This morning, there were a few e-mails objecting to my portrayal of Gov. Chris Christie as a doughnut aficionado. Several people asserted that I would never draw a Democrat like that, or that I was making fun of him because he’s overweight. Both of those statements aren’t true, and furthermore, if you examine the cartoon, it’s not about whether Christie is fat or not. It’s about whether he fantasizes about being president.
I realize that this is a sensitive subject, and God knows political cartoonists aren’t exactly noted for their compassion when they’re caricaturing someone. I noted to one writer, who simply gave up on the exchange of e-mails, that Christie himself, in jest, pulled out a doughnut on Late Night with David Letterman and ate it.
She wasn’t buying into it. She thought the cartoon a cheap shot.
In a way, all cartoons are cheap shots. One of President Obama’s aides told me an anecdote about him and his reaction to a cartoon I had drawn of him when he was running for president in 2008. Obama, in Cartoonland, is the owner of a prominent set of ears. He was sitting on his campaign plane, looked at the caricature, turned to his aide, and said, “Hey! These ears aren’t so bad in this one!”
So these people notice.
I draw Obama as rail-thin. He is. I have seen him in person, and stood next to him. However thin you think he is, he’s much thinner. I doubt he weighs 170 pounds, and he’s about 6’2”. I weigh 175, and I’m 5’11”. My doctor told me don’t lose any more weight. So he’s very, very trim.
Do I deliberately draw Obama thinner than he actually is? Yes, because it’s a caricature. Do I draw his ears bigger than they actually are? Yes, because it’s a caricature. Do I draw him that way maliciously? No, it’s because it’s the nature of cartoons.
Historically, cartoons about presidents (or anyone) take whatever prominent physical characteristic that person has and expands them: LBJ’s ears, Nixon’s nose, Carter’s smile, and so on. If I were to draw myself, I would focus on my hair. We all have things that cartoonists can grab on to, and Christie’s happens to be his size.
Now, here’s the question: would I draw a cartoon about Christie and his weight (which he is diligently losing, thanks to a gastric bypass)? Not if I could help it. If he brings it up, like the Dave Doughnut Incident, then it’s fair game. Otherwise, I don’t just sit at my board trying to think of ways to make Chris Christie have body image problems. He’s not a supermodel; he’s governor of a major state.
Interestingly, Christie jabbed Gov. Jerry Brown as a “retread” recently, and Brown took this to be a slap at his age. So Brown challenged him to a footrace, in which our governor expressed no doubt as to the victor.
Christie himself is rather well-known for bullying all sorts of people and groups in public, teachers in particular. It’s all part of the political game. You know. Dog eat dog.