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STEVE BRODNER, Political Illustrator.

Interviewed August 22, 1996

FL: Your process..... Let's start with Clinton and then we'll go to Dole. What you see in that face and what finally becomes Clinton. All the details that you can remember and think about.

BRODNER:

In approaching Clinton, for me the key was the man of excess, the man of largeness. Living large. There's something about Clinton that embraces everything that he comes into contact with. Not only people who are mourning or who are in trouble, who he likes to publicly identify with, but also issues that he may have previously disagreed with. He finds a way to embrace everything. He's a wide, soft, like a Macy's balloon kind of character. Very round, very broad. So when I draw him, I draw this person of excess. Where everything is just kind of sticking out and thrusting itself. The jaw thrusts out. The cheeks are not jowly. They're just wide. To me he's just this real balloon, marshmallow type character. The excess is even in the nose. He's got this WC Fields nose that's sort of giving you a key that he's doing too much of something. Too much agreeing with people, or too much eating, or too much womanizing. All of the stuff that we all think about him doing.

And yet perhaps all of this mass is covering up the person. It's covering up what he's really feeling. Because I never really get a sense of what he's truly feeling. I'm always getting a sense about what he's appearing to feel. And of course two different things. So for me, he's the big Sta-Puff marshmallow guy at the end of "Ghostbusters." You remember they shoot the bullets into the creature and the bullets just get absorbed into the big mass of marshmallow. So when I draw Clinton I'm always doing round things. Big round forms. Kind of untouchable and large.

FL: And you said you feel Clinton is a sort of a gift to a caricaturist, as opposed to the face of say, a Reagan. Contrast the two.

BRODNER:

I wouldn't say he's a gift. I'd say he was difficult. Because for all of what I said I still don't have a clue as to what he is. I still don't know what he is. And that's what's confusing and frustrating about Bill Clinton. He doesn't give easily to you what he is. So I started out at the beginning of the campaign last time, drawing him one way, or feeling one way about him and then always finding that that wasn't quite right. That wasn't quite the way he is. Until finally I arrived at this point where I'm just drawing these concentric circles. One for the head, one for the nose. So it's just this roundness. No sharp edges on him. The eyes. The bags under the eyes. They're round. The mouth is round. The teeth are round. He has no ears, almost, so there isn't even the ear to create an angle when you're drawing him full face. I give him a little turnip head though at the top to kind of, I don't know, it seems his head comes to a point and that's kind of a happy little key in because of the old cliche about the pointy headed intellectual. Because I'm feeling sometimes perhaps he's missing the point. So I just put that little point up there. It's a little dunce cap I give him. But he's, I don't feel he's a gift in this way. I don't feel that drawing a vague character is really nailing it. I don't feel I've ever really nailed him.

FL: You also said to me that in the beginning, you took a real journey with Clinton. Talk a little about that journey.

BRODNER:

He was and is difficult to pin down as to what you feel he is. At least what I felt. When he was elected, I think a lot of people voted for him thinking he was one kind of a thing. I guess fill in the blank. If you were perhaps a more conservative person, you saw his campaign rhetoric as truly being a new Democrat. Someone who was really going to believe in the strength of market forces to straighten things out. Those people voted for him. Other people who were more left wing, heard the health care plan promise, and other promises and voted for him thinking that he was perhaps going to pick up where Bobby Kennedy dropped.

And all those people found out that they were wrong. I don't know of anybody who thought they were right about Bill Clinton. And so what do you have? You have frustrated electorate in 1994 who voted in Republicans. And now you have poll numbers that show something else. That people are sort of saying he is what he is, but what that thing is seems to be a decent person, a person who's caring, particularly after seeing Republicans for two years in the Congress and listening to Dole's rhetoric, so I think the whole country's been on a journey with Bill Clinton changing radically month to month on how they feel about the guy. And I think he's got all of us pretty confused.

FL:

As a caricaturist, and satirist, looking at Clinton's face, why does it give you a problem.

BRODNER:

There's no telling in the face where he's going. There's no telling in the face what his core is. He leaves all the options open. Unlike any president that I can remember, he's this way. Except for Gerald Ford. But I always felt with Ford that he was vacuous. That that came as a result of a person who was disengaged and not terribly interested in what was going on, but really wanted to just take another dip in the pool and another shot of golf. But one doesn't get that feeling about Clinton. Clinton is always reading and talking to people and engaging with people. He's got a powerful intellect. He's always calling people up to tell them he's read their book. He meets people, he says, "I read your book." He probably did read their book. He's got an intense curiosity. Again, this living large kind of creature.

But for all of that you would expect a person to come down somewhere. You would expect that intellect to bring him somewhere but in the face there's no key to that. It's terribly frustrating as a caricaturist, for me to draw Bill Clinton, because I'm always looking for that key and I can't find it. So my solution is lack of key. My solution in drawing him is the open window. The mask that could be read in a hundred different ways.

FL:

How about Hillary's face?

BRODNER:

You can see the lines, the laugh lines that come down from the nose to the mouth are deep when her face is at rest. You see this kind of strength, this kind of determination. There's tremendous determination in the cheeks, in the jaw, in the mouth and it's not a convincing smile. It's not a persuasive smile. I don't feel she really does smile with her eyes. She has big lips and big teeth, and a kind of a shy jaw, but the eyes sort of stay intense at all times. A person looking for control, I think. A person needing to control. There's that neediness in her face that I think you see in the eyes, the eyebrows, the jaw, the lines around the mouth, the lips. A powerful, intense face. And I think maybe scary to some people.

Hillary's face is a far more intense one. This is a face with huge piercing eyes and determined eyebrows. She's looking for opportunity. She's looking for opportunity wherever she can find it. She's a real eater. She's a real conqueror. Her face tells me she sees her role as an important woman in history. And she needs to use this opportunity to make history and that makes her a hero to certain people and a terrifying figure to others. And it's that intensity that frightens those people. It says putting this person with this kind of intensity in a position of power will mean God knows what for those of us that want to keep things the way they are. She's always changing her hairstyle. This is something that people are very upset about. I wonder why that is? Why do people rag on her about that? I can only think that it's because there is this feeling that she's trying every which way to become more powerful, to become more important. It's in her mouth. She's got a very tight kind of jaw. And she's always perfectly coiffed and dressed and a person who doesn't seem to be willing to let go of any flaw to be examined or seen in her appearance and that keys into what people think about her kind of personal quest for sainthood as a public figure.

And so I haven't drawn her that much, because I don't feel that politically she's a person that anyone elected and she's a side show as far as Clinton is concerned. His administration and what policies have gone down really are Clinton's responsibilities and as a cartoonist I bring them to him. I still don't feel it's fair to attack his wife, although I think she's done some beauts. There have been things in the administration that she's responsible for that are absolutely horrible. But her problems I think come come from her inability to accept her own frailties and her own imperfections and I think you see this in her face.

FL:

Couold you describe this Hillary one.....

BRODNER:

I did this piece for The New Yorker about Hillary testifying and she's surrounded by snakes. So she's sitting at the table testifying and she's just sort of looking around at these snakes. It's not the strongest Hillary piece I've done, but I think it has that jaw and it has those lips and it has that kind of intensity about it that I was talking about. She's there. Wherever she is, she's there. She's got both feet in everything. And I think that's why some people really love her. They feel that about her. There's a sense of commitment. And she's believable as a character whereas Clinton isn't really. You really sense a strength of conviction in her, in her face and that's what I try to bring out.

FL:

Talk about your process in relation to Dole.

BRODNER:

Okay. Well, Dole, for me, is a kind of a lone wolf type character. Walking his landscape, looking for food. He doesn't, you get the feeling that the excess that you see in Clinton would be completely out of the question with someone like Dole. Just simply because of the way he's lived his life. He's had to make do. He's had to improvise and he probably looks at all opportunities as a one time shot. So he's gaunt, he's got hollows in his face. He's very, his skin is very leathery like some animal that lives in the desert in the sun all the time. He's always tan. He always goes out on the deck and tans himself in the Capital when he was Majority Leader. He's, there isn't any fat on Dole. For a 72 year old man, we don't see people that age without any fat on them. He is someone who is hungry. I view him as a person who's hungry, carefully taking his opportunities and intensely working on the problem all the time. So a different life form than Clinton all together. His mouth is pursed. He's, at rest his mouth is very tight. His jaw is tight, constricted. The big funny thing about Dole was him trying to relax. All these photographs of him trying to relax where he doesn't look anything like he's relaxing. He doesn't look capable of relaxing. And that might be due to how uncomfortable he is. He might be in much more pain every day than he tells people. Or it may be just a lifestyle that he's evolved over a lifetime of being in pain. Whether or not he has it now, he may be just there in that kind of a way of living. But he's, but he rarely smiles. I have a large file of Dole photographs that I work from to draw caricatures of him. And I don't think I have more than two or three smiley Doles. He is under control to an extraordinary degree. And so when I draw him, I draw him very thin, very lean, very, the skin is parchment like. The eyebrows are furrowed, Nixon-like. Not that I feel he is dishonest as Nixon is, or was, but he has the intensity of a Nixon. He has that, that need to burrow in so much that he may not be aware of how that's reading to people. That it may be coming across as something that it's not. Whereas Clinton is very aware all of the time how he's coming across. He tailors every small movement to the camera. Whereas Dole, I don't think he is aware of how the camera or the artists, or the photographs are reading him, and that may be part of his problem. His hair is perfectly combed all the time. It's thin up there, but there's always a little rippling pompadour on the top. And so it's a very different portrait of Dole I'd be painting.

FL:

The essential qualities that you take out of the face.

BRODNER:

Hunger. What I basically get from Dole is a sense of a hungry person. A person who is seeking his opportunities carefully, methodically, coldly. There is a coldness in him, in his face, in his fatlessness and bloodlessness. A sense of constant, almost desperate calculation.

If you're drawing Clinton, or Newt, or Dole you are drawing someone who is not just a man. You are drawing someone who is the embodiment of the feelings, the political need of millions of people. So what you're looking to do is to use that face as a symbol. And that's all they are to me when I'm drawing them in a cartoon framework. They are symbols for movements of people. Symbols for issues. So a good caricaturist I think can make it work so that by doing a portrait of an individual that portrait can achieve a level of iconography that will carry with it a message about what the person stands for politically.

FL:

Can you go back to the face of each of them.

BRODNER:

That's why I draw and I don't write. Dole's face is a face of a person who is, I believe, he is embodying a kind of fear. There's a fear of change, a fear of where the world is going. A need on the part of Dole to return to something. For people, I think he symbolizes the yearning to return. The sense of where the country was after World War II. Unity, stability, that's of course operating with a selective memory because if you're black you don't want to return to 1946, or if you're a woman and you want to achieve something other than being a housewife and a mother, which is are wonderful things to do, you don't want to go back to 1946, but for millions of people for whom 1996 is not working, Dole may be their last chance to get back to Ozzie and Harriet which is a place he's not really telling us how to get to. But I see that in him and I see that in his face.

For Clinton, he is covering so much ground and trying to suck in so many precincts with his personality, it's that largeness that I think is covering the earth. Where he's, there's enough of him and he's big enough to cover all those people over there who are for health care and all those people over there who are for uniforms in schools and school prayer and whatever all he's going to encompass. So all those people, if he plays it right, can feel that he's their guy. And only by virtue of his bigness, by the broadness of his personality, of his wild fabric of convictions and so that's the thing I hit on with him. It's vague, and big.

FL:

Why is Nixon so beloved by photographers and caricaturists?

BRODNER:

Nixon was perfect. Nixon was a delight. There wasn't anything about Nixon, one felt there wasn't anything about Nixon that didn't make it on to his face. It was all there. The hunger, the fear, the shiftiness, the slyness, the coyness, the need to subvert, the jealousy, avarice, all the ugly things were there to the point where, the five o'clock shadow, the sweating upper brow, the furrowed eye, the hollow eyes. David Levine, who is my hero as a caricaturist, was the greatest caricaturist of Nixon. And he would draw the eye lid, the lower eye lash, of Nixon which was prominent in him, but David Levine made you really see that and he extended that out so that it looked extra decadent. The way he combed his hair back in a Dracula fashion. His stooped over, hunched over posture. The thing he did with his hands where he looked like he was going to eat something. He was just marvelous. And you knowit was a once in a lifetime opportunity to draw Nixon. Sorry he's gone.

FL:

Can you talk about your belief in the human face. A window into a part of them......

BRODNER:

I don't have the exact quote, but Lincoln at some point said something about this. And I'd have to look it up. He said something like, "People over 40 ought to be careful of their face." Meaning that what they are will show itself in their faces after a certain period of time. So obviously he believed that too. That you can find these things in someone's face.

I don't think it's always the case that you can tell the book by the cover. In fact, I find that through life, that's not true. But in terms of doing political caricatures, it's a conceit of the political caricaturist that what's under the surface can, through the art of caricature, be brought to the surface and it's sort of a way of turning a face inside out. So you really are finding things and creating things together simultaneously. And, but I think as a caricaturist I'm lucky this year, this election cycle. We have two people who make it so easy. They give you lots of things that are easy to find.

Oh yeah. I'm a people watcher. I love to look at faces. And my favorite thing to do is to go to Central Park on a Sunday afternoon and look at people. And I try to imagine their whole life story as based on their faces. And I love to sometimes just sketch them. Look at somebody, close my eyes, and then draw them really fast. But just based on what I saw. Holding that picture in my mind and just drawing. I'm guilty of that. I do look for meaning in all the faces that I see. I can't help it. It's what I do.

FL:

Last question. You were talking about the wild hatred for the Clinton's in this country. What buttons do they press? What's the source of that rage among some people?

BRODNER:

I don't know why people hate Clinton as much as they seem to. I know that I at times hate him, but probably for other reasons. Although I don't know. I mean, for me it's, I hate to put words in people's mouths, but I think the problem might be that he represents a kind of lifestyle in which one gets by sloppily which runs counter to the myth that people carry about the President. The mythology of the Presidency is connected more to a man who is upstanding in every way. And we know so few of them have been. And Clinton comes from a generation where the rules were taken away. There were no rules for people in the `60's as there had been before. Everyone I knew was smoking pot. Everyone he knew was smoking pot. It was like beer. So for him to be vilified for smoking pot, seems ridiculous. Thousands of people evaded the draft, many on moral reasons. The war was wrong. Why give your life to a cause you didn't believe in? Because somebody told you to do it? He was thinking for himself. Cheating on his wife. Well, we all watch television programs about that every night. We seem fascinated by that.

Clinton is doing, and to his own detriment now, things that lots of Americans do but maybe don't want to confront it. So perhaps Clinton, the extreme anger at Clinton is America being angry at itself. It's a kind of an unpleasant reminder of some of the things that we really are. Excessive, a little dishonest, a little lazy, finding easy virtue, in many ways he is us. And I think part of our culture, aside from doing these things, is also to deny it. And it's that denial perhaps that is causing people to have a very difficult time. And also with Mrs. Clinton. She's an achieving, powerful woman. And in a lot of places that is something that women want but maybe deny that they want. And that might be the cause of a lot of people being upset with Hillary Clinton. But I may be wrong.

FL:

And you mentioned arrogance,greed and us coming to terms with it.

BRODNER:

Yeah. This is part of the whole thing with Travelgate and Hillary's investments, you know these are things that everyone would like to do. If you asked ten people on the streetcorner if they'd like to realize a $100,000 with a small investment in commodities, they'd say "Sure. Let's do it." We don't like to see it done perhaps in the way that they're doing it. There's something about their style perhaps that drives people nuts. I'm not sure what that is. But I think that they are, people are hating them for things that are very common flaws in all of us and worthy of public examination and discourse, but I think this level of hatred perhaps signifies a kind of denial that we're going through.

FL: What drives your work...

BRODNER:

I think for me the finest political cartoons have always been ones that have something to say, that are put together with an intention to make a point about the face. Not just to exaggerate. Make larger what's large, and make smaller what's small, which is sort of easier to do. But rather, to find essences.

What is it that you feel about that face? What is that face saying to you? And to 25 caricaturists it may say 25 different things. I think that's why we all have our own Clinton, we all have our own Dole. And there's a process you go through to find your Dole and to find your Clinton. And for me it takes a while to sort of circle around that. Try different ways, different attacks to get there. And after you do a number of pieces you sort of start to center in on how this person is. What that face means. It's a search for meaning in a face.

FL: Can you talk about the importance of anger driving your work.

BRODNER:

I read the papers and listen to the news and I get upset about 90 percent of the time. So for me the cartoon is the technique of relieving that. And I sort of have to do it.

The anger comes from this feeling of needing to speak out against something that's going wrong. So as a political cartoonist, I feel my job is to employ the anger in a way that illuminates one corner of some debate that's going on in the country.

For me there'd be no reason to do a political cartoon except for the desire to want to change things in the world. That there's something wrong in the world that needs to be changed. If things were fine, then I think political cartoonists, or at least my kind of political cartoonists, probably wouldn't be doing it. We'd be doing children's books or wallpaper design or something useful to society. But the political cartoon is there for me as a way of driving home a point about something, somewhere being wrong. Something that has to be changed. So it comes through the anger.

I think the reason to do political cartoons is because you disagree with something that's happening. It's an anti-act. It's an act of subversion. You're feeling that something needs to be changed. If things were not going wrong, if things were just fine, then artists could do other things. They could be designing interiors, or, artists do that now, but I'm speaking of political cartoonists, could be designing carpets and tapestries and that would be a happy thing to do.

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