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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 08/ 7/2008

The Interview: Political Cartoonist Signe Wilkinson

By Michael Cavna

Signe Wilkinson: So why is Obama so enjoyable to caricature? "He's got great eyebrows and a great mouth and he's a lean, skinny guy. He came pre-packaged!"

For Sunday's Post Style&Arts piece on political caricature, we talked shop with SIGNE WILKINSON, the Philadelphia Daily News's Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist. Here's the fuller interview, in which such names as Pat Oliphant, Rudy Giuliani and Dick Cheney are also bandied about:

MICHAEL CAVNA: What so engages us about caricatures?
SIGNE WILKINSON: I think they're something that people love to see. People love to look at them because it's a kind of magic to have a few lines represent someone and people know who it is. So I think it's important to do semi-decent caricatures in my cartoons. I did them for fifth-graders [recently] and it's like I was conjuring tricks. ... And a caricature is not just the face -- it's the whole person, like drawing Dick Cheney. It's a terrific caricature to do: His whole body is kind of looming.

So whose artwork, and whose caricatures, do you admire?
WILKINSON: To see a Pat Oliphant drawing at a decent size is just breathtaking. You don't often get to see them that large. The same with [Investors Business Daily political cartoonist] Mike Ramirez -- just beautiful. ... The artwork is not as important as it used to be [in this business]. Your emphasis is now on speed and immediacy. ... Really great cartoons should have a point-of-view and they have to be funny and pointed -- and they should also have a good drawing.

What's your process for getting a caricature right?
WILKINSON: I'm too disorganized to have a process. I do try to get a lot of photographs. Whenever the candidates are on [TV] for a speech, I try to sketch from that -- just so I keep looking at them. ... Cartoonists are the creators and keepers of our treasured national stereotypes and we have to earn that right. So it's a good idea to keep my eyes open.

Have you met any of the candidates in person and drawn from that, so to speak?
WILKINSON: I have not met McCain. Obama and Hillary have come through the [Daily News] office, so I did sketches as I was listening to them.

Getting your Obama caricature right -- has it been difficult or easy?
WILKINSON: He's pretty easy. He's got a clearly shaped face and he's got great eyebrows and a great mouth and he's a lean, skinny guy. He came pre-packaged!

And how's your "McCain" coming along?
WILKINSON: Oddly -- and I will charitably call him middle-aged -- middle-aged white men are a pain in the neck to draw because they're so pale. When they get white eyebrows and white hair and no discernible features, that gets difficult.

Size up, if you will, the best of the also-rans.
WILKINSON: I like drawing Hillary. It's not exactly a policy discussion here, but she has great eyebrows, great cheeks and a good face-shape. ..... I've always liked drawing her. At a cartoonists' convention, somebody was talking about how women were more difficult to draw than men, but I don't think so. ... At the beginning of the campaign, it was a choir of the heavenly hosts of candidates. [Mike] Huckabee was great. I also liked [Mitt] Romney. He looks like a 1950s actor in a Sani-Flush ad. [Rudy] Giuliani was great. Though [John] Edwards, I didn't love.

So anything you won't do, in terms of caricature?
WILKINSON: Not according to my readers. But I don't need to make caricatures so ugly that they're warped. ... I was never fond of that Hillary-as-a-witch kind of thinking. We have cable television to provide that. ... And black faces are still sensitive, but decreasingly so. Cartoonists are drawing an individual face, not a race. We're making progress there from when I started in this business [in the early '80s].

Do you have a favorite political [figure to] caricature?
WILKINSON: I like 'em all. They've all been giving selflessly to the cartoonists of America.

As a cartoonist and not as a voter, whom would you rather draw for four more years?
WILKINSON: I pledge to draw the person who the American people choose to give me. I will be happy and grateful for their choice. But I hope whoever it is will not [again cause] me to have to draw zippers.
A "COMIC RIFFS" APPEARANCE NOTE: Speaking of politics, we'll be appearing Saturday at the DC Comedy Fest for the "Politics Is Funny" panel -- sure to be lively; 3 p.m. at Washington's TOWN Dance Boutique. For details, go to the festival's Web site:

By Michael Cavna  | August 7, 2008; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon  
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Next: The Morning Line: When Laffs Are an Olympian Task


Apropros of nothing....

Is Lio Pugsley Addams or Calvin? I mean, is he a weird little kid with a pet octopus and constant meetings with aliens and monsters, or does he just have a really really good imagination?

Posted by: f2 | August 7, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

"Cartoonists are drawing an individual face, not a race."

"middle-aged white men are a pain in the neck to draw because they're so pale."


Posted by: Tom T. | August 7, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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