“The face that politicians present to the public is a mask,” says Steve Brodner. “Everyone knows it’s a mask. The mask is what political cartoons comment on. You’re never drawing the person; you’re drawing the persona.”
So no offense, Bill Clinton, that Brodner turned you into a baboon for The New York Times. Don’t take it hard, John McCain, that Brodner’s depictions of you are, as the illustrator says, “becoming more and more like a potato.” And President George W. Bush, whom Brodner has caricatured as a hapless, Mickey Mouse apprentice (à la Fantasia), a man belching mushroom clouds, and one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
“I covered George Bush’s gubernatorial reelection campaign for Esquire and spent a lot of time with him,” Brodner says cheerily. “He was a very nice, affable guy.”
Politicians have never hesitated to tar their opponents, and neither have their satirist contemporaries: Nuance rarely packs a punch in mass communications. And over his 30-plus-year career—which includes illustrations for Harper’s, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated; honors like the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism; and genre-benders like his recent “Naked Campaign,” a series of election-themed videos for the New Yorker and the Sundance Channel—Brodner has proven himself as nothing if not a masterful visual communicator.
“To my students, I always frame it as ‘It works,’ or, ‘It doesn’t work,’” he says. “You’re making something that has a function.” Still, as he notes, the best illustrations transcend function, approaching the “beauty and ambiguity” of art.