Day 6

Political cartoonists are having a field day covering Donald Trump

In his first week in office, US President Donald Trump called the media, "the most dishonest human beings on Earth." His spokesperson lied to reporters at his first press briefing. And a top aid coined the phrase "alternative facts." But while journalists struggle to cover Trump, political cartoonists are having a field day.
Michael deAdder's political cartoon for Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. President. (Michael deAdder)
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It's no secret that the relationship between the media and U.S. President Donald Trump is difficult and adversarial.

Last weekend, in a meeting with the CIA  – and only days into his presidency – Donald Trump called the media the "most dishonest human beings on Earth."

But while journalists and reporters seem to be taking a hit, Donald Trump is proving to be a boon for other members of the media: political cartoonists. 

As cartoonists, when the world is burning we have an easier day of it.- Michael de Adder

Three cartoonists joined Day 6 host Brent Bambury this week to discuss how they're navigating what some consider to be a creative heyday for their industry.

Signe Wilkinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist is based in Philadelphia and works with the Philly Daily News; Bruce MacKinnon is an award-wining cartoonist whose work appears in the The Chronicle Herald; and Michael de Adder is also award-winning, with his work featured in the National Post, Maclean's and The Chronicle Herald, among others.

   

Why Trump

Whether the paper is national or local, editorial cartoons have been spotlighting Trump for months.

"He has focused everyone's attention, on both sides, so other things kind of pale in comparison," says Wilkinson.

Both Wilkinson and MacKinnon work for local papers, and MacKinnon acknowledges that it can be difficult to balance illustrating local issues versus lampooning Trump.

"Well that is that challenge, because Trump presents something almost every day, so sometimes I feel like I'm overdoing him," explains MacKinnon.

When asked what he likes about illustrating Trump, MacKinnon says "just about everything. Whether it's the comb over or the orange face, he's a caricature that you don't even know where to start."

Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon for Donald Trump's inauguration day. Published in The Chronicle Herald. (Bruce MacKinnon/The Chronicle Herald)
    

Getting started 

All three cartoonists admit that there is no secret formula to getting started when drawing a political figure. Wilkinson suggests that in cartooning, like most things, practice makes perfect.

People like the original George Bush, a very handsome white guy with pale hair, pale eyes, no facial hair, those are kind of a nightmare.- Signe Wilkinson

"I have never disliked drawing people. I mean, you get what the voters give you," Wilkinson says. Although she does acknowledge some politicians, with understated features, are more difficult than others to draw. 

"People like the original George Bush, a very handsome white guy with pale hair, pale eyes, no facial hair, those are kind of a nightmare."

After drawing the likes of Peter MacKay, Mike Duffy and Justin Trudeau, de Adder says it can be difficult for cartoonists to illustrate younger figures. He prefers older characters because of the pronounced physical traits. 

Signe Wilkinson's editorial cartoon for January 27, 2017, as published in The Philadelphia Daily News. (Signe Wilkinson/Philly.com)

   

Go-to's for cartoonists 

"Politics ages people really really fast, so as you're getting better at drawing them, they're getting better to draw," laughs de Adder.

Wilkinson and MacKinnon agree, adding that obvious things like hair, eyes and torso are often their go-to's.

These physical characteristics are easy targets for the cartoonists. Wilkinson notes that the subject of cartoonists' drawings are often men – at least until Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

In an industry dominated by male cartoonists, she recalls early cartoons of the then-first lady emphasizing things like Clinton's hair and pantsuits more than her persona.

The real challenge is depicting the politician's aura and personality, de Adder says. It's a challenge he enjoys taking on with the new president.

"I love the arrogance. I don't know how you draw it but you know when you've got it."

While most topics and traits are fair game, MacKinnon does have some preferences, saying that height can make a difference when choosing which figures to cover.

"Tall slender guys are hard to squeeze into a cartoon, they stretch up too vertically."

   

Reader reaction

The panelists agree that being a cartoonist has its ups and downs, especially when it comes to losing readers who get offended by their illustrations.

If they're not responding, then you're not doing it right- Bruce MacKinnon

"I lost some people for [a] cartoon, saying I went too far. But, well, you know what? Sometimes you have to go too far," says de Adder.

The cartoon to which he's referring compares Trump to the human posterior - and yes, there's more than one. De Adder frequently features letters from readers reacting to his cartoons on his website, along with a short response back.

MacKinnon says this is all part of being a cartoonist, adding that "if they're not responding, then you're not doing it right."

Meanwhile, Wilkinson likens feedback from readers to a metaphorical bullhorn that "readers pick up and [use to] blast back."

Bruce MacKinnon's editorial cartoon for January 25, 2017, as published in The Chronicle Herald. (Bruce MacKinnon/The Chronicle Herald)

   

The influence of editorial cartoons 

"We have a much different audience than we used to," Wilkinson says, adding that cartoonists are still based mainly in print, and industry struggling to survive. So while they may not be sure of what the future holds for the industry, all three cartoonists remain optimistic about the power of cartoons.

"I actually think that a good political cartoon these days has a huge amount of power. You can reach everybody, literally, right now. At least people on social media," says de Adder. But this has sometimes posed a problem for MacKinnon.

He describes the struggle of drawing inspiration for cartoons from – and not being able to keep track of – memes, especially because there are so many out there.

"Essentially you're making a statement with an image and sometimes there's a punch line, and that's what a meme is," says MacKinnon. "More than once I've to [my wife] with an idea and she says 'too late, it's already a meme.'"

But the popularity of these images is cause for optimism for Wilkinson, who sees reason for people to unite in today's political climate.

"Everybody asks 'what can bring people together?' Our cartoons can!" she exclaims.

Signe Wilkinson's editorial cartoon for January 5, 2017. (Signe Wilkinson/Philly.com)

To hear Brent Bambury's conversation with three political cartoonists, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.