TOPICS > Politics

Picturing 1996

January 1, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all for being with us. Steve Kelley, was this a good year for cartoonists?

STEVE KELLEY, San Diego Union-Tribune: Oh, by all means it was. We had a lot of unusual events sort of percolate to the surface. Plus, it was a–it was an election year. So election years are always like an all-you-can-eat buffet for a political cartoonist. So we have all of those issues and, in addition, a lot of sort of unusual one-day wonders I call them.


STEVE KELLEY: Well, for example, the kid reached over the wall in one of the playoff series and snatched the ball, and Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire, and Jonathan Privet kissed a little girl on the cheek at school and was sued for sexual harassment. He was in the first grade. So those were all very rife subjects for political cartoons.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Was it a good year for you, Doug Marlette?

DOUG MARLETTE, Newsday: Oh, yeah. An election year is always good, and, you know, actually most years are good. It feels like we’re talking about a wine. You know, it was a vintage year for this.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, of course, it was a good year for you. It probably wasn’t a good year for everybody else.

DOUG MARLETTE: That’s exactly right. That’s one of the ironies of our business in the chuckles racket is we call–you know, bad times for the Republicans are good times for cartoonists. So we are–we had a good year. The election made it especially easy. When I say easy, I mean that there are so many topics coming at you, you end up drawing those one-day wonders because it’s such a relief not to be drawing on the candidates. You’re looking for something else.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ann Telnaes, how about for you? Was it a rich year for you?

ANN TELNAES, North America Syndicate: Oh, it was a great year for cartoonists. It was actually the first time I followed an election in my cartoons from the primaries on. So I found it very interesting. I mean, I loved drawing Bob Dole. I just–I’m kind of very sad that he’s gone now because he was just such a wonderful character, and that Dole-speak was just priceless. It offered a lot for us to work with.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael Ramirez, how would you rate it if you had to rate this year on a scale of one to ten?

MICHAEL RAMIREZ, Memphis Commercial Appeal: Well, I think it was pretty much near the top. I think it’s close to ten. Election years always seem to be like Christmas all year around. And when you have a multitude of candidates that garnered about as much enthusiasm as watching the Rose Bowl seven times in one day, or the Rose Bowl Parade, that generates great editorial cartoons. And I think here we had a classic election where neither candidate really generated much enthusiasm and, therefore, they made great cartoon fodder. But I think it’s been a terrific year.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael, let’s look at one of your cartoons from the elections and talk about it for a minute. Here we have a bridge. Both ends of the bridge are falling apart. On one end it says “Clinton Bridge to the Future,” on the other end “Dole Bridge to the Past.” And “Voters” in-between. Looking back, is this how the elections still strike you?

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Yeah. I think I pretty much characterized it literally how the voters felt about the candidates. It seemed that they were kind of stuck in this montage of the same old campaign rhetoric with two candidates that didn’t really represent what they’re saying. And, therefore, they didn’t really have good choices. And I just took the two campaign statements that both Bob Dole and Bill Clinton used and just kind of fashioned it into the cartoon where the voters were just stuck with no real choice.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ann Telnaes, what’s most memorable as you look back now on the election?

ANN TELNAES: I think the importance of the moderate voter. I did a lot of cartoons regarding that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Let me interrupt one second. Let’s put one up. Here you have Sen. Dole leaning towards I guess a moderate voter, saying, “I want you to know I’m very tolerant,” but he’s playing footsie with somebody to his right, a woman who’s labeled “Far Right.”

ANN TELNAES: Yeah. That was at the point in the campaign where the Dole team finally realized they were really behind in the polls with women voters, and, you know, they started trotting out a few moderate Republican congresswomen to tell everyone how tolerant the party actually was. And, you know, if you followed anything from the primaries on with Pat Buchanan and Bob Doran, you had to kind of laugh. I found it very amusing, so that was really applying to that cartoon.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doug Marlette, how about you? The First Lady and Mrs. Dole, who wanted to be First Lady, gave you some laughs, didn’t they?

DOUG MARLETTE: Oh, yeah. Both First Ladies were terrific for us. They were more interesting than the candidates.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let’s look at what you did with it. Here we have a cartoon. This is the Doles in bed. Mrs. Dole is completely dressed, and she’s speaking into a microphone, and the Senator is saying, “Give it a rest, Liddy.”


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before we go on, let me just look at one more, and then we’ll talk about him. Here we have the Clintons in bed, and the President looks kind of like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Mrs. Clinton is saying, “Eleanor says to knock it off, Bill.” Let’s start with that one. Tell us about it.

DOUG MARLETTE: Well, you know, first of all, you always want to draw the candidates in bed, whenever possible. There’s a rule that it humanizes them, or you know, in the bathroom, any of the human–but, you know, with Hillary saying, “Eleanor says to knock it off, Bill,” that was after the election, and Clinton had won, was looking like Roosevelt, and this whole thing about Hillary Clinton becoming new age, talking to Eleanor Roosevelt, and I couldn’t help but associate it to Nancy Reagan, who is another one of the kind of rigid seeming, you know, dominatrix kind of First Ladies who always seem to have these weird fascinations with the occult and with, you know, star gazing and astrology or–you know, I enjoyed going at something from the side of pulling out an old issue and bringing it up. But having the wives of both candidates were really interesting.

As a matter of fact, what I found most interesting was how Clinton, the genius of this election, and the victory this year was of Clinton finding Hillary to carry his problems with Whitewater and then Dick Morris carry that kind of part of him that is more–how do we say–promiscuous part of the President. And so he found designated, you know, problem folks who served as lightning rods, so he kind of got off the radar, and these people were seen that way. I did a drawing after the Morris thing where Clinton is saying, you know, “Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t me.” (laughing)

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before we go on to your cartoon, Steve Kelley, this idea of putting the candidates in bed or in some intimate kind of setting, does everybody find that that’s funny, or is this just your own peculiar ring–

DOUG MARLETTE: You know, basically we can idealize candidates and presidents, and part of the role of the cartoonist is to do that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that?

STEVE KELLEY: In addition, one of the true advantages that political cartoonists have over say photographers or columnists is that they “can” put the candidates in bed. I mean, a photographer could go in and snap a picture, a columnist might describe it, but not nearly as well. I mean, we can depict the President or First Lady in bed, if we want, and I think that alone is–it just startles the reader, and it’s interesting to see what someone–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It’s very startling, I agree. Yes, go ahead.

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Our job as editorial cartoonists is really to point out that politicians are fallible, that they do make mistakes. I think it was kind of interesting that Doug had FDR there. I think the Social Security outlays that they predicted in 1980 were $1.3 billion. They missed it by $290 million. So we get to put ’em in a situation where they might not be to show the people that they’re more human, the politicians are more human, and that they are fallible. And that’s the whole point of editorial cartooning.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steve, sticking with the elections, looking back, the scandals gave you quite a bit of fodder.

STEVE KELLEY: Well, the fun was keeping up with the scandals. I mean, especially in the White House, I mean it seemed that they came virtually every week.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me one second. Let’s look at this cartoon. Here we have the White House with the sign outside sort of like the sign outside a bank. It says, “Time 1:17, Temperature 85 degrees, Current Scandal FBI Files.”

STEVE KELLEY: Right. That was just the current scandal. I mean, that was the fourth in a long series of scandals. And, you know, this was–it was almost like a shell game that the White House, it seemed like that, like they were trying to–okay, well, everybody is talking about this scandal. Now, quick, start another fire over here, and let’s–we’ll get ’em talking about that before they can really get any meat there. And then we’ll send them over to another one over here. It was–you know, and also very good fodder for, for cartoonists, just, you know, any presidential scandal at all is great to have a six-pack. It was nice.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Let’s look at four cartoons now on other issues, and we’re going to go through these one at a time. Here’s Steve Kelley’s take on Roberto Alomar, the Baltimore Oriole’s player who spit on an umpire, and there’s the umpire in his deep sea diving gear. And next, we see an Ann Telnaes cartoon on the First Lady. There’s the elephant, sitting and reading a bedtime story. He says, “And the bad, uppity woman was forced to leave Washington in disgrace, while the angry white male breathed a sigh of relief and lived happily ever after. And the males in bed are saying, “Read it again. Read it again.”

And next, we have a Doug Marlette cartoon. This is about drugs and the baby boomers: “My folks warned me about the dangers of drugs, but they may have been having an acid flashback at the time.” And then finally, we have a Michael Ramirez cartoon about violence on TV: The mother’s saying, “Son, your Father and I have decided not to let you watch TV anymore because it promotes violence.” And the son’s saying, “Touch my remote and I’ll kill you.” Michael Ramirez, how did you–what made you decide to do that cartoon? What does it? What comes to your mind?

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Well, you know, it’s the irony in daily life that I think makes the best cartoon. And in this case, you know, obviously parental guidance is well and good in making sure that your kids are watching what they’re supposed to be watching, but does television violence really affect our children? And I think the question was answered obviously by the kid exhibiting violent behavior. And I think those kind of ironies in real life, they tend to be great editorial cartoons.

ANN TELNAES: Yes. It’s usually something I’ve been thinking about, something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. And somebody will say something or have a press conference that just sounds so absurd to me that I just have to do a cartoon that minute. And the one that you showed, you know, that was a result of the fact that Sen. D’Amato had just finished the Whitewater hearings, and they had called a press conference, and it just seemed so absurd to me. They had all these white men standing up there, all these Republican white men, and each one took their turns in bashing Hillary basically, and, you know, you just, you feel compelled to do a cartoon about it. And you want to show them in the most ridiculous light possible.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that the way it works for you, or do you have a different inspiration process?

DOUG MARLETTE: You know, I think it’s just, you feel these contradictions, you know, and showing them the cartoon about the baby boomer, the children of baby boomers talking about drugs, we live in such a “feel good” culture, and it’s drug-oriented, and approaching–you know, now baby boomers are dealing with their children–you know, “Did you do drugs, Daddy,” you know, “What was it like at Woodstock?”–having to deal with that, and I could have done a cartoon saying–I could have done the same drawing and had the–had the kid saying, you know, my parents warned me about drugs, but I don’t know if it was them or the Prozac talking. (laughter among group)

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Steve Kelley, what about the Alomar cartoon, did you do that right away after the spitting incident occurred, or did you think about it for a while?

STEVE KELLEY: Well, it ran a couple of days afterwards. What I try to do is determine essentially what people are talking about at lunch that day and let that be sort of my guide for what I address, and the great thing about that is people actually are looking for a cartoon on the subject. I mean, I’ll many times have people say to me, I was wondering what you were going to do about this event. And it’s like with the Alomar event. It was so out of the ordinary that a professional baseball player would spit in the face of an umpire, of authority. And everyone was focused on that, so any cartoon that I drew about it not only was going to receive a lot of readers, a lot of people were going to look at it, but they were expecting it. They wanted to know what I was going to say about that, and when the cartoon came out, I got a lot of phone calls on it, people who were very happy about it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And then again we can’t in television or print journalists can’t talk about the umpire, you know, putting him in some kind of a deep sea outfit.

STEVE KELLEY: Well, once again, it gets back to the strength of political cartooning, which is you can create something can never appear in physical life really. No photographer could have taken a picture of that. It was purely a cartoonist’s creation.

DOUG MARLETTE: And there’s also an element–and this is with the origin of cartoons–I think is that if you can hit like with a certain inevitability where a cartoon is so natural that people feel like, of course, and you’re saying it for them, that’s what you’re kind of looking for. It’s harder to find those ideas, but that’s what you’re really after, like a hole in one.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ann, which of your cartoons was the most controversial? And by that, I mean which one inspired the most reaction, letters, outcry?

ANN TELNAES: It was the working woman holding the fan, and it was making the mud go back on the Hillary bashers.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We’re looking at it right now, and you can see the woman is labeled “Working Woman.”

ANN TELNAES: Right. I put my e-mail address on my cartoons, and I get a lot of reactions that way. And that cartoon, that got, you know, a very pro and con reaction. I mean, some people were like, good for you, you know, we’re so tired of this bashing, and the other side, you know, I had people writing in, you know, would bash Hillary because she’s a liar, and they used to call her many, many names. I’ve had a few call me many names, and it created quite a response.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which was your most controversial cartoon?

STEVE KELLEY: Anything that I do on the O.J. Simpson trial seems to be–seems to get me a lot of mail. I did one of Simpson as a pilgrim. And this was if O.J. had been a pilgrim, and he’s saying, I didn’t do it. You know, people always, they call up and they’re angry that you’re second-guessing the work of a jury. They say, you know, I guess you think you know better than these 12 people, and I typically go, yeah, as a matter of fact, I think I probably do. (laughter among group)

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you all like it when you get these kind of responses? I mean, do you like it when do one that gets lots of mail?

DOUG MARLETTE: Yes, certainly.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That’s a sign you’ve been very successful.

ANN TELNAES: Yeah. And to hear the responses.

DOUG MARLETTE: You know, it’s easy to do that. You can get response to it. But getting response when people–when you placed it where you want it, like a good tennis serve–and getting the reaction, that means you’re being effective.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael Ramirez, which was your most controversial cartoon?

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: My most controversial one this year was I had a piano with the keys separated. I had the black keys on one side and the white keys on the other side. It was kind of an offshoot of the O.J. Simpson trial, and sort of racial tension that evolved in America. And it was titled “Playing the Blues,” and it talks about the resegregationist movement that we have, kind of multiculturalism versus fractionalization. You know–

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me just one second. Why do you think this one elicited so much response? Why was it your most controversial?

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Well, you know, being in Memphis, Tennessee, politics is very volatile to begin with, but then when you get the racial element into any equation, it becomes much more so. So any time you start raising the issue of race, it seems to drive the telephones and bring in the hate mail. And in this case, a scenario of sensitivity in our community–because of course Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis–and so any derivative subject in race will bring a lot of criticism.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And I interrupted you. You wanted to say something else.

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: You know, editorial cartoons are sort of a mirror of events, though. I mean, we’re pretty much, you know, politics by its nature is very volatile. The hate mail that we get, we wear ’em sort of like medals, you know. If we do generate hate mail, if we’re getting criticism, if we’re getting phone calls, then we’re doing our job.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was your most controversial cartoon, Doug?

DOUG MARLETTE: You know, I had no controversial cartoons. I have said that before this year that I got the year off. But I thought when you were going to ask us what was the most controversial subject or topic, which was for me, was too–was the–Madonna and Child–that was the controversy that riveted me. And the second thing was who was the father of Michael Jackson?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you did also do a cartoon on race, did you not?


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And it elicited a lot of response.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Describe it. I think we can see it now.

DOUG MARLETTE: This actually got a positive reaction at the Post.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You can see the church burning and, “In my day they just burned the cross.”

DOUG MARLETTE: Right. I got a lot of positive reaction, actually, on this cartoon, and it’s always surprising. You never know. You get used to hate mail and petitions that you be fired and, you know, but sometimes things hit, and you can get positive reactions. You never know. And it’s always interesting.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is that true for all of you, you just can’t predict it?

ANN TELNAES: You can’t. And when you don’t get a reaction, then you’re kind of I guess it really didn’t generate any discussion, so, yeah, you want that reaction.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Steve, what are you sharpening your quill for, thinking of next year? Against whom are you sharpening your quill?

STEVE KELLEY: It’s interesting. Every time I take a vacation from work–I took off a week for Christmas, and inevitably, some big news event–you just wait for that instant. It’s one of the laws of the cartoonists’ universe. And I guess Newt Gingrich’s mea culpa will eventually, I will be drawing cartoons about that and certainly about the second term, the Clinton second term, and I guess the line-item veto is now going to–that will be a different spin on the budget process.


DOUG MARLETTE: Whenever there are subpoenas in the air, you know, you know it’s going to be a good time for cartoonists. But, you know, we all set our–as a matter of fact, we watch for when Steve is going to go on vacation because we know that a big topic is coming– (laughter among group)–is coming down the pike.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ann, what about you? What are you thinking about for next year? ANN TELNAES: Probably China, China and Hong Kong I think I’m going to be doing a lot of cartoons. I try to do them now, but I think the editors will be wanting them this year, and also, well, the scandals, that’ll be nice. That will be something good.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Michael Ramirez, briefly.

MICHAEL RAMIREZ: Well, I think, you know, the Clinton administration is going to be a lovely topic of conversation for years to come. When I went to vote for him, I couldn’t decide whether to vote for national security or job security. And I’m sure in the next year they’re going to provide lots of cartoon fodder.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much. We’ll look forward to seeing your cartoons next year. And thank you for being with us. Happy New Year!