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Cartoon Violence Also Has A Day Boring Day Job That It Hates, So It Understands

Each week, the Comics Curmudgeon helps explain Today's Cartoons.


You know, we here are Cartoon Violence don't only seek to toy with the poor ink-stained wretches of the cartooning commentariat, savaging their earnest and eager offerings with our smug, postmodern wit. We also seek to enlighten you about how these cartoons are produced, from both an artistic and a business viewpoint. Of course, it would be easier for us to do this if we knew a damn thing about the subject ourselves! But as extensive readers, enjoyers and critiquers of comics, we have at least gotten to the point that we can recognize the artists by name and sometimes even by style.

Once we started reading political cartoons obsessively, we noticed that a lot of them are penned by artists who also have gigs in the regular funny pages, nestled between Dilbert and Garfield. While few of the giants of either genre cross over -- you won't see Darby Conley or Lynn Johnston attempting to come up with a visual representation of campaign finance reform, or Jeff Danzinger or Pat Oliphant poking gentle fun at middle-class suburban foibles through with two racially diverse families -- but some of the middle-of-the-pack types cheerfully straddle both sides of the fence. Since we are all about judging, shaming, and deciding who lives and who dies, Cartoon Violence this week voices its opinion on which career is the true calling for each and which the hackwork that pays the bills on the speedboat.

Artist: Dick Locher.

01dl.gifPolitical cartoons: Angular, convoluted, opaque. This example features Barack Obama as Sam to the Democratic Party's Rick in some kind of Casablanca deal (Casablanca means "white house," get it? Get it? If you don't, it's helpfully labeled for you); this might be considered racist if anyone could possibly figure out what it might mean. This year, a surprisingly large number of Locher's "political" cartoons were about his hometown losers, the Chicago Bears.

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But he also writes: Dick Tracy, which, yes, really, is still running in newspapers, and is as violent and deranged as ever. Recent plots have featured accidental brain erasure, possibly transgendered American undercover agents, and the the weirdest Osama bin Laden caricature you are ever likely to see.

The one to keep: Definitely Dick Tracy, which lends itself to Locher's trademark angular artwork and delightfully distant grip on reality.

Artist: Lalo Alcaraz.

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Political cartoons: Blunt, angry, profane. This one, with Bush being flushed down the toilet during his State of the Union address, is pretty typical: blunt but effective for the most part, but then adding a corn-poop joke that somehow goes just over the line.

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But he also writes: La Cucuracha, which you might be tempted to call a Latino Boondocks, except that La Cucaracha has more characters that are somewhat less fleshed out, and is still running in newspapers.

The one to keep: Toss-up, since the bulk of La Cucaracha's jokes could be put into the political cartoons unchanged. The newspaper strip could at least serve to radicalize the masses when they tire of Cathy's latest carb binge.

Artist: Steve Sack.

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Political cartoons: Artistically, some of the most distinctive in the business, with pleasingly round and blobby characters and generally strong execution. This panel is equally charming for Al Franken's exaggerated grin, Jesse Ventura's bra size, and the lovable sleeping bulldog.

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But he also cowrites: Doodles by Mac and Sack, a puzzle comic for kids that runs in Sunday newspapers and features this giant, sleepy-eyed sandwich, with more tentacles than an anime beast; obscenely gyrating cows; and friendly koala bears being crushed to death by snakes.

The one to keep: The political cartoons. His drawings of even the most awful political tools come across as cute and pleasant, while the beasties for children's amusement are horrifying nightmare fuel.

Artist: Doug Marlette

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Political cartoons: Nasty, mean-spirited (in a good way). Possibly overly fixated the Duke lacrosse rape case, the Episcopalian church, and (as here) cell phone usage, but reliably biting, pointed, and well-drawn.

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But he also writes: Kudzu, the saga of a collection of odd characters in a small Southern town who variously interact with a series of straw men and and serve as straw men themselves. Nasty and mean-spirited in a nasty and mean-spirited way. Topics include thinly veiled critiques of American society via bogus weather forecasts and jokes about Bill O'Reilly being a pervert that went on way too long.

The one to keep: The political cartoons, which rightfully earned Marlette a Pulitzer. Kudzu, meanwhile, is doing can't-program-the-VCR jokes. --THE COMICS CURMUDGEON

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