Sleeping Your Way to the White House

Department of complaints.
Oct. 14 1999 2:53 PM

Sleeping Your Way to the White House

Dear Ted:

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Looks like it's time to clear the dishes from this old breakfast table. I'll endure the scurrying roaches long enough to say It's been a lot of fun (although I don't usually have elephant dung with my oatmeal).

I should have known I'd get myself in trouble by calling names of my favorite editorial illustrators. I left out Burt Silverman, Joe Ciardiello, Alan Cober, and Julian Allen (the last two, alas, having passed last year). And Ralph Steadman, the King of Swing.

About drawing ability, don't sweat it, Ted. Your work is so much better drawn than Lurie's that the subject shouldn't even be on the table. You have what all great artists of all disciplines need: self-knowledge. It is the understanding of our own artistic personalities, temperaments, and, yes, limitations that enables us to shape an effective statement on the page. While a burnt-out hack like Lurie sweats bullets trying to be Levine (and failing every single solitary day of his long and lucrative life), excellent cartoonists figure out how to draw in a way that perfectly supports the statement they're making. You mention Thurber. How sublime he is! Those drawings bring you right in. Somehow (and I don't know how) they cause you to stop flipping and really look, and then, of course, you're reading the story. The Tom Tomorrow thing is interesting. He'd be out on his keister without a Xerox machine. But who cares? The image matches the voice wonderfully. And the voice is saying important things. Your work understands how fast we're flipping through the newspaper. It brings us immediately to the idea. Your understanding of blacks is very keen; those lines hold the image and grab our attention. So your cranky left-of-irony point of view comes in loud and clear. For God's sake, don't learn to draw.

For years I resisted TheSimpsons. I hated the drawings. It seemed a cheap approach to animation. Plus it was on the Fox Network, so, I thought, how could this be worth the trouble to sit and watch it (TV is a big effort for me). Turns out, of course, it's, perhaps TV's greatest moment. All the crappy drawing and "family situation comedy" is a ruse. It gets the masses in the tent and then Groening lets them have it. It's powerful, experimental, strangely committed. On top of that, there's very real and touching character development. It is a work of unalloyed genius. More than the work of my favorite graphic artists, this program will be the thing our cultural era will be remembered for because he wrapped his message in such strategic cleverness as to make it a Saturn rocket that blasts into every home in the USA. And the guy can't draw to save himself.

I'll finish with Phil Harris (I know you've been waiting). Phil Harris was Jack Benny's orchestra leader on radio. He was also married to Alice Faye, the gorgeous star of many 20th Century Fox musicals. Benny, in an interview, said that the writers always wrote Harris' radio character as if he'd just got out of bed having had great sex. Harris, on radio, is laid-back, flippant, casual, with a little buzz on. You could just see the cigarette. Everyone knows a guy like this; someone so comfortable with himself that he just doesn't give a f**k. And this, it occurs to me, is why Al Gore is a loser. George W. Bush, you just know has great sex. He said to me last year, "Maybe I'll see you in national politics; maybe I won't I have a cool life." Bill Bradley? C'mon, great sex. He's a jock, could get all the girls he wanted. He's traveled everywhere, knows about life. Every movement is easy. He's comfortable with himself. Al Gore looks like a guy who broke his toe because the vibrator fell out of the medicine cabinet when he opened it looking for a band-aid because he cut his finger trying to undo his wife's bra. People don't think these things, of course. But I think they perceive them subconsciously. If a man is comfortable with himself, he'll be comfortable in the job. It's too bad, though. Stevenson might have made an inspired president. Or Mondale. Or Dukakis. Or Gore.

But I don't think we'll get to find out.

Au revoir,
Steve