Sunday, January 29, 2006

Exhibit Shows Cartoonists' Takes on Bush

Yahoo! News
Exhibit Shows Cartoonists' Takes on Bush

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer

Pictures in a new exhibition depict President Bush as a crocodile, a spider and a dimwitted cowboy. And those are the polite images.

"Misunderestimating the President Through Cartoons" looks back on the Bush years through political caricature, and highlights the gap between the relative restraint of American cartoonists and a far more savage British style.

The show, which opened Thursday at London's Political Cartoon Gallery, features artists from Europe and the United States, including Martyn Turner of the Irish Times and longtime Baltimore Sun cartoonist Kevin Kallaugher. But most of the work comes from British cartoonists, who revel in the grotesque and in bawdy, toilet humor.

Steve Bell, The Guardian newspaper's veteran cartoonist, said American colleagues "are not as visually visceral as we are. We're all bums and bodily fluids."

The trans-Atlantic contrast is striking. Kallaugher shows Bush as a pusher plying Uncle Sam with cheap oil, or getting Willy Wonka to sugarcoat the Iraq war. Bell, Britain's highest-profile editorial cartoonist, usually depicts the president as a chimpanzee, with simian features and hairy limbs — often accompanied by lapdog Tony Blair.

Martin Rowson, who works for The Guardian and other publications, is equally grotesque. A cartoon about Bush's recent visit to Beijing shows the president shaking hands with his Chinese counterpart, their hands dripping with blood.

Other British artists focus on the president's cowboy image and his frequent malapropisms.

"We love making fun of people who mangle the English language, which to a lot of British people is most Americans," said freelance cartoonist Andy Davey.

The exhibition also contains a veritable menagerie of animal images. Bell pictures Bush as a crocodile in the toxic waters of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Another cartoon, entitled "Iraqnophobia," depicts him as a spider.

Bell — who calls his cartoons "little rectangles of visual anarchy" in the stodgy world of newspapers — acknowledges receiving a stream of angry e-mails, particularly from the United States.

"There's always a steady supply of people who get cross," he said. "That's our job, in a way."

His satire is robustly nonpartisan. Bell portrays Prime Minister Tony Blair — when not a lapdog or a turkey — as a crazed zealot with a mad, staring left eye. He usually drew Conservative former Prime Minister John Major clad in giant underpants.

Editorial cartoonists face an uncertain future. An increasing number of newspapers in the United States have decided to do without in-house cartoonists. Kallaugher left the Baltimore Sun this month after 17 years. The Los Angeles Times laid off Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Ramirez late last year and said it would not replace him.

But Bell says political cartoonists fulfill as essential a role as reporters.

"We're all in the truth game, I hope," he said. "Politics is so much about image. Politicians like to control every aspect of their image. What we do is get underneath the imagery."

"Misunderestimating the President Through Cartoons" runs through March 18 at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London, its only stop.


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