Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hopelessly devoted

This is one of my favorite cartoons from way back when, the one that convinced me I could kinda sorta maybe carve out a living as an editorial cartoonist.

It also exposes my devotion to Pat Oliphant, the dean of editorial cartoonists (OK, say it: I'm an Oliphant sycophant). Among the many I admired at the time — including the late Jeff MacNelly, the late Paul Conrad (who in a letter told me to learn how to draw; I leave you to judge his opinion; I didn't take it well), the latest Pulitzer winner Mike Keefe — Oliphant was the only one I "listened" to. Maybe a little too closely.

(Fun-like fact: Oliphant, Conrad and Keefe all won Pulitzers while drawing for The Denver Post. Pedestrian coincidence, or alarming syndrome that requires our brightest minds and tenacity of the American spirit to stop? )

Backstory: Eugene Hasenfus allegedly was a CIA "cargo kicker," delivering supplies to Nicaraguan contras, fighting the government of Nicaragua. Hasenfus' plane was shot down, and Hasenfus was found with a "black book" containing damaging phone numbers and information linking the Reagan administration (and CIA Director-turned-faithful servant-turned-president, George Bush) to a suspected trifecta of delivering U.S. weapons to Iran at exorbitant prices to fund the contras. Hasenfus, sentenced to 25 years in prison in Nicaragua, returned to the United States in an apparent "spy swap."

The 'toon shows then-Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (who returned to become the current president) "shopping" Hasenfus to Reagan to complete the cycle of conspiracy.

I like the cartoon because of the spare composition that still establishes a street and a building, and because I had started to "shut up" with the text; in early cartoons I seemed to write all over the negative space. (Hell, the truth is I like to draw because I like looking at what I eventually draw. That others might see the art and feel some effect from it is icing.)

Looking over the collection of Oliphant cartoons my friend David Middlecamp recently bestowed on me, I'm reminded, with not a little embarrassment, how much I followed Oliphant's style.

Here's Oliphant's 'toon on the same issue, October 1986: Though he thought enough to chronicle it at all, he regarded it as a piffle in the greater scheme of the Iran-Contra scandal.

It does not reveal so much my mindful attention to his composition mastery. Maybe in future posts I'll embarrass myself on that subject.

On the larger issue of the Iran-Contra scandal, and U.S. covert operations in Central America, Oliphant was memorable and bitter. The cartoon below shows his mastery of linking one bleeding wound to another in one inexorable flow of misery, and reminding us, even as we continue in this manner, that we learn little from war:

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