Jeff Danziger: American original

It‘s great that Jeff Danziger has won the 2006 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.

The annual prize is awarded by the Herb Block Foundation “for distinguished examples of original editorial cartooning that exemplifies the courageous, independent standard set by the late Washington Post cartoonist.”

At a time when editorial cartooning is under global assault, it’s fitting that Danziger–who seems to have never met an authority figure he didn’t want to mock–is being recognized for his irreverent cartoons.

Danziger is an American original. You’re unlikely to mistake his distinctly dark cartoons for those of any other artist’s—they are often quite tough and sarcastic—and he relishes taking after the rich and powerful without “fear or favor of friend or foe.”

In Danziger’s world, there are always targets for daily satire. A pudgy Dick Cheney is mocked as Elmer Fudd; fat cat executives at ExxonMobil exult in their windfall gains; a thuggish Vladimir Putin’s KGB past is summoned up; and China’s repression of journalists is depicted in a chilling, and disturbing, panel entitled “The Chinese School of Journalism.” Danziger doesn’t shy away from making moral judgements, or from siding with the underdog.

If Danziger has a soft spot, it is for the American soldier. A Vietnam veteran himself, Danziger has been unsparing in his criticism of the Iraq war, clearly haunted by what he sees as disturbing similarities between Iraq and Vietnam; he has warned of the consequences, and the potential costs, from the start of the conflict. His focus has been on the enlisted man, in the tradition of cartoonist Bill Maudlin–a needed perspective often missing from the mainstream media.

Some political conservatives have tried to label Danziger as a doctrinaire liberal. Bernard Goldberg included him at #35 on his list in “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken Is #37).” It’s fair to say that Danziger leans left; yet he is anything but doctrinaire. If you look at his cartoons over the years, it’s evident that he doesn’t play favorites.

Think Danziger is a homer for the Democrats? Just ask Howard Dean or Al Gore or John Kerry or Hillary and Bill Clinton. They wouldn’t agree.

There’s no question that many of Danziger’s cartoons disturb and infuriate readers. He’s a maverick. Mavericks make people uneasy and uncomfortable because they aren’t predictable and don’t accept conventional wisdom.

Danziger’s cartoons make you think. They’re not always pleasant (he doesn’t employ little comic figures in the corners of a cartoon, like Tom Toles or Pat Oliphant, to lighten up the tone) and they’re not always fair (Danziger has been very rough on Condoleezza Rice). But Danziger doesn’t pander and he doesn’t trim, which is more than can be said about a lot of American political commentary today.

Not, by the way, that Danziger is particularly enthusiastic about bloggers.

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved


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