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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 08/ 2/2008

The Political Cartoon: When Satire Misses a Twist

By Michael Cavna

In Sunday's Style&Arts section of The Washington Post, we discuss the art of the political caricature with three Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonists: Steve Breen, Signe Wilkinson and Mike Luckovich. In the course of our interviewing Luckovich, he shared his thoughts on the recent New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazine covers on Obama and McCain, respectively, as an object lesson in how satire works -- or not-so-much:

MIKE LUCKOVICH:"The New Yorker cover didn't work to me. They took the untruths about the Obamas without the twist -- it missed a step. In order for satire to work, there's got to be a twist. I've talked about this with my cartoonist friends and we're all in agreement over this. That's why it generated so much controversy.

"Now, if they had drawn the 'hand' of a Republican elephant in the corner, as if a Republican were the cartoonist, there [would have been a twist]. Maybe they tried that or something else and it was too klunky, so they said, 'Well, let's just go with this.'

"Now the Vanity Fair cover doesn't work, too. McCain is [drawn as] sort of old and Cindy has the pills, but there's no twist there, either.

"The Obama cover wasn't over-the-top enough. It just took those untruths and depicted them. Part of the problem they had was that so many of those rumors are so over-the-top. How do you make something absurd even more absurd?"

Based on interviews with Luckovich and others, Comic Riffs will spend part of the week discussing the state of the American political cartoon, as newspapers cut back and there are fewer staff jobs to be found. What does the future look like for the art form that people from Thomas Nast to Herblock practiced with such profound influence? Will the Web prove a saving grace or 21st-century curse?

We invite your comments and questions about cartoon satire, the art of political caricature and your favorite editorial cartoonists, past or present.

By Michael Cavna  | August 2, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Political Cartoon  
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I agree that the cartoons definitely missed their marks by not having that "twist". Also, in doing satires of any sort, you need to remember who your targeted audience is, or else it doesn't work.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, images and soundbites become the message, so it's no longer safe to assume that people will "get it" and question the real intent.

Posted by: Maria Pena | August 2, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Gee, Michael,
Now that I know about this conversation you have begun on the Washington Post website, I'll be back all the time.
Thanks for writing your article for tomorrow's paper.
Great ad for this site!
Regarding the covers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, I agree with a comment I read last week.
Both covers fall flat as satire, because they miss the point satire tries to make.
They omit the target of the satire.
For example, the blogger stated, had the New Yorker shown some ordinary American with a GOP or a "McCain" button on, thinking about the picture of the Obamas depicted on the cover, then THAT would have made the point they were trying to make.
The same for Vanity Fair, only change the button to "Liberal" or "Obama" or some other such type of button.
Then, the satire would have been clear.
I'm sure that's a line that editorial cartoonists always have to keep in mind, when they are crafting a new drawing.
Political cartooning has been an art ever since Ben Franklin fired up his printing press and it is historically, one of the greatest means to contribute to the nation's dialogue.
Thanks for holding this conversation.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | August 2, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

See, I feel like these suggested changes -- having a Republican "thinking" or drawing the cover image -- would have watered down its impact, and nobody would have paid any attention to it. The cover got people talking, specifically talking about these rumors that had been bubbling just under the surface of mainstream media coverage. So I'd say it was extremely successful.

Posted by: Josh McDonald | August 2, 2008 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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