Political Cartoonist Rex Babin
Newspaper political cartoonists around the country are having a field day with this year’s presidential campaign. Among them is Rex Babin who’s been drawing for The Sacramento Bee for the past five years. Steve Milne sits-in with Babin as he creates
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Sitting at his large drawing table, Babin dips his pen in an inkwell and traces a pencil sketch of the next day’s cartoon. Now I’m just taking the speedball and moving it across the page. Works real well if I’m loaded up on caffeine. The cartoon is about the draft and implies that the Bush Administration is secretly planning to reinstate a military conscription. Babin is drawing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talking with his generals ordering them to draw up a plan. And in the corner there’s George W. Bush sort of listening into the conversation making a furtive glance in that direction and getting on the telephone and whispering into the telephone “Daddy” question mark. Most of Babin’s cartoons deal with state and local politics. Like his Caleeforneeya series lampooning Governor Schwarzenegger as an action-movie star vetoing bills with his Conan the Barbarian sword or Terminator rifle. But Babin says, as with the rest of the country, Sacramento area residents are watching the presidential campaign with great interest and that’s motivated him to pay more attention to national politics. Let’s just say I’m not lacking for material particularly with a national election and a national election that seems to interest so many people. In a way, it makes the job easier because people are very interested in what’s going on. Babin says part of his role as an editorial cartoonist is to go after those in power. Many of his cartoons are critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. But how do you make fun of war? I can talk about that in a humorous way by showing the many inept decisions on the part of the Bush Administration or I how I view to be inept anyway. The other thing is, not every cartoon has to be humorous. I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘cartoon’ because I think of it more as sort of graphic in nature and so that works whether a cartoon is funny or not. Babin’s work appears in The Bee five times a week. He’s won numerous accolades including several best-of-state prizes from the Associated Press and he was a finalist for a 2003 Pulitzer Prize. But if you ever get the chance to meet Babin, don’t expect a lot of yucks. I don’t consider myself a particularly funny guy. Humor in editorial cartoons is a device and I think that device can be used effectively. Back at the drawing table, Babin works on the artistic side of political cartooning. Right here I’ve got Donald Rumsfeld’s tie sort of silhouetting the face of the general here. His caricature of Defense Secretary Rumsfled is pretty tame compared to his drawing of the president who appears to have various primate features. With Bush, the thing about looking like a monkey, I’m playing on the big ears and protruding nose and I did draw him as a flying monkey one time. Clinton I used to draw as obese because one he was overweight and two that suggested his appetite and I mean that in every way. Babin has a unique place on The Bee’s Opinion page staff. Unlike his colleague’s, he doesn’t have to pretend to be fair-minded. Naturally, his work evokes a good number of complaints. But Babin says he takes it in stride. My goal is to have an impact with my work so I like it when the cartoons stimulate a response. To those who may complain that Babin’s cartoons are not balanced or fair, he says that’s ridiculous, there’s no such thing as a fair editorial cartoon. He says his work is just like any other piece that appears on the opinion page and so therefore it reflects his opinion. Steve Milne - KXJZ news. I have been an advocate of state and local cartoons for the most part. Here we are in the state capital and we have a pretty unique situation here and in general I’ve always argued that readers tend to respond more towards local and state issues and so I’ve tried to do a variety of local and state issues and then we have this unique situation here with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor and it makes things pretty interesting. However, this year, I have found that people are absolutely focused on the presidential election. I guess it’s just national and international politics are really on people’s minds right now for obvious reasons. Ben Franklin with the 13 colonies chopped up as a snake – ‘Join or Die’ or something like that. Early newspapers going back to the colonial times had woodcut illustrations that were political in nature so it is quite an art form. The newspaper for the most part has been the primary place to see editorial cartoons. The funny thing is there are fewer and fewer newspapers out there now and as a result there are fewer and fewer cartoonists. That’s kind of a scary thought. It’s a great art form and it’s one that a lot of people fear is going the way of the blacksmith. I don’t necessarily hold that view. I think that the internet and other media will provide outlets for visual commentators. Now time. I am given a lot of freedom but I recognize the constraints that I work in. I mean you’re not going to see any frontal nudity in my cartoons. We deal with matters of taste and we try to deal with matters of accuracy and stuff like that. But it’s an opinion just like a column or any other piece that appears on an opinion page and so therefore it reflects my opinion and I get a lot of latitude on how I can express it. Now time. I feel like I can push things and then have somebody else objectively look at it and say ‘well, this is going too far or this doesn’t make your point or you’re making your point but it’s obscured in the fact that you’re saying something so incendiary that people are going to lose the meaning of the cartoon.’ And those are valid arguments to not run a cartoon and so I’m more than willing to hear somebody tell me that and that way I can approach the job going with as much zeal as I can and then somebody can put a check on me.