated by those who share similar perspectives, and despised or ignored by those who don’t. It would be foolhardy to imagine anyone in the Trump camp being stirred to reflection because of an illustration done by me or my colleagues. If anything has changed, it’s the intensity of America’s political and social divide, which is split into tribes that seek news and commentary that mirror only what their side believes — and to hell with any other point of view. Add to that partisanship the invective of “fake news” intended to shut down debate, and you have an environment in which we illustrators are trying to keep up and make visual sense of the daily, often hourly, melodrama and chaos.”
The act of lambasting Trump on magazine covers is certainly not limited to U.S. publications. Der Spiegel (Germany) and New Statesman (UK) have run some of the most biting images. “People tell me that now is a good time for cartoonists and caricaturists,” says Portuguese illustrator André Carrilho. “My Donald Trump illustrations, which have appeared in publications in the USA, UK, France, and Portugal, may support such a conclusion. We illustrators are the thriving scavengers during the political tsunami that has descended on the western hemisphere, its orange epicenter carelessly splashed across the walls of the White House. Because we artists feed on the absurdity of existence, the current President of the United States is undoubtedly a feast. The very fact that the millions of people in the USA and around the world whose fate he now controls, manage to wake up every morning without screaming in panic is reason for hope in the resilience of human nature. So we keep on drawing.”
With TIME’s August 22 “Meltdown” cover in the aftermath of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rodriguez started something big and fiery, yellow and orange.
An then, on October 7, 2016, two days before the second Presidential Debate, the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape aired. Trump bragged, “I don’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… grab them by the pussy.” For a while, it looked like this would be the meltdown that would put an end to the Trump campaign. Rodriguez and TIME responded with this cover:
The August 25, 2017, issue of The Washington Post, featured an article written and illustrated by Rodriguez. He wrote, “Over the past year, I’ve sometimes strained to differentiate my adoptive country from the dictatorship I fled. Violence at political rallies, friends watching what they say (and noting who is in the room when they say it), and a leader who picks on society’s weakest — this has felt all too familiar. I began making art about what I saw, to bear witness. I wanted to hold up a mirror to the President’s daily abuses of the Constitution, test the rights given to me by that Constitution. I wanted to find out if this is really the land of the free, the home of the brave.”
“I would give all of that up for a return to normalcy,” Rodriguez says. “A return to the idea that the magic of America lies in the fact that it is a country of immigrants and will always be.”
“I make this work as a response to my own curiosity and fury at witnessing the destruction of all life for profit,” Coe says. “Anyone resisting can make use of it. Early images were made for demonstrations and free handouts. This work is done quickly and printed very cheaply. I assume much of what exists online is not real live humans, but bots manipulating each other for power and control, which makes the real print, held in real hands, so much more powerful… paper that is stronger than it looks, and the smell of fresh ink. Black and white. There is no grey area possible in lino prints, and no grey area morally, to tolerate these venal grifters.” Coe is represented by Galerie St. Etienne in New York.
Caricatures and illustrations by Juhasz have been commissioned by book publishers, advertising agencies, design firms, and national and international magazines and newspapers, including TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and The Village Voice. For almost 15 years his work appeared on the front page of The New York Observer and, after a hiatus, has recently returned. Juhasz says he continues to relish his role as a frequent contributor of satiric images to the National Affairs section in Rolling Stone magazine.
Brodner is an illustrator, caricaturist, journalist, author, educator, lecturer, and political commentator. Has work has been featured on the covers and pages of publications including The New York Times Book Review, Harpers, The National Lampoon, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, and Spy, Esquire, The Progressive, Harpers, The Village Voice, and The New Yorker. His thoughts about the political situation and a lot of other subjects are beautifully presented on his website, which is in the form of a newsletter worth repeated visits.
“I haven’t been doing much political work lately. Frankly it’s all waaaay too depressing,” says fine artist and illustrator Anita Kunz, whose work has appeared in all the major weekly and monthly magazines as well as graphic design and illustration magazines.
And then she added: “A while ago I got a call from AD Chuck Kerr at Variety magazine. He wanted me to illustrate Trump in a way that was a tribute to the great art director George Lois, and in particular the Esquire cover Lois designed that showed Nixon having makeup applied. I typically like to come up with my own ideas, but this was something I couldn’t pass up. My illustration was originally slated for an inside full page, but at the last minute, I was told that it would indeed be the cover and I was thrilled. It’s even better with the yellow Variety masthead. And the copy reads “Media Monster,” so it’s incredibly appropriate. Not everyone will understand the George Lois reference, and it’s actually a good cover on its own. But for anyone with a design background, there’s the added little aspect of homage to a great art director.”
Even artists who’ve drawn many covers for The New Yorker get their ideas rejected all the time. (I hope to run a whole post here, soon, on the process submitting ideas for New Yorker covers, explaining how they get rejected or accepted, a process that’s been going on since about 1923.)
“I have this secret suspicion that Trump is more nimble than his figure may lead us to believe,” says Carrilho, whose much-awarded work is well known to readers of major European and American magazines. “I fear that Trump enjoys being the center of our attention, knowing that we pour our time and energy into thinking about him, drawing him. He’s the ultimate nuclear option, both Little Boy and Fat Man, ready to pulverize our core beliefs into a cloud of uncertainty. Should we expose him relentlessly or should we cut his airtime as much as possible? I’m not sure of the best way forward. Cartoonists can withstand Trump’s assault on the press because he can call us ‘fake news’ all he wants. We never pretended to be the truth, but our magnifying eye has been trained to help people call ‘bullshit’ on any naked emperor. I believe drawing political satires will always be a worthy endeavor. What is fake, and what is the truth? The truth is that while drawing each and every one of these illustrations, at some point I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was playing right into his tiny, tiny hands.”
Pulitzer Prize-winner Ann Telnaes creates editorial cartoons in various mediums — animation, visual essays, live sketches, and traditional print — for the Washington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons and the National Cartoonists Society’s “Reuben” for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year for 2016. She had a solo exhibition of her print work at the Library of Congress in 2004, and has been exhibited in Paris, Jerusalem, and Lisbon. Much-awarded and the subject of many radio and television appearances, Telnaes is president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC).
I was inspired to do this post after hearing Ann Telnaes on a panel discussion on NPR about the state of editorial cartooning in today’s era of fake news.
An exhibition on political art, timed to coincide with the midterm elections, is being curated by SVA Gallery Director Francis Di Tommaso along with Steve Brodner. It will be on view from October 6 to November 3 at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 West 26th Street, NYC.