In 2004 the re-election of George Bush filled almost every atom of my being
with dismay, despair, fear, loathing and disgust, at what this implied about the
future of America and the World. I say almost every atom, because deep down
in my reptile brain, the cartoonist in me knew that four years of Dubya could
never be enough.
This highlights several of the fundamental contradictions contained within
satirists. Obviously, if our satire worked and all those bastards we lampoon
just stopped, the world would be a perfect place, we’d have nothing left to
satirise and I’d be painting kittens in teacups, probably on velvet. But worse
than that, quite often cartoonists get caught in a kind of satirical Stockholm
Syndrome, where we come to love the things we seek to destroy. In other
words, Bush was just a joy to draw.
Infuriatingly, Steve Bell established the Bush-as-chimp shtik before any of the
rest of us, and it’s considered bad form to nick other cartoonist’s tricks. Even
so, George Bush still offered more than any caricaturist could dream possible:
there’s the eyebrows writhing round his crinkled forehead like demented
chinchillas, and beneath them eyes so close together they seem in constant
danger of fusing into cylopsism; then there’s the mouth, offering either a
dumb, Mad Magazine shit-eating grin or elongating into a truly simian pant
hoot as he tried to articulate human speech. Add to that his pointy ears and
flattened, beaky nose, and even if he’d been a Nobel Peace laureate of
impeccable liberal credentials, we’d still have loved drawing and stretching
every single feature.
As it is, taking the piss out of the way he looks (which he can’t, after all, do
much about) was more than justified by the way he behaved, demonising and
often seeking to criminalise all opposition in the name of "Freedom" while
pursuing the violent export of free-market democracy (just tell ‘em about it in
Florida) and wallowing in a heady mixture of incompetence, incomprehension
and mawkish militarism. And all of this heading up an administration which
showed every sign of being run by the Corleone family, but where they’d
picked Fredo as Godfather instead of Michael.
Cartooning is a kind of voodoo. Using caricature and all the other weapons in
our armoury, the point is to damage someone at a distance with a sharp object,
albeit in this case with a pen. I don’t know if the way Bush got drawn ever
effected him personally, but I know from my email inbox that it annoyed
thousands of his supporters in America. The flip side of that - and the real
point of satire - is that portraying him as a gurning stumblebum might just
possibly have given some comfort, through laughter, to everyone else.
Bush’s second term witnessed the total discrediting of everything he stood for
as it collapsed into abject failure, so it wasn’t just all about keeping me
chuckling over my drawing board. But either way, while honing up on
McCain and Obama, in preparation for the delivery of fresh meat, I’m still
going to miss him.