Thursday, 13 September 2012

Skewering the Piffle-pushers

Thirty-five-year-old Signe Wilkinson gets away with murder—in her five-day-a-week political cartoons for the Philadelphia Daily News (she returned in triumph last October from sister Knight-Ridder paper, the San Jose Mercury-News), skewing the piffle-pushers from the editorial page of her home town’s feisty tabloid.

Take my favorite in her current retrospective, cannily entitled “Opening Shots,” at the Rosenfeld Gallery. “The Proper Way” to take a urinalysis at work, it’s dubbed. Five workers are relieving themselves against the façade of the corporate headquarters. You have to look closely to see that the mythical firm has been given the oligopolish name of OWNSALLCO INC; and you have to look even closer to see that in the pediment over the main door is a caricature of Mr. Moneybags, guarding his illth.

I asked her at the opening reception (where the normally high-strung lady faked a high Victorian faint when one of her friends announced he was actually going to buy one of her original drawings) if it mattered if most PDN readers missed those subtleties. “No. It’s there to be seen,” evidently being content to let the closer readers get the bigger kicks.

It’s obvious she’s an English major (University of Denver, 1972) because, unlike most cartoonists where what you see right away is what you get, she stacks layers of meaning, just like the praised lit in English 101. In “Color Blind Society,” a poke at the disaffirmative actions of the Reagan Administration, she deploys five grinning yessie clones—all identically attired in this sartorial satire—and their “color” lies in their shorts (white), ties (yellow), and suits (black) and shoes (brown).

“Privacy” displays a gaggle of prurient anti-sodomists, each with one eye on a bedroom keyhole and the other on their anti-Kamasutra, yclept the “O.K. Sex Positions” manual. “The Heavier Load” teases the macho who grouses about doing heavier work than his female mate by showing him toting a heavy, full “$1 while the lady hoists only a light 63 cent” jobbie.

A delightfully ghoulish one shows a White House servitor presenting a little Khadafy kid’s head on a dinner platter, to the President punning on the Ronbo’s request for the Libyan loony’s head. It makes my day to see such foolish policies reviled so cleverly. But it doesn’t please all the PDN readers. Her activist lawyer-husband John Landau confided that editor Zack’s phone sometimes rings off the hook when Signe gets off a really good shot.

When pressed about whether editorial cartoonists “make a difference,” she withdraws to a posture of calculated diffidence: “We didn’t put the troops into Nicaragua. We didn’t think up Star Wars.” Maybe so. But nonetheless, she confesses to Kaethe Kollwitz’s being an intellectual mentor of hers. And if editorial cartoons don’t smash evil, they damn well keep evil umpires from calling all strikes balls.

And there’s fire in “Strange Bedfellows,” in which the tobacco industry, the NRA and the ACLU all waffle in their own ways about their not being “links” between their products and patently ugly social situations.

Her marriage to Landau grew out of their joint anti-Viet protests in 1974. He has opened his own law firm since they returned from San Jose—specializing in immigration and military cases—conchies, hassled gays, etc. He is also a fine house father, judging from the way I found him wheeling two-year-old Claire through the Betsy Ross rocky garden area, to give Signe room to breathe at her reception.

The cartoonist has memorialized carrying Claire with a sequence of cartoons you’ll love, married or bachelor!

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, September 24 1986

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