Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wham, Bam, Thank You, Starman

Eulogy cartoons tend to be the most popular ones we editorial cartoonists draw. They're also the ones we roll our eyes over and usually consider our most hackneyed work.

On November 22, 1963, Bill Mauldin hastily drew a cartoon of the Lincoln Memorial statue bent over weeping, in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy, and it became his most memorable cartoon ever (at least outside of his Willie and Joe œuvre). Bob Englehart hit the bulls eye with a cartoon of Alice Kramden sobbing on the table in the Honeymooners kitchen after the death of Jackie Gleason.

But having a tear drop from whatever person, creature, object or symbol was most associated with the dearly departed is such a cliché that most cartoonists try to avoid it. The pull may be too great, as with the death a few years ago of George Harrison. How could you not draw a guitar gently weeping? It's not as if you could wrest a eulogy out of "I Me Mine." And bringing up "My Sweet Lord" would have been in very poor taste.

So there was an onslaught this week of cartoons eulogizing David Bowie, who had the immense foresight and courtesy to leave behind several lyrics malleable to the situation. Unfortunately, it takes much longer to draw a cartoon around "The stars look very different today," "I'm stepping through the door," "Time may change me, but I can't trace time," or "The Man Who Fell to Earth" than it takes for half a million Facebook, Twitter and Instagram users to type the same thing onto a downloaded photo and repost it on the internet.

Frankly, unless one has a personal angle for the cartoon (see Pat Oliphant's cartoon recalling having drawn a band-aid on Gerald Ford's forehead), there really isn't an awful lot a cartoonist can contribute that nobody else can. My only connection to David Bowie is that I named a D&D magic user after a character in a Bowie song, so I'm not drawing a Diamond Dog shedding a tear, or whatever lyric is left still untouched.

Not that I won't ever draw a eulogy for someone I've never met. I drew the cartoon at the top of this post after the death of Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block, without anywhere to publish it but my own blog. (I had a caption for it, set in Bodoni type because that's how Herblock's cartoons appeared in the Post, but I didn't write it on the cartoon and I've forgotten what it was.)

I drew the cartoon at right for the Milwaukee Business Journal to accompany their editorial mourning the death of Quad Graphics founder Harry Quadracci. He didn't have a catalog of malleable song lyrics, but he was known for his successful printing business and his bow ties, so I limited the drawing to those two things. I like the composition, but I do wish I'd made him a little less cross-eyed.

I've eulogized heads of state, entrepreneurs, movie stars, authors, and activists -- none of whom I've ever met -- but my personal favorite in this field remains my 1999 cartoon upon the death of Quentin Crisp. Crisp, one-time rent boy turned raconteur, wit and actor, made famous by his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, was flamboyant and contrarian to the end. So, for Q Syndicate, I drew this.

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