Saturday, October 31, 2020

For Whom the Toon Toles

by Tom Toles in Buffalo News, September 27, 1984
Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles is closing up shop after tomorrow, so today's Sankaback Saturday is devoted largely to my personal favorites of his cartoons from before he was hired by the Post. And I have to give the Post credit for hiring a cartoonist who was so very different from his predecessor there, a Washington institution in his own right, the undisputed dean of the profession, Herbert Block.

I was instantly taken with his simplistic style and craftily pointed humor when he burst onto the scene in the early 1980's. It would be interesting to see his pre-syndication cartoons for the Buffalo Courier-Express, which folded in 1982, to get some idea of how his artistic style — so unlike the Oliphant and MacNelly clones of the day — evolved.* I assume that his style of humor, which often comes at you from unexpected directions, was evident from the beginning.

in Buffalo News, June 21, 1984
His colleagues were equally impressed. The late Jeff MacNelly wrote that he was crazy about Toles's "masterful timing and comic staging" and "graphic goofiness." Mike Peters admired his "satire in the Jonathan Swift tradition of satire." Jules Feiffer blurbed, "There exists a school of thought, led by me, that wonders why Tom Toles has not yet wan a Pulitzer Prize"; so in 1990, to nobody's surprise, he won one.
in Buffalo News, March, 1983
If I can wax pedantic for a moment, "Hunting the Hazardous Substances" illustrates the Toles approach to an idea. Many cartoonists, if they came up with this idea for the Reagan administration's attitude toward environmental protection, would have drawn the third panel as a stand-alone cartoon. The pacing established by the four-panel format sells the idea so much better than the third panel alone would. (The reference in the lower right corner to burnt EPA documents is a bonus.)
in Washington Post, November 14, 2002
Sticking with the topic of the environment, I include this one Washington Post cartoon to demonstrate how masterfully Toles tied together two separate news stories in a way that made readers wonder why they hadn't connected the two items themselves.
in Buffalo News, July, 1990
I would be remiss if I didn't include a couple cartoons about American presidents. This one about George H.W. Bush's nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court is an excellent example of Toles carefully setting up a pay-off that comes from a completely unexpected direction. It plays off the unfair characterization of Bush being a wimp without playing into it, while still using it to make the cartoon's point.
in Buffalo News, May 14, 1993
Toles's minimalist caricatures have been instantly recognizable even when they diverge wildly from portraiture. His George W. Bush, for example, had ears sticking way up from the top of the man's head like no animal you have ever seen; but Toles drew him that way consistently and readers always knew who that figure was. He drew Obama with big ears, too, but then, so did everybody else. His Trump is appropriately grotesque.
in Buffalo News, ca. June, 1986
Since this here blog skews gay, here's Toles being gay-friendly back in 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia's anti-sodomy laws were constitutional in Bowers v. Hardwick, a case involving the arrest of one Michael Hardwick for having consensual homosexual sex in the privacy of his own bedroom. Other cartoonists may well have had the same idea in this cartoon, I suppose, but if so, probably only drew the police officer intruding in the couple's bed. Or the judge. Or a legislator character. Toles takes the idea and keeps spinning it out well past absurdum, and the result is worthy of standing next to Justices Blackmun's and Stevens's dissents.

Finally, a Tom Toles "I Told You So" from the early days of the technology enabling you and me to have this conversation, and others to share their insights about liberals drinking children's blood in a network of tunnels linking pizza parlors around the country:
in Buffalo News, September 8, 1994
* Update: D.D. Degg at Daily Cartoonist has dug up one of Toles's Courier-Express cartoons, and even some juvenalia.

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