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David Fought Goliath With Pen And Ink

David Levine, famed in certain circles as one of the best cartoonists of this past century, died Tuesday at age 83. For decades, his drawings — like this caricature of Lyndon Johnson revealing a Vietnam-shaped scar, or the numerous nasal portraits of Stravinsky — were found in publications like Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post and, most famously, The New York Review Of Books.

In an interview with NPR's Linda Werthheimer, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Luckovich discussed what made Levine's drawings so significant:

David Levine drawing on the beach at Coney Island, circa 1974 (courtesy Forum Gallery, New York) hide caption

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"What a beautiful artist ... I just love his cross-hatching work, the way he shaded. He had very fine line work, and he was just such a master at capturing a likeness. ... He could distort a face but still capture that likeness and sometimes even get closer to the person's essence."

Levine had both artistic skill and discerning humor on his side. His subjects were most often public figures who, despite the exaggerated noses and teeth, remained recognizable. He famously reduced Kissinger to a brute and Osama bin Laden to a beard. With a sleight of hand, the world's most powerful, popular people would be rendered laughable.

Through the years he did more than 3,000 drawings for The New York Review Of Books alone — 2,800 of which can be viewed online. "When it comes to caricature," Luckovich said,"he is the go-to person, and no one will ever quite capture what he had." Levine's influence is undeniable, and his legacy will be indelible.

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