Monday, May 10, 2021

Cartoonists Prepare to Train Lampoon Guns at Joe Biden

The right to skewer politicians is enshrined in the Constitution and is as American as apple pie. Few enjoy this right with as much relish as cartoonists, the dwindling industry whose artwork graces these pages each week. It seems almost magical how they manage to pack in an entire opinion page into a few strokes of the pencil.

Two of the most popular conservative cartoonists whose creations enliven the Yated are Lisa Benson and Antonio Branco.

Branco, a native of Washington state, got into the business as a retired businessman angry at the leftist tilt former President Obama was taking the country. The 63-year-old draws his cartoons and distributes them online under the name “Comically Incorrect.” When you want a strongly conservative cartoon, you look out for the Branco logo.

Four years ago, Branco’s favorite topic was “global warming”; now it’s the fake news media. Four years ago, he voted warily for Donald Trump, mostly because his name wasn’t Clinton. Now, he pronounces him the only president he could remember who accomplished what he set out to do.

Benson, who lives in California, began her professional career as a young mom and was soon snapped up by the Washington Post Writers Group as the only conservative female cartoonist in the country, according to Ann Telnaes, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

“Lisa Benson is a rare talent who can illustrate a major news story in a single drawing and convey her ideas to readers in very few words,” said Alan Shearer, the editorial director of Washington Post Writers Group. “Conservative describes her politically. Brilliant describes her artistically. A combination of artistic talent, moral indignation and strong point of view mesh somehow to produce some of the finest work I have ever seen from a local cartoonist.”

The history of the political cartoonist started in 16th century Reformationist Germany, when Martin Luther used caricatures to poke at the Catholic Church. The modern political cartoon took off in England in the 1700s. The technology to print them in newspapers was not yet in existence, so cartoonists would do an engraving and then print it and sell them, as posters are sold today.

The first American political cartoonist, according to Dan Backer’s A Brief History of Cartoons, was Benjamin Franklin. “Join, or Die,” depicting a snake whose severed parts represent the 13 colonies, had one explicit purpose — to unify the then-British colonies ahead of the Albany Congress of 1754. It was probably also one of the most popular cartoons of all time, since it was published in virtually every American newspaper.

“Franklin’s snake,” Backer said, “is significant in the development of cartooning because it became an icon that could be displayed in differing variations throughout the existing visual media of the day — like the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ battle flag — but would always be associated with the singular causes of colonial unity and the Revolutionary spirit.”

In the mid-1800s, with the printing press advances, Thomas Nast began producing his famed cartoons, including the invention of depicting Republicans as elephants and Democrats as donkeys. The dawn of the 20th century heralded new expertise that allowed individual newspapers their own cartoons.

To modern cartoonists, the gold standard is Nast, a Harper’s Weekly editor. His 1871 campaign against the corruption of New York City’s William “Boss” Tweed resulted in the latter’s removal from power and fleeing to Spain. An alleged sidebar to the story, which some historians consider just a novel-like ending which never happened, has Tweed being arrested by a Spanish policeman, who recognized him from a Nast cartoon.

Yet, the Nast machine-busting legend continues, raising the level of editorial cartooning. At a time when newspapers were long columns of bland text, the bit of graphics on the page was now a firm segment of the American political culture.

The cartoon industry has suffered in recent years, along with all print media. There are fewer than four dozen full time cartoonists churning out a daily dose of humor in the United States.

I interviewed Benson and Branco separately, though Benson said she preferred responding by email. Both also included what they considered a favorite cartoon.

 

ANTONIO BRANCO: A CONSERVATIVE POINTING OUT ABSURDITIES

How does cartoon-world react when a new presidential administration takes over, with a new cast of characters and policies?

It really is just a continuation of pointing out absurdities.

Until now, conservative cartoonists fought against the other side and tried to bring forth information that points out the left’s absurdities, which is trying to obfuscate or block and obstruct the party that’s in power. With Trump, for four years, their cartoons have been mainly about the media trying to take out a duly elected president.

Now, I see that their cartoons have been changing to trying to obstruct some of the ridiculous policies the left is going to try to implement — for example, opening up our borders, doing their best to ban guns, raising taxes, just a series of things that are on the left’s agenda.

Cartoonists have been pushing the boundaries of allowable speech these past four years. What are the outer limits you personally would go?

I don’t know if I have an outer limit.

My limits will be something that is not truthful. I have to stick within the bounds of truth — a cartoon isn’t funny if it doesn’t have an element of truth that you’re trying to project. Now, liberals are going to argue with that. They’ll say that what you’re drawing is anything but having to do with the truth, because they have a very unobjective and biased view toward things.

So I don’t really have any limits. I will touch on any issue that comes my way.

I am referring to the trend these past four years by liberal cartoonists of comparing Trump to Hitler and his policies to concentration camps or saying that the president murdered 300,000 Americans because of his Covid-19 policies. How far would you personally go?

First of all, I just totally disagree with their take on it.

Trump did not set out purposely to kill six million Jews. Trump did not set out purposely to kill 300,000 people; in fact, he did the opposite. He put in place the Operation Warp Speed program, and he immediately did the China travel ban when all the scientists and other people — such as Nancy Pelosi, all the liberal governors, de Blasio, Cuomo — were saying not to do it, that it was racist.

To dare to put Trump in the same category as Hitler is ridiculous and laughable. I think that any cartoonist or liberal who did that made a laughingstock out of themselves and marginalized themselves in that way.

Cartoonists have a centuries-old tradition of lampooning politicians by emphasizing certain facial features — Obama had big ears, former House Speaker Paul Ryan had his widow’s peak. Have you settled on a personal favorite how to portray Joe Biden?

Yes. I kind of like his goony smile. It’s obviously not there most of the time, but over the years he has mastered how to use his smile as a way to deflect his corruption. It worked for him in the past, and it still kind of works for him whenever he gets into trouble. He’ll sometimes get angry, but then he’ll give this cocky little smile to deflect away from the sleaziness. So I like to include that in most of my cartoons.

In most caricatures I do, I tried to include what I see as their inner soul, what is actually behind their face, and I then project that onto their face.

Do newly elected officials enjoy a honeymoon period or it’s fair game from the onset?

No. Trump didn’t get a honeymoon period. Joe Biden is getting the honeymoon period from the media that Trump should have gotten.

The media — I would say about 90 percent of them — are hardcore leftist Democrats. In fact, if you put MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, all the mainstream media types like NPR, PBS, New York Times, all of them are just speaking voices for the Democratic Party. None of them give any Republican a honeymoon. But Biden is going to get a four-year honeymoon, if he lasts that long and Kamala Harris doesn’t take over in middle.

People say that the pencil is mightier than the pen, or that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a cartoon is worth a thousand pictures. How do you convey a political message into the meager newspaper print you’re allotted?

This is what I do — I try to focus on one point. For example, if I want to make a strong point about something, I focus on it, elaborate on it, polish it, and bring it into focus. I don’t make it too gaudy, where too many issues get in the way of the reader being able to see the point I’m trying to make. This is my method, but I don’t always accomplish it.

In other words, your work is to expose the issue to the reader’s attention.

Yes. I try to convey my personal view — and that’s conservative. I don’t lie about that or hide it like the mainstream media does — I let people know that I am a conservative and that I offer a conservative viewpoint.

Do you ever have the equivalent of writer’s block? Is it possible to prepare cartoons in advance?

I think that everybody in any kind of creative situation has some blockage. But we also probably all have our methods that we use to try and overcome it. What works for me is reading the news and watching the news a little bit, or sometimes just sitting in my chair with no noise and just thinking about what is important to me at the time and coming up with something perky that will convey a certain message that I think needs to be shared.

So you don’t prepare evergreens, you just let the news of the day wash over you.

Yes.

With cartoons, you have to be on top of the subject. There are times when I may have something — especially around the time of Thanksgiving, Labor Day or some other holiday that is coming up — when I try intertwining the topic of the day around it. And then there are times when I come up with something that would probably be OK to post whether or not that something happened.

In fact, I have cartoons today that I’ve done three, four, five years ago that are still circling around and being posted. They’re still fresh. There are some topics that just keep coming back.

How do you actually create the cartoon — do you draw your caricatures anew every day? Do you so it by computer? And do you do a lot of reading before deciding your approach? Do you have to be angry to be at your best?

I don’t think so. I mean, emotion helps a little bit as far as when I am trying to be passionate.

And yes, I do draw every day. I used to draw on paper, scan it into the computer, color in shade and then polish it in my CorelDRAW program. But now, I find that it’s sometimes easier if instead of working on paper, I just draw it directly on the CorelDRAW app on my tablet. It seems to work a little quicker like that. Even if it might take the same amount of time, at least I save on paper…

There are no special software programs for cartoonists?

No.

How did you get into this line of work?

Back in the 1990s, I had my own graphics business, but as a hobby I would draw political cartoons — it wasn’t a full-time thing, it was just something I did on the side. There are still a lot of cartoons floating around from that period. That’s how I sort of got into the art of this.

When I retired and moved onto other things, Obama had become president. Around 2010, I saw Obama taking our medical system to the left with Obamacare. I saw what he was doing along the border, and the globalist approach he took to everything. I was a bit outraged and a bit concerned about it, and I felt that there was a message that needed to be conveyed. So I would draw these cartoons and post them online.

That’s how I started. Then, my following began to accumulate and grow — and then grow and grow and grow. That gave me an instant audience to spread my message.

So this was a bottom-up career.

Absolutely. In fact, I owe just about everything to a lot of the people online who started out with me and are still with me to this day. This is my 10-year anniversary, actually.

Do you remember the first cartoon you drew?

No. It was so many years ago. I was a young kid, just came out of the army, and I was working at a sawmill. I was drawing cartoons about my friends at the sawmill, about my work. People really enjoyed them. That’s kind of where I really cut my teeth on this.

Your professional career spanned Obama and Trump. You don’t seem to like Obama very much, and you told me that Trump was someone who stands for your values.

Absolutely.

I believe that Obama — well, I don’t hate him personally, but I hate his policies. I hate the idea of socialism — I think it demoralizes people, it puts them into groups and protects the groups. The individual falls through the cracks, along with his personal rights and responsibilities. They become herds of cattle that our leaders seem to manipulate through the media. So I just despise Obama’s policies. Obama might be a nice guy; I just don’t know him.

When I voted for Trump in 2016, I pretty much voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. But after four years of Trump and with all the accomplishments that man has done — I’ve never seen a politician go to Washington and actually accomplish pretty much everything he set out to do, or at least tried to. He fulfilled everything that he promised — and then some. I find that refreshing, and I think that the people of America found that appealing.

Which president did you enjoy covering the most — acting as the opposition under Obama, or as the home team under Trump?

You know, I don’t know. That’s a very good question. I enjoyed the Trump administration more. As far as drawing cartoons, there were a lot of things and issues I really enjoyed covering. But I maybe had a little more passion when drawing cartoons under Obama, because under Trump everything seems to be going our way, though it didn’t hold me back on covering it.

Which topic talks the most to you?

My pet peeve is the biased media. In fact, I think that the media and all the major news corporations are doing our country such a disservice. People don’t know what the truth is, because the media is run by the Democrat Party; it’s totally biased toward one way.

So the topic I like to focus on mostly is pointing that out, pointing out that these Democrats out there — normal everyday people who voted for Democrats — have no idea what they’re voting for. They are voting for corruption, voting their own civil liberties away. And they are going to become part of a herd that has no control or power

 

LISA BENSON: LET THE BIDEN GAFFES BEGIN

How does cartoon-world react when a new presidential administration takes over, with a new cast of characters and policies?

A new administration offers a fresh start with new challenges. Always a welcome change, whether you agree or disagree with the agenda.

Cartoonists have been pushing the boundaries of allowable speech these past four years.

If cartoonists are pushing the boundaries, then they’re missing out on a wider audience.

Cartoonists have a centuries-old tradition of lampooning politicians by emphasizing certain features. Have you settled on a personal favorite how to portray Joe Biden?

My Biden caricature is still a work in progress, but expect it to evolve around his performance in office. Let the gaffes begin!

Do newly elected officials enjoy a honeymoon period or it’s fair game from the onset?

I think it’s fair to say that Joe Biden has been in the spotlight long enough that his “honeymoon period” will be short-lived.

People say that the pencil is mightier than the pen, or that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a cartoon is worth a thousand pictures. How do you convey a political message into the meager newspaper print you’re allotted?

Good question. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know 🤣.

Do you ever have the equivalent of writer’s block? Is it possible to prepare cartoons in advance?

As a cartoonist, I have good days and bad days. Most days begin bad and, if all goes well, end up productive. I rarely plan “evergreen cartoons” — they just sort of happen accidentally.

How do you actually create the cartoon — do you draw it anew every day? Do you do it by computer? And do you do a lot of reading before deciding your approach? Do you have to be angry to be at your best?

Reading is a huge part of my day, along with jotting down notes, key words, etc. Sometimes, a particular news story that I’m passionate about will jump off the page, but most days it’s an effort to sift through the garbage for something interesting.

Once I’ve decided on a particular topic, I start doodling on paper with visual ideas and composing an image. Hopefully, by afternoon, I can start inking the cartoon on heavy paper. After that, it’s scanned to computer where color can be added and sent off to the syndicate.

Do you try to maintain a semblance of neutrality, or do you allow your political opinions to seep through your pencil? Or is the cartoon industry just set up for partisanship?

Political cartoons are commentary, so yes, I let my opinions seep through. My goal isn’t to take sides or change peoples’ minds, but to start a conversation about relevant issues.

How did you get into this line of work? And what was the first cartoon you ever drew?

I’ve been a fan of editorial cartoons since high school and have followed many of the great artists ever since. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started developing my art skills and getting up the nerve to submit my work to editors.

The Victorville Daily Press hired me as a freelancer in 1992 after I submitted a cartoon about local cities brawling over custody of our local air base. Later, my work came to the attention of the Washington Post Writers Group, and I joined their syndicate in 2006.

Which president did you enjoy covering the most? Which topic talks the most to you?

I’ve only been drawing national cartoons since the George W. Bush administration, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Barack Obama. Not that I agreed with his policies, but I suppose it was all the mania during those years that made it interesting. Freedom, personal responsibility, limited government and fiscal issues are all issues that strike a chord with me.

Did a drawing of yours ever go viral? Any particular one you love to this day?

Not that I can remember, but if you see a viral cartoon, please let me know.

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