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Candidates' Faces Challenge Political Cartoonists

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Candidates' Faces Challenge Political Cartoonists

Election 2008

Candidates' Faces Challenge Political Cartoonists

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

It's up to political cartoonists to turn the presidential candidates into instantly recognizable characters. We've asked two of them to talk to us about the challenges posed by this year's crop of contenders, Kal Kallaugher, who's a political cartoonist for The Economist magazine; and Jack Ohman, holds the same job with The Oregonian newspaper.

Ohman says, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have some features that lend themselves easily to caricature.

JACK OHMAN: With Obama obviously, it's his ears and his smile; and he made a mistake of telling Marina Dowd that he was self- conscious about his ears and so that was trouble for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OHMAN: I think you should ever point out where you think your physical flaws are.

With Hillary Clinton, she's somewhat cherubic. Her hair style which - this drives me crazy is that it's almost different every day. I mean, when you draw Nixon - Nixon's hair was there all the time the same way; Ronald Reagan, the same thing. And with Hillary, it's just kind of - she's a changeling. And that's been an issue.

I have to say that I've seen some of my peers, you know, draw her physique in a way that even a political cartoonist like me finds insulting.

BLOCK: Really?

OHMAN: And...

BLOCK: Making her what? Too heavy?

OHMAN: Yes. That's one way of putting it. Yes. They'd make her too heavy. And I think you can convey who people are without, you know, (unintelligible). I mean, it's not necessary.

BLOCK: Kal Kallaugher, have you been polishing your Barack Obama and your Hillary Clinton? What are you noticing as you do that?

KEVIN KALLAUGHER: Well, in addition to drawing the characters, I have been actually making sculptures of them for the purpose of turning them into 3-D animated characters.

BLOCK: Oh, wow.

KALLAUGHER: And I'll start with Barack. I guess he's natural for sculpture because he looks like an Easter Island statue albeit with a little bit more energy and a smile.

Hillary and her cheeks I think are - the thing I look at first - large eyes but very apple-sized cheeks. And when she is talking or smiling, you know, if you have ever seen her at any political rally, she has her mouth open the entire time. And it's quite large. It looks sort of like a guffaw with teeth.

BLOCK: How hard it is for you to draw? Jack Ohman, what do you think?

OHMAN: Well, it's interesting because - I don't find them difficult to draw at all. I think any good political cartoonist can draw anybody. The interesting thing is trying to navigate the shoals of their supporters.

I have certainly gotten more than one phone call over the past couple of weeks about how I portray Hillary Clinton. 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.

BLOCK: What about on the Republican side? What about John McCain? What are you picking up in his face?

OHMAN: You know, it's funny when you see him at first is his face looks like it's made out of stone, you know? It's rock and stoic and - but when he smiles, his face sort of erupts like a cherub and light comes out of every single pore. And his face is very asymmetrical and it's got a lot of extra bits in the cheeks there that it seems like you could really have him make a meal of this for eight years.

KALLAUGHER: I look at John...

BLOCK: Jack Ohman, it seems like you've been having some fun with John McCain's cheeks, drawing that as well.

OHMAN: Well, sure. I think that I look at John McCain and I look at a low melon and Yoda. I mean, you know, he's a very good character subject. He almost has three levels to his face. He has the upper part of his face which is very large and there's this kind of under waddle and then there's a super wrinkled under waddle. And he's certainly enjoyable to draw.

BLOCK: If you had to compare this crop of contenders against the president you have been drawing for the last eight years now, how would you say - any of them rate against George Bush?

OHMAN: I've never liked drawing George Bush. And I've never really, I mean, I can draw him but I know a lot of other cartoonist who'd never really gotten him down in a way that I think is accurate.

I look back on drawing Ronald Reagan as you know the Halcyon era of American political caricature, I mean, even the most incompetent political cartoonist could do a really good Reagan. But when you get these homogenized-looking candidates, I mean, this is the first time in American history where we've had a political campaign in the television era where they haven't looked like the six o'clock news team. And you know, you have good evening, I'm Gary Hart, you know, and I'm Dick Gephardt. And they had looked - they look like they could be news anchors.

You know, I find it extremely intriguing that we've, you know, and I've got three major candidates. And Mike Huckabee is a very interestingly looking man too. He doesn't look like a TV news anchor but I've certainly warmed up to drawing these three major candidates.

BLOCK: Kal Kallaugher, are you warming up to the task too?

KALLAUGHER: Indeed. And the thought of having a person become president means that you know you're going to be residing with them for four and more likely eight years. And you do spend an awful lot of time looking at the face.

You know, when you see photographs of George W. Bush back during the first convention in 2000 and other candidates who when they start their tenure in office, their faces are usually taught and full of energy and life. And then, of course, after eight years, the combination of gravitas of the job and gravity which helps pull your muscles in all sorts of directions that the faces evolve and change. These characters have great faces and I really enjoy watching them move and turn and evolve over time.

BLOCK: Well, Kal Kallaugher, Jack Ohman, thanks very much for talking with us.

KALLAUGHER: Thank you very much.

OHMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Kal Kallaugher is the political cartoonist for The Economist magazine. Jack Ohman is the same for The Oregonian newspaper. You can find links to their cartoons at our Web site, npr.org.

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