Learning Day: The Recipe for a Perfect Cartoon

“The Recipe For A Perfect Cartoon” is a “how to toon!” guide, posted on a conservative political cartoonist’s janky personal website. It’s even worse than that sounds.

Michael P. Ramirez is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. I don’t know why. Best guess: the general badness of political cartooning. That genre is a howling void of anti-comedy. Bad political cartoons have none of the upsides, and all the downsides, of humor and art and politics and information and editorials and a sixth thing I’m probably forgetting. With rare exceptions (Jen Sorensen and Gerald Scarfe and (RIP), political cartoons are the work of an old crank with nothing interesting to say and C-minus art skills. Also, no one wants them! No one ever asks for them! Political cartoons are just kind of *there* in the newspaper. The last time somebody bought a paper to read the political cartoon was at least a hundred years ago. And folks, I have terrible news: some of those readers demanded political cartoons because cartoons are a good medium for pretending other races are space aliens. Seriously: cartoons used to be Racial Hatred Confirmation Doodles. The invention of photography was a somewhat-effective antidote to the overwhelming racism of most illustrations. Photos indicate the truth that every human is human. A lot of cartoonists depicted the opposite, on purpose, and got paid for it.

Anyway, that’s political cartooning for you. It’s bad today. But I’m glad we’re past that racist era of–

Hoo boy. I wasn’t aware Black Americans’ ears sprout from their lymph nodes. Unless…this drawing is racist? You would think Michael P. Ramirez – an artist of color – would be less weird about drawing a President of color. If you make Obama’s ears Masai-ish, you’re basically doing a Birtherism. Michael P. Ramirez is doing a Birtherism, and I’m confident it’s on purpose. Tragically, he is excellent at art. He represents anything accurately. Even in his exaggerated caricatures, his Trump and Biden and various Dummycrats look like people. Look for yourself! Michael P. Ramirez draws things humorously or picture-perfectly. But when it came time for Michael P. Ramirez to draw two-term U.S. President Barack Obama, he pretty much drew Klan fan art.

That carelessness isn’t discussed or illuminated in “The Recipe For A Perfect Cartoon”. Which is bonkers! It’s my first question. Also, I shouldn’t even know this cartoon exists. It should be deep in the Mariana Trench of Michael P. Ramirez’s archives, like some kind of bottom-feeding hate-fish. Michael could’ve featured anything else here. He’s drawn hundreds if not thousands of cartoons. But when it came time to pick one cartoon, to represent his entire process, Mikey highlighted this one. That’s even more racist than drawing it. Also, I’m far from the only person who’s seen this thing. Michael P. Ramirez is the full time political cartoonist for Las Vegas’s main newspaper, and previously Los Angeles’s main newspaper, and previously Memphis’s main newspaper, and simultaneously a star ‘toonist for USA Today. Mikey’s been the main political cartoonist for…what, a quarter of the United States? More if you count chain hotels? So he’s not just proud of this cartoon. He’s earning a mint from it. Again, this:

Anyway, on to the message here. This political cartoon delivers so much clever criticism of…some kind of accounting fraud or numbers fraud? Accounting fraud involving terrorism intelligence? Terror attack risks are numerical, I guess, because every element of life can be made numbers. Therefore: Mikey got ‘em. It’s perfect. You could only describe this political cartoon as “perfect.” It has me thinking and laughing at the same time. It’s hard to both think and laugh this much, all at once! Ow, my face and brain, ow! I looked at this cartoon, and now I’m bent in a twisted rictus of mouth-chaos, struggling to “wow” and “ha” simultaneously. Wow/ha: my jaw fell off. Worth it. Wow! Ha!

Okay I’m back from Urgent Care. Setting aside my ha-ha hole, let me express something with my wow-hole: wow, there is a lot here. Theoretically this cartoon accomplishes wise political thought, acerbic comedy jokes, and quality visual art. All three tasks must be hard to juggle. That creative process would be interesting to explore. Which element is the initial germ leading to the final cartoon? How do you balance those three goals as you draft a complete cartoon? Do you ever bail on a cartoon that’s funny artistically but weak politically, or vice versa? I would like to know that stuff. Michael P. Ramirez says he is here to walk us through the answers. “The Recipe For A Perfect Cartoon” is a painstaking, seven step breakdown of how Mister Ramirez got from “blank page” to “cartoon blurring accountant metaphors and chef metaphors.” We get off to a breathtaking start, because it turns out Michael’s blank page was a napkin.

Michael P. Ramirez is telling us he stinks four different ways, on a post on his own website. Also, I am skipping “this stinks because the hanging skillets look like testicles.” They do, but he fixes that in the final version. Setting aside this draft’s heaving nut-woks, this thing is four varieties of mess. The messes are:

🌭Michael P. Ramirez is a full-time newspaper cartoonist with two Pulitzer Prizes, and he sketches out his cartoons on napkins. Why? Art supplies exist. Paper exists. A hasty iPhone note documenting the Only-Words Version of this idea would be less embarrassing.

🌭The napkin is specifically a cocktail napkin. You know: the Official Napkin Of Getting Drunk. He says it’s his main drafting medium, for his constant full-time cartooning. Is he compulsively broadcasting his alcoholism? Is he The Onion’s “Kelly” but real? Or, alternative theory: is he a sober guy pretending to be a Glamorously Drunk Artist? Is he faking Ernest Hemingway-style Booze-Brilliance for Cool Points?

🌭“I sketch out ideas on napkins mostly so I won’t forget them.” Yikes! Here is the thing about tales of jotting inspirations down on cocktail napkins: everybody celebrates the genius entrepreneur who hatches something brilliant in the midst of a drunken night. “Our Founding Cocktail Napkin” is the Hemingway Booze-Think Archetype for businessmen/inventors. However, we only celebrate the initial note. Nobody celebrates the next step, where you must pocket-tuck or purse-tuck a scribbled-on bar napkin. It’s awkward. It’s why you only use cocktail napkins for one brief note about one idea, and then use anything else on Earth for the real work. What kind of barfly and/or Hemingstan uses cocktail napkins for daily ongoing creativity? Does Michael P. Ramirez have a soggy heap of gin joint napkins in a file cabinet? And good lord: what about keeping ideas for later? How do you archive them? Would you stick the napkins in one of those binders/wallets for Pokemon cards? Or use Kraft Singles wrappers like they’re comic book sleeves? And imagine the scale of this! This guy isn’t saying he knocks out one idea on a napkin. He says he logs TEN TO FIFTEEN ENTIRE CARTOONS, PER DOODLE SESH, on cocktail napkins. How big are his pockets? Or is he now my hero, because he’s fanny-packing? You can’t pocket that many booze-scribbles. You cannot keep ten to fifteen pen-ravaged napkins into your pants pocket. In that night’s performance of The Brilliance Stowed In Your Slacks Pockets, your house keys will be playing the role of Wolverine.

🌭Number four could’ve been number one through one million. What is Michael P. Ramirez’s writing process? Or art process? He’s telling us Step 1 is an entire finished cartoon, on a napkin. I remember reading that and thinking “are the other steps just transferring this napkin art to paper?” My dearest Hotdogger: those are the other steps. But they’re so much dumber than that.

There are a total of seven steps here. Step 2 is my dumb question, answered. Step 3? “INKING.” Basically Step 2 with another pen. Step 4: a pretty long write-up of the specific DPI he uses for document-scanning paper. That’s hilarious if you know what DPI is. Don’t feel dumb if you don’t know. The gist is an easy to explain image resolution thing. It’s not “creative process” stuff. The gist is one machine setting at Kinko’s. That’s followed by Step 5 (“COLOR BASE”) and Step 6 (“COLOR BASE CLEANED”).

Step 5 is Michael P. Ramirez coloring in his own drawing, without staying inside the lines. Step 6 is Michael P. Ramirez using his computer to make it look like he did stay inside the lines. Two whole steps here are “kindergarten art class but digital.”

As Michael says, welcome to “the color realm”. We remain there for Step 7. The final step. Which is a tiny amount of further shading, and…that’s all! Those were the steps. “The Recipe For A Perfect Cartoon” is an almost-finished cartoon, followed by an old man listing his Adobe software presets. It is…not enlightening. I wonder if Michael P. Ramirez is proud of that? Maybe he refused to do the namby-pamby handholding they do in art schools, or in any form of teaching where a student learns something. Guys who make this kind of anti-Obama art are the same guys crankin’ off to the legend of their own self-reliance. It’s sad! Self-reliance is good, to a point. There’s something to be said for a “draw the rest of the owl” mentality. But there’s a reason I got that owl art from Reddit’s r/funny section, and not from a place that charges tuition or helps anybody. It’s a joke – and Michael P. Ramirez would know that if he weren’t such a HUSTLE clod.

I’m so sorry, we’re not done, we need to go back several steps. This blog contains a part even funnier than “here’s how my computer colors inside the lines for me.” There’s a gem here far more glittering than “I’m a Drunk, unless I’m stealing Drunk Valor.” My favorite bit is tucked into Step 2. Let’s revisit it. It’s the closest Mikey comes to explaining his writing process:

Reread that if you’d like. Reading it once is like trying to see the Grand Canyon fast. In this step, Michael P. Ramirez says each cartoon appears perfectly in Michael P. Ramirez’s head. It arrives finished. Second drafts are for cowards. Next up: Michael P. Ramirez’s memory does not work. Oh well. Probably not an issue for a cartoonist making political arguments. You don’t need to remember past events to understand the present or select a future. Just live in the present! The present is all we’ve got, other than the past and the future! Just live in the present, because we all die sooner or later. Great news: when Michael P. Ramirez likes somebody, and they die, he writes them a loving tribute/obituary:

Anyway, back to “The Perfect Cartoon.” Michael P. Ramirez–

Just kidding. My mind is lost in the labyrinth of this whole other cartoon. Yours is trapped too, right? We both saw this, and it sucked us in, and now we’ve crashed our ABC’s Lost plane into its beach. You and I are like two hot actors, grappling with a Heaven allegory and a smoke monster. If we try to leave this cartoon without first understanding its secrets, we’ll have to go back. That’s how much this cartoon stinks. A political cartoon is one picture. It should let the reader depart. Michael doesn’t allow that. His cartoons are maximum bothersome to any thoughtful mind.

What is happening here? Rush Limbaugh is in Heaven (lol). Rush is returning a book to a bearded angel and/or God. The book says “TALENT” on the front in big letters. And Rush has to return the TALENT book because…he checked it out? I can’t really follow this. I detect an attempted message of “Rush Limbaugh was TALENTED.” But this cartoon doesn’t really say that. The whole situation’s too weird. And it suggests several layers of cosmic canon, all at once. They include:

🌭When the dead reach heaven, their primary quality substantiates into the form of a labeled book.

🌭Dead people might* be required to return those books to a heavenly library. (It’s not clear whether Rush is forced to hand his book over, and his statement suggests an active choice rather than an enforced return.)

🌭Heaven has a library. It might contain regular books too? Or maybe there’s a separate library for Cloud Nine’s beach reads.

🌭When someone dies and their Primary Quality Book substantiates into their hand, the book’s cover will feature the logo of the dead soul’s broadcasting company. It has to be printed on there. We know that because in the cartoon, the “Excellence In Broadcasting” corporate logo is presented alongside a good drawing of Rush Limbaugh and a giant caption of “RUSH LIMBAU@H”. So we know it’s Rush Limbaugh. The tiny, dark, hard-to-read logo isn’t necessary. You might assume that’s a flaw in Michael P. Ramirez’s cartooning. But as discussed by Michael P. Ramirez, Michael P. Ramirez’s cartoons alight into his brain in their perfect finished form. Therefore, Michael P. Ramirez added a broadcasting logo because Heaven is real and that’s how these books look up there.

The book return opens up bizarre cosmological possibilities:

🌭Post-book return, does the dead soul spend their eternal afterlife *lacking* their primary quality? Is life in Heaven like the middle stretch of Space Jam, where all the NBA stars regress into oafs, but for every human quality?

🌭Do the books circulate? Will another soul check out Rush’s book? Will a current person or future baby receive Rush Limbaugh’s exact talents? Will Rush’s TALENT BOOK scream across the cosmos to its next host’s location, before shelving itself into their body or mind?

🌭Younger Hotdoggers may think the furniture behind Angel/God is some kind of shelf. Nope! It is an antiquated library practice, where libraries maintain a giant wooden set of drawers containing a physical card catalog. Why does Heaven’s library have this? Is it because Rush Limbaugh is old? Is Heaven’s library kind to the dead, easing them into the afterlife with a library transmogrified to fit each soul’s generational expectations? Did Heaven’s library get its first computer when Heaven got its first dead modern guy? If Michael P. Ramirez died, would those card catalog drawers be full of his dumb-ass cartoon’d napkins?

Wow: I despised that experience! Speaking of despicable experiences: let’s return to Step 2 of our blog/hell. You might think your life is hard, from time to time. Nobody has a harder life than the (alleged) close creative friendship circle of Michael P. Ramirez. They’re the most astonishing part of “The Recipe For A Perfect Cartoon”, Step 2, Paragraph B:

According to Michael P. Ramirez, he runs each of his ideas by a group of friends, and asks them for feedback. Then, he ignores their feedback, and says their feedback stinks on his website. And he does this every day. Michael P. Ramirez works for daily newspapers. This is not a novelist asking for manuscript notes once per two years. This is not an actor or comedian who needs one more butt in their show’s seats. This is a cartoonist busting into a group chat with a “what do u think of this but also fuck you” – and he’s doing that in service of insights that aren’t even worth thinking.

He’s right: politics is crazy! Who can say why! It’s simply crazy. Crazy as a reply text from a (former) friend who claims your idea “isn’t anything” and asks why it’s drawn on a Jack Daniels coaster. Still: one must overcome that kind of obstacle. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Michael P. Ramirez, it’s three things: the power of positive thinking about yourself, the power of negative thinking about everyone else, and the power of stubbornness about your first-‘n-final napkin-drafts. Hey, Robert. Hey, Sean. Scan these thirty-seven bar napkins I mailed you into your hot dog website. Your edits are wrong and your DPI setting had better be my favorite.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Neil Bailey, who has to return the ASS-KICKING book to God when they die. Good luck collecting if they don’t, God.

7 replies on “Learning Day: The Recipe for a Perfect Cartoon”

While that Rush Limbaugh cartoon might look like a howling vortex of madness, it isn’t! It’s a reference to a quote from Limbaugh about his claim to have “talent on loan from God.” So it’s “on loan” like a library book, which he’s now returning to the Christian god. I mean, I still don’t like it, but there you are.

When I saw that photo of Ramirez at the end a lot of things suddenly made sense. With those bat wing ears, somehow simultaneously straight and crooked smile, and egg shaped pointy head that is just begging for a “DUNCE” cap, the man looks like a flesh version of a political cartoon.

Maybe he’s trying to draw realistically and he just things people actually look like that?

Political cartooning is the greatest of mediums. The least possible space, used for over explaining the most incoherent ideas possible.

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