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Quick On The Draw

A cigar-smoking bird named Shoe and political caricatures have made Jeff MacNelly a newspaper favorite.
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Orlando Hernandez, Mar/Apr 99

(continued from page 8)

"About every year and a half during the mid-'80s, somebody would put together some money and decide that it's time to put cartoons on television. And it just doesn't work. It's a waste of time. Newspapers can reproduce two things that television can't: they can reproduce great writing and they can reproduce artwork. Cartoons are a two-dimensional thing. They're something that you can cut out and look at and show to people; and if it moves, I think it screws up the whole idea of cartoons. It's like a painting--I'm not being crazy about it--but if the Mona Lisa's eyes blink, does that make it better? No."

While the work of top cartoonists can be found in cyberspace--and MacNelly's own Web site carries his paintings, editorial cartoons and comic strips--he doesn't think the general public will switch readily to the Internet to see his work or that of other newspaper cartoonists. "I might be just totally anachronistic, but I still think there's no substitute for actually just turning the page and seeing it."

MacNelly would rather spend his time contemplating possible developments in politics, both national and international. He is surprisingly optimistic about foreign prospects and somewhat resigned to domestic ones.

"I think people--given the free flow of information, given the dissemination of the truth--eventually will find ways to rid themselves of the bad guys. They always have, if they're presented with the facts. You can't keep the truth out, especially now when you can pick up satellite broadcasts from a briefcase. You open up a briefcase and pull out an antenna that picks up a satellite.

"What the hell, if you can do that, the game is over for the totalitarian governments that try to control the minds of the people. That proved to be the case in Eastern Europe. It will take a lot longer in China, but eventually, yeah, it'll happen there."

MacNelly maintains what he calls his "Presidential Hall of Fame" in his laundry room, over the sink. It features photographs of himself with such chief executives as Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan--and yes, even Bill Clinton. Grinning, he says the location of this mini-museum was calculated: it was selected "so when Susie's washing my socks, she knows what a terribly important person I am."

The present crop of presidential prospects, however, does not impress him. Asked if he thinks we have entered an age of political pygmies, he readily agrees.

"I think that's true. I think that reflects on the new view of leadership, which is: get the best pollsters you can find, find out what the people want to hear--and give it to them. That's basically what's happened.

"In the old days, the reason someone appeared larger than life is because he had a concept, he had an idea of what he wanted to accomplish. Sometimes he failed, but he tried to influence public opinion instead of the other way around. Certainly Reagan was like that. Reagan believed all that stuff. This wasn't something he was spouting just to get people to go along with him. That was his core belief system and involved a lot of what he ended up doing. The same with Lyndon Johnson. Of course, he was a little more of a bully about it."

MacNelly doesn't see any giants on the horizon, either in the Republican or the Democratic ranks.

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