Despite the crowded comedy landscape, a piercing cartoon take on a politician still has the ability to connect with an audience. And as the field of Democratic presidential candidates narrows, artists from both sides of the aisle are sharpening their caricatures of the contenders.
“The Democratic field is very rich in both infighting and drama, and in caricature potential,” says Adam Zyglis, the cartoonist for the Buffalo News, underscoring that he welcomes the mix of “familiar faces and new characters.”
Here is how some leading editorial artists are sizing up the challengers competing to run against Trump:
As a slyly smiling caricature, the former vice president is like a trusty ol’ friend to some artists.
“If Iowa and New Hampshire really are the end of his campaign, I’m sure I’m not the only cartoonist who will miss him,” says Barry Blitt, the frequent cover artist for the New Yorker. “He’s so great to draw with those teeth — and his whole head, really — not to mention all the crazy stuff he says.”
Jack Ohman, the political cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee, says that Biden is his favorite Democratic candidate to caricature, even if his likeness can be elusive.
“I think he’s very difficult to hit accurately in the same way that John Kerry was, because his smile is rather intricate and lopsided,” Ohman says. “The key to his mouth is a rather wide gap on his left side that is very much elongated compared to his right. His hair is also a challenge … and his eyes are also tough because of the crinkles.
“Biden,” he adds, “is by far the greatest challenge.”
And Steve Benson of the Arizona Mirror says that Biden “doesn’t seem to know how to look tough and tender at the same time. He doesn’t hit me as the Patton-from-Scranton type, although I think that’s the image he’s searching for.”
“People who have the most exaggerated features tend to make the worst caricature subjects, and in that sense, I hate drawing Bernie,” says Ohman, noting that for him, leaning into a strong feature too much can throw off the overall balance of a likeness.
“I have focused more on his body language and how he moves rather that how his face looks,” the left-leaning Bee cartoonist says of the Vermont senator. “His hair has to be hit exactly right, his nose is tough to capture, and I have recently noticed his lower lip is important in hitting him right.”
Zyglis, by contrast, loves rendering Sanders.
“Bernie is probably the most enjoyable to draw,” the Buffalo cartoonist says, “with his Larry David scowl and white wispy hair.”
And Scott Stantis, the right-leaning cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, says that Sanders is “a cartoonist’s dream come true.”
“His anger defines his look: the wild hair, the over-sized grandpa glasses, the constantly jabbing-the-air finger,” Stantis says. “It’s all too easy.”
“I am very happy with how I’ve been doing Warren,” says Ohman, who recently depicted the senator from Massachusetts as being on a road trip with Sanders in a California primary.
“Her lobes are very long, and her eyes and mouth are very mobile, so that helps me,” Ohman says. “Biden and Sanders have two expressions — lecturing and smiling — [while] Warren’s expressions are fascinated and earnest.”
And Matt Davies, the left-leaning cartoonist for Newsday, says there are two keys to his caricature: “Warren has an easy mop of hair and a cherubic mouth.”
“The more I see Buttigieg on TV, the more I’ve noticed his facial mannerisms,” Varvel says. “So recently I’ve elongated his upper lip and shrunken his nose.
“It makes him look younger, I know,” says Varvel, who was the Indianapolis Star cartoonist for a quarter-century. “But I think he looks like a kid, especially when he grins.”
Zyglis says he is most looking forward to nailing down his “Mayor Pete” caricature.
“He has great potential, but I’ve only drawn his glancing profile in a finished cartoon,” Zyglis says. “There’s a hedgehog-like quality to his caricature, with his darting eyes and strong five-o’clock mustache shadow standing out in my mind. Biden’s gaffes are a gift to cartoonists, but I’m more excited to draw new blood.”
“Klobuchar might be the toughest to nail down, with her features less distinct than others,” Zyglis says of the senator from Minnesota.
Ohman, though, homes in on some signature specifics. “Her hair is geometric, so that helps,” he says of her bob-like coiffure. “She has a very broad smile and crinkly eyes and expressive eyebrows — all good for me as a subject.”
Artist and editor Daryl Cagle, who runs the Cagle Cartoons syndicate, says that Klobuchar has spawned relatively fewer caricatures so far. Cartoonists influence each other over time with their choices of tropes, Cagle says, but “Klobuchar has not yet cultivated a group-think look.”
But one of the better Klobuchar caricatures at this point is by Taylor Jones, Cagle says, because he captures her beaming smile.
Davies, the Newsday cartoonist, has enjoyed caricaturing Mike Bloomberg for years.
“Bloomberg always looked to me like an elfish, Seussian, Grinch-like character,” Davies says, “so that’s basically how I drew him when he was mayor of New York City.
“Plus, I find it’s fun to accessorize him with a stretch limo.”
Mike Luckovich, the cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, says that Trump has provided such consistent satiric fodder that only recently has he begun to zero in on the Democratic candidates.
This week, “As I was drawing Bloomberg,” the left-leaning Luckovich says, “I was thinking, ‘Thank God for new material.’ “