Cartoonist Makes a Monkey out of New York Post

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As Sigmund Freud might say: sometimes, a chimp is just a chimp.

Sean Delonas, editorial cartoonist for the New York Post, stirred up a hornet’s nest of criticism when, on February 18, the Post published this cartoon:

Now, to those who may be viewing this cartoon years from today, this cartoon is, no doubt, absolutely inexplicable, so some explanation is necessary.  See, there was a lady in Connecticut whose pet chimp Travis went on a rampage and seriously injured a neighbor who had been called over to subdue it.  Police were called to the scene and they shot Travis dead.  Two days later, Delonas draws a cartoon that links the chimp shooting (still in the news — remember, this is the New York Post we’re dealing with here) and the financial stimulus package proposed by President Obama and passed by congress on February 17.

The reaction to this cartoon was as swift and violent as a monkey run amok.  Critics thought that Delonas was being racially offensive by comparing Obama to a chimp.  Al Sharpton, whose daily life is a Post headline waiting to happen, astutely observed: “What does shooting a chimpanzee have to do with a stimulus bill?”  Good point.  Delonas, for his part, called the criticism “friggin’ ridiculous,” and said: “If you’re going to make that about anybody, it would be [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, which it’s not.”

Of course, that’s part of the problem.  We don’t know who the chimp in the cartoon is supposed to represent.  It’s not a good sign, then, to discover that even the cartoonist doesn’t know.

Looking at some of Delonas’s previous cartoons, it’s clear that his schtick is to take one of the day’s main news headlines and mix it with some totally unrelated political connotations to form a largely incoherent cartoon.  Take this, for instance, from Feb. 5:
Here we get Nadya Suleman, the “Octomom” (her pregnancy photos appeared around that time), and the Democratic stimulus package all mashed up together.  See, it’s funny because it doesn’t make any sense!  Or take this, from the day after the “chimp cartoon:”

Again, this one needs some explanation.  Dustin Dibble, an intoxicated person who fell on the subway tracks and lost his leg when hit by a train, won a $2.3 million verdict against the NY transit system.  The Post‘s pithy headline: “Drunk Rides Gravy Train.”  Delonas then took that story and used it to make a strange, largely incomprehensible statement about taxes in light of the fact that the recently passed stimulus package (the one written by that dead chimp) contains tax cuts.  In addition, the disgruntled taxpayer in the cartoon should probably worry less about his missing leg than about having a prosthetic left arm that is constructed from what appears to be a hairy toilet brush.

The inescapable conclusion, then, is that Delonas is a talentless hack.  Which isn’t entirely correct, because Delonas actually is an accomplished artist.  It’s not that he’s a talentless hack artist, it’s that he’s a talentless hack cartoonist.  There’s a big difference.  Obviously, anyone who can draw can draw a cartoon.  I think Scott Adams proved that.  But it takes someone with both artistic talent and a keen, incisive sense of observation and humor to create a good editorial cartoon.  Some people have it, even some people on the Post payroll.  Sean Delonas, in contrast, does not.

And that’s why I don’t think Delonas drew the “chimp cartoon” as a subtle racist attack on Obama.  Frankly, Delonas just isn’t talented enough to create that kind of subtext in a cartoon that doesn’t have much context to begin with.  The problem with the cartoon, then, isn’t that it’s racist, it’s that it’s just pretty dumb.

3 Comments

2 Comments

  1. engineer  •  Feb 24, 2009 @11:58 am

    The problem with the cartoon is that is assumes that the reader is up on current events. Those who link this cartoon with Obama and assume it is because he is black are just looking for offense IMO.

  2. Robert Gentel  •  Feb 24, 2009 @2:18 pm

    I think he’s have to be pretty dumb not to have known that some would interpret it that way though. He may well not be a talented cartoonist, and he may well have not had the intent to stir up this controversy but I’d find it hard to believe that nobody at the Post considered this interpretation and didn’t mind the publicity it might generate.

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