Drawing Obama and Clinton

obamaclinton.jpg

Inaccurate "headcuts"? The Wall Street Journal (as reproduced on the Daily Intelligencer) Source: hide caption

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Until yesterday, I had assumed that the small, stippled portraits in The Wall Street Journal were digitally rendered, the product of some special Photoshop filter. In fact, each one is drawn by hand, inked on vellum. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I missed this piece, by NPR's Petra Mayer, about Noli Novak, who heads the department responsible for The Journal's "headcuts," as they're called). It sounds like meticulous, if not tedious, work.

A post on the Daily Intelligencer caught my attention: "'Journal' Stipple Artists Find Obama Challenging."

Instead of Obama's trademark dark brow and big open eyes, we got an image of a man who looked, well, a little bit like a generic black dude. That's weird, right? But maybe we should just chalk it up to the limitations of the medium. And in that case, let us say that said limitations are kinder to Hillary. When was the last time you saw her looking that joyful and young?

They do look strange.

The post reminded me of an interview I heard a few weeks ago: NPR's Melissa Block spoke with Jack Ohman, political cartoonist for The Oregonian, and Kal Kallaugher, of The Economist magazine, about the challenges of drawing Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Ohman said that he has received a fair amount of negative feedback.

But the fact is, is that you have, you know, racial and gender issues when you're portraying these people. And I do not, you know, try to demean anybody in terms of the way they look. I just try to communicate who they are.

And that, understandably, can be tough.

Bob Garfield, who co-hosts On The Media, asked Nick Anderson, a cartoonist at The Houston Chronicle an important question: "When you're dealing with a woman and an African-American, do you think your colleagues feel fettered in any way lest exaggeration turns into something, I don't know, more pernicious?"

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