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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/ 5/2009

Drawing Obama: My Life With Controversial Caricatures

By Michael Cavna

Why is Will Ferrell's dramatic caricature of President Bush so different from, say, those of impersonators Frank Caliendo or Steve Bridges?

"Because he's got a true comic 'take' on Bush," says Post colleague and drama critic Peter Marks, who's just returned from seeing Ferrell's one-man show, "You're Welcome, America," in New York (the review, with its detailing of the Bush character, will post late tonight).

Precisely. And the exact same thing can be said of cartoonists who depict politicos. The difference between a general "impressionistic" caricature and a true humorous take is vast -- and from an entertainment standpoint, the latter is so much more satisfying.

I bring this up because last week, I inflamed the passions of quite a few folk when I pointed out that a surprising number of editorial cartoonists were drawing their Obamas with conspicuously large and blue -- blue? -- lips. (More curious yet: Three of Canada's top cartoonists were all doing the blue-lip thing. One of them reportedly chalked it up to the Great White frostiness that chaps all Canuck lips, if not hides.)

Race! Politics! Cartoons! I should have known I'd hit the divine trifecta of hot-button topics. On one hand, called my observational riffage a "persuasive case." On the other, one of the numerous respondents called it a "steaming pile of PC manure." (And I applaud the sheer vividness of that imagery.)

My larger point here is that caricature is not merely about exaggeration. Rather, it is about exaggerating the TRUTH -- or at least the "truthiness" as a significant number of folks interpret it. (All cartoonists could "exaggerate" by drawing Bush or Clinton with flaming-red hair, but what would be the truthless point there?) That's exactly why Ferrell's take on Bush has worked for many TV viewers.

A few irked commenters even said (and I brazenly paraphrase for effect): "Well, Mr. Smartypants, what does a good Obama caricature look like?"

Well, beyond The Post's own Tom Toles -- who truly has a comic "take" on the new prez -- I would also cite (to name just a few) Walt Handelsman (Newsday), John Branch (San Antonio Express-News) and John Deering (Arkansas Democrat Gazette). Sure, these are still evolving, but you can sense a deeper comical "character" emerging from these transmogrifying features.

Walt Handelsman Enlarge Comic

John Branch Enlarge Comic

John Deering Enlarge Comic

For months, part of my ongoing point -- persuasive or no -- is that so much of capturing Obama, beyond the obvious ears, lies in the eyes, as well as eyebrows. (As my own caricature evolved, I cited that in this November Sketchbook.)

What I didn't foresee, though, was the evolution of The Obama Chin. Nate Beeler (Washington Examiner) and "Cam" Cardow (Ottawa Citizen), among numerous others, have really made the long jaw an essential component.

And while we're on topic, I should also point out that another of the Blue-Lip Cartoonists of the Great White North I mentioned last week, the Toronto Star's Patrick Corrigan, has evolved his Obama since his big-blue caricature was killed by the Star (which called it a racial stereotype). Corrigan actually is developing a more "truthful" caricature, in my wildly subjective opinion.

Patrick Corrigan Enlarge Comic


It's a pity Tom Daschle has already been whisked off the main stage, if only because Kevin Siers (Charlotte Observer) had developed such a canny caricature of him -- right down to the red round specs. Love the balance of exaggerated features.

And looky here: His lips aren't even blue.

By Michael Cavna  | February 5, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Political Cartoon  
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The Toronto Star's PATRICK CORRIGAN -- he of the Obama Blue-Lip Contingent cited above -- points 'Riffs to *precisely* the image that, at least for him, inspired the blue-lip caricatures that snowballed forth from the Great White North:

(* And I'll quickly credit both AP and Fairey here when linking, lest the court case's legal tentacles grow yet larger.)


Posted by: cavnam | February 5, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Deering and Handelsman realize that the President is a lefty? (They've both drawn him holding a pen in his right hand.)

Posted by: SportzNut21 | February 5, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I saw a TV news report the other day after reading Michael's rant about blue lips, and (as far as I could tell) Obama's lips *were* blue.


Posted by: jp-from-NY | February 5, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

Someone should tell Mr. Deering that Mr. Obama is a lefty.

Posted by: circusdog | February 9, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

>> jp-from-NY:

i'd hate to think this is a case of the blind leading the colorblind, but I'll be darned if I still (per my caricature deconstruction last year on this blog) don't see his lips as purplish. should Obama revisit The Post sometime soon, I'm taking a closer look. trust not color correction--or shepard fairey posters!


Posted by: cavnam | February 9, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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