Cartoon Violence Makes War On Politico's Matt Wuerker
It is easy to forget sometimes that D.C. area event planner Politico actually won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Not for their morning-winning, afternoon-winning news coverage, mind you, (lol, u guys.) but for their editorial cartoons, drawn by this guy Matt Wuerker.
Like many a baby boomer — man — Wuerker used to be cool, before he sold out. He began his career cartooning for Portland's alternative newspaper Willamette Week in the early 1980s, producing comics and illustrations in a self-taught and abrasive style that now feels uniquely of its time — specifically that "black and white revolution" in alternative comics, the one with all the zines and the post-punk and hardcore show posters. With an aesthetic as distinctive as Robbie Conal's political grotestques or Raymond Pettibon's album art for Black Flag, Wuerker pretty soon took his cartoons national. He published with the likes of FAIR's Extra!, the Nation, and Z magazine. He did animation for music videos. He illustrated a book of essays about U.S. media propaganda for Edward S. Herman. Yes, THAT Edward S. Herman. The guy who wrote Manufacturing Consent with Noam "Chain Chomp" Chomsky. (For God's sake, just look at the cover Wuerker drew for Herman's book. His Bush Sr. is like a fucking GARGOYLE!!! It's tremendous!) Matt Wuerker was, in short, the kinda man you'd catch stealing Economists from Walddenbooks while paying for his Utne Readers. Back off, man; Matt Wuerker would have those signatures in for PIRG by the end of his shift. That painting in the coffee shop? That's Matt Wuerker's! What do YOU care?!
So. How did this man come to co-found Politico?
It seems crazy right? Like learning that Henry Rollins now does voice work for direct-to-dvd superhero cartoons. Wouldn't that be nuts!? Especially if one of them was Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.
Welcome to part two of your Wonkette's campaign against Pulitzer Cartoon Violence.
Even at the height of his alt.weekly period, Matt Wuerker's cartoons would often find their way into more staid, less tubular publications like Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post. Admirably, Wuerker had a sense that broadly placing his material kept him from simply "preaching to the choir" in "a kind of left ghetto of publications." That's probably the shortest explanation for how a guy who once called advertising to children "some sort of ruthless child molestation" later became the chief cartoonist and official portrait artist for the Washington Establishment's house organ. (However, the fact that Wuerker supported Nader's presidential bid in 2000, to his later shame, probably greased this slippery slope.) Anyway, his is a Cautionary Tale of how one's hippy-dippy ideas about "following your bliss" could one day lead to a very lucrative job entertaining out-of-touch people with your out-of-touch Goofs'n'Spoofs.
Here are some of Wuerker's facepalm-inducing attempts to ride the zeitgeist:
- You know yoga! There's stretching, contorting. Well, This is Obama Yoga. You'll notice there isn't a single yoga-specific pun in this whole cartoon AT ALL — no "Warrior two-faced pose," no "downward-facing dodge," no "civilian corpse pose." This reads like yoga jokes inspired by hearing an attractive coworker say the word "yoga." But, as with yoga, if you stick with it and tell the exact same basic joke long enough, you will make it work eventually.
- Groupon for lobbyists! On a billboard! True to most of our experiences with Groupon (!!1!squeee!!!) the billboard-based, coupon service!!! Don't we all have vivid memories of seeing an enticing Groupon billboard outside our office window, then reposting the billboard outside our friends' office windows, so that we could all go in on a thrifty spa weekend together?
- Meme and theme! They mean the same thing! That's why they rhyme! It's called a “mnemonic disguise.”
- Video Games. Keep this cartoon handy, as it will make an elegant segue from Edward Said's Orientalism to Lana Del Ray (or vice versa), when you're feeling "in over your head" at a grad school party.
- Christ: This. If you are reading this decades from now (somehow), that's the Obamas wearing these crazy hats that Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie wore at a British Royal Wedding. The Obamas were often criticized for their style instead of their substance, most notably in an infamous 2008 attack ad about Obama's “celebrity.” You can just copy/paste that sentence into the essay you are obviously writing, future human.
- Hey! What if Seal Team Six's dog, Cairo, was a CAT instead!? Ha, ha. The internet LOVES cats! Maybe this cartoon will become a meme.
As bad as all of those were — and they were all bad — they are nothing compared to this meta-terrible contribution that Wuerker made to the new Politico Magazine (now sponsored by Bank of America). It is his extended guide to making a good political cartoon, his “guide to the metaphorist” (actual title), and it is exclusively a recitation of all the cliches that the Onion's Kelly uses, with Wuerker's sage advice not to use them. On the one hand, it's a lengthy dissection of a good joke no one needed explained to them, to fill space in a magazine no one asked for anyway (brought to you by Bank of America). But worse: It's also a sorta painful reminder that Matt Wuerker won his Pulitzer in the same year that the Onion did its very public, very funny, campaign for a Pulitzer prize. “Where's the justice?” And so on. Etc.
Without further ado, then, here are some of the cartoons that Matt Wuerker won his Pulitzer for:
Oosh. Awkward. We all know what this cartoon is trying to say, right? Just as we also know that what it is literally, syntactically, saying is that educating future potential employees is the same as creating their opposite, i.e. jobs, i.e. a not human, abstract economic activity. Wait? Is the point of this comic ACTUALLY that neither teachers NOR hedge fund managers are job creators? Woah. Such Third Way. Perhaps Farhad Manjoo was wrong to single Wuerker out for criticism in Slate those years ago.
Nope. Nevermind. God, this "herding cats" joke. It really has us looking forward to the moment when other “corporate email” garbage slang becomes literalized by Matt Wuerker. Who will be the first to fatally “shoot an email” in a Wuerker cartoon? And why was it not already Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly? (The lion tamer motif, incidentally, is part of a meme theme — as Wuerker loves him some circus metaphors.)
Zucker brothers-grade punning and a centrist message about how, um, Washington done been broken. Two broad tastes that taste bland together!!! This, incidentally, was the comic that inspired Slate's Farhad Manjoo to criticize Wuerker, from the horrifically backward position that Politico deserved a Pulitzer for its masturbatory electoral speculation and whisper peddling. Let's simply add that this cartoon features — without question — the single weirdest interpretation of the antebrachial forearm muscles in a cartoon since Popeye.
Could it be that this comic is actually an argument in favor of a state-managed economy in the mold of a totalitarian Communist government with an abysmal record on labor, human rights and the environment? No. Could it? No. Am I reading this wrong? No. No.
Fatigued? "Too long; did not read?" Are you Matt Wuerker himself, skimming, perhaps hoping for a concluding paragraph, with a summary judgment that let's you close tab and move on? Here it is, in a visual grammar you will appreciate:
[Click to make BIG!]
This Week's Cartoon Atrocities
- Mostly, the same joke about Chris Christie's presidential ambitions “stuck in bridge traffic” by four different cartoonists — including Pulitzer-prize winner Matt Wuerker!
- Oh! And Benghazi! FOREVER!
A Collateral Damage Report
Suspected Cartoon Liberation Front leader Ted Rall, a known subversive, took issue with the content of our previous installment, airing his grievances in the pages of his personal web-log, Radio Free Opinions. Like a confused audience member at a Don Rickles show, Rall felt aggrieved by some insult comedy and in the process lashed out at a civilian children's book illustrator, Matt Phelan, a 2007 Newbery award winner who is not the author of this Cartoon Violence. (Rall's post is here as a .pdf for posterity.)
We've apologized to Matt Phelan via email on our behalf and Rall's, but will clearly have to jack our own SEO strat so that Ted Rall — a brilliant reporter who has traversed Central Asia for his nonfiction cartooning — can better retaliate.
Here is what Rall has to say about the other Matt Phelan, for your enjoyment, expertly paired with Luciano Michelini's “Frolic” from Curb Your Enthusiasm:
P.S. Turns out Matthew Phelan is a children’s book illustrator with a twee, not terribly confident, style. And a truly crappy website.