'New York Review' Caricaturist David Levine Dies

David Levine created thousands of satirical portraits for The New York Review of Books and other publications. He died Tuesday at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan of prostate cancer and complications from other ailments. He was 83. Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mike Luckovich talks to Linda Wertheimer about the life and art of David Levine.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Today we're remembering one of the great caricaturists of our time. David Levine drew politicians, authors, celebrities, historical figures, but most memorably, he pinned this country's leaders to the pages of the New York Review of Books, giving that magazine its distinctive look. David Levine died yesterday in New York City at age 83.

To hear more about his work, we turn to Mike Luckovich. He's an editorial cartoonist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Good morning.

Mr. MIKE LUCKOVICH (Editorial Cartoonist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution): Hi, Linda, how are you doing?

WERTHEIMER: Fine, thank you. Describe David Levine's work for us. He was known primarily for his caricatures in pen and ink.

Mr. LUCKOVICH: You know, first of all, the man could draw. I mean, what a beautiful artist, and you know, 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.

What's great about his stuff is that with caricature, you are distorting a person's face somewhat. He could distort a face but still capture that likeness and sometimes even get closer to the person's essence.

WERTHEIMER: He was famous for drawing big noses on people who had any kind of hinting at a big nose. I think his most famous cartoon was probably President Lyndon Johnson lifting up his shirt to show reporters the scar from his gall bladder surgery. That actually happened, but the cartoon showed the scar in the shape of Vietnam.

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, you know, he was a political caricaturist, not necessarily an editorial cartoonist. But I think that was really an editorial cartoon, and I think it's probably one of the best editorial cartoons in the past 50 years.

So we editorial cartoonists, we're kind of ticked off at David Levine because he did such a great job with that cartoon. Time magazine said that that did more to undermine his presidency than just about anything.

WERTHEIMER: Are there others that you recall, that you were struck by?

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, he did one, I'm not sure the year, but he did a Louis Farrakhan, and you know how Farrakhan always wears those little bowties.

WERTHEIMER: Right.

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Well, he drew Farrakhan with a huge bowtie on with polka dots. You know, so he looked like a clown. I thought that was very clever.

He did another one. It actually didn't run in the New York Review of Books. They spiked it, and it ran in The Nation, and it was sort of a little randy. It was - Henry Kissinger is ravishing a woman on a sofa, and the woman's head is the world, and Levine later said that that's what Kissinger was doing to the world. And that was sort of a tough political commentary.

WERTHEIMER: No question. Do you think that he influenced contemporary cartoonists like you?

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah. What you do as a cartoonist, you look at people whose cartoons, whose caricatures you really like, and you try to emulate them, and then you hopefully develop your own style. And so he is like, you know, when it comes to caricature, he is the go-to person, and no one will ever quite capture what he had, but you hope that you'll look at his stuff, and it'll lead you to your own thing.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that's his legacy, that he'll be remembered as the go-to guy for people who do what you do?

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Yeah, I think that he will also be remembered as a person who, in addition to having this beautiful ability to capture a likeness through caricature, he also was very good at visually adding something to the caricature without words, he never used words, but he was able to add elements to add humor and political bite to his caricatures.

WERTHEIMER: Mike Luckovich, thank you very much.

Mr. LUCKOVICH: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Mike Luckovich is an editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, talking to us about artist David Levine, who died on Tuesday. This is NPR News.

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