Jeff Danziger is a syndicated political cartoonist. He has worked for the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Daily News, and has twice been a Pulitzer finalist. In addition to regular political cartoons, his illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the London Times, and The American Prospect. His new book, Wreckage Begins With “W”, was published in June.
Zachary Roth: I’ve heard political cartoonists say that their intention is not to make people laugh, but more to make them think, or to offer them a new perspective on something. What do you feel like you’re trying to do in your cartooning?
Jeff Danziger: Who said they didn’t want to make anybody laugh?
ZR: Nick Garland [cartoonist for The Daily Telegraph of London and relative of this reporter].
JD: I think he does take a more serious view than most. I would say he’s in a minority because … it’s just much more welcome if you can have something that, even if it is a dumb gag, which most of the American cartoons are, it’s kind of refreshing to have something that’s legitimately witty or humorous.
I mean even the British cartoonists, for the most part, even when they’re at their cruelest — and they are probably the cruelest on the planet — people like … Steve Bell [cartoonist for The Guardianof London] — I mean Bell is just hysterical … and relentless. There are very few American cartoonists that bear down.
ZR: Do you think it’s become harder to do that sort of cartooning, where you’re really sort of bearing down in a political way?
JD: Americans have an ethic of being nice. And it’s probably because of the way this country is constituted that we, in our government and even in our daily life, strive for … comity. So to really be extraordinarily mean in a cartoon — I don’t think a lot of editors think it’s welcomed by their readers. Whereas in other parts of the world, it is welcomed. In England it certainly is, in Australia it certainly is.
ZR: Would you say that phenomenon applies to the press in general in America?
JD: Well, at the local level where you have a monopoly town, the newspaper can’t really add readers without losing readers, [so it never] takes a strong position one way or the other. As corporations, they’re concentrating on building revenue, and building readership and advertising dollars, so they don’t see themselves as so much a part of the political process as a part of the media process.
ZR: What do you think of how the media has done its job so far in the campaign?
JD: Well I think that they [may] want to be even-handed, but it’s almost impossible, because unfortunately it’s still human beings being human beings, and either they get screamed at for being on one side or the other, or they get screamed at for being on neither side. So you might as well take a stand.
ZR: And you think they’re not able to prevent their personal biases from slipping in?
No, of course they can’t. Even if it’s the policy of a newspaper or a television station to not have a personal bias slip in, we’re human beings, we have personal biases, we’re contentious.
ZR: I know in Europe that’s more accepted, and newspapers are often much more open about the fact that they do have a bias.
JD: And they’re largely ignored for the same reason. If a paper has a reputation for being on the left or the right, you know, in some cases, what position it’s going to take, even before it begins.
ZR: Talk a bit about how you come up with your ideas, and how you go about the process of drawing a cartoon.
JD: It’s pretty now. I mean some mornings you wake up and it’s just too easy. The difficult thing is to get off the main subject. I’m working on one now about what kids are majoring in in college, which is really quite a ways off from the main news.