Saturday, June 24, 2006


If you like razor sharp political satire, and if you enjoy watching Republicans getting hoisted by their own petards, then you might be interested in a wonderful new site called Kranky's Cartoons. I am especially fond of this website because the site creator, Joe Rank, is a local talent who has since moved from the backwoods of Walworth County, Wisconsin to Sunny California. Joe and I used to make life a living hell for the local Republicans throughout the 1990s through our often satirical letters to the local editors, and, more important, through Joe's satirical use of humor and irony in what many consider a lost art, the political cartoon.
For those of you who don't think that a political cartoon can have a dramatic impact on policy, I would offer the following situation as an example. A few years ago the city of Beloit, Wisconsin, was in the throes of a truly serious drug epidemic in some of its more rundown neighborhoods. Instead of assigning more police patrols, the proverbial Powers that be decided that they would post park police cars at both ends of the neighborhoods in question, and stop every car or person which decided to enter. There would be no exceptions. Anyone and everyone would be stopped, whether there was a legitimate reason for doing so or not. Joe, of course recognized this as a highly aggressive form of law enforcement, a violation of Fourth Amendment Rights and decided to take action. Someone had to. Despite intense and widespread criticism, the police and political leaders refused to change this obviously repressive policy.
What happened next was a classic example of citizen activism.
"Then I did the cartoon," Joe said. "It was dark and foreboding, looking down a street at night. A highway sign says "WARNING...You are about to enter BELOIT. Be prepared to show ID." Then, up ahead is a guardhouse with a gate that says HALT. A mini-firestorm ensued, with the chief-of-police and the mayor writing (letters to the editors) decrying the cartoon. Evidently, someone with the ACLU forwarded the cartoon to main offices and there were threats of injunctions The city then backed down and stopped their indiscriminate searches."
I remember this cartoon well. It was indeed, dark and foreboding, and the imagery Joe used reminded you of the kind of check point that one might find in a fascist or communist state. It wasn't a wonder that the Powers that be were offended--or should I say frightened?--by the power of what, for all intents and purposes, was a very artistic use of light and shadow.
After hundreds of cartoons, after building a a loyal readership for his satire here in Southeast Wisconsin, Joe was of course silenced by the local media which are little more than rubber stamp propaganda organs of the all powerful Republican party. That's right, our biased, right wing media decided that Joe had become a threat to their political fiefdom; and since the owners and editors are goose stepping members and mouthpieces for the local GOP, Joe's cartoons disappeared. As if to add insult to injury our local media weren't only biased, they were also cheap, refusing to may more than the bare minimum per cartoon. Can you say exploitation? One paper, in its imbecilic reasoning went so far as to suggest that the readers were more interested in seeing area photos than intelligent commentary. Of course, the real reason was obvious. Joe's cartoons had become a threat to Republican establishment and the very obedient owners and editors, who were undoubtedly acting in harmony with their Republican masters and allies, decided that area photos would be a lot safer than encouraging the people to think about the issues. That's a rather tacky thing to do to someone whose work has appeared in THE BEST EDITORIAL CARTOONS OF THE YEAR on four different occasions, but who said that the Powers That Be in Southeast Wisconsin recognize talent when they see it? In many ways the so called journalism (most of which sounds as if it were penned by Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee, is highly reminiscent of Joe's favorite bumper sticker: "Vote Republican--it's easier than thinking.
Fortunately, Joe's fortunes have increased since he left the economic dustbin which is Southeast Wisconsin. Today Joe resides in Grover Beach, California where his talents are truly appreciated by people who are willing to pay for his obvious talent.
Joe came from an FDR Democratic family but became an independent as a young man. Later, the same traits which had led him to become a political independent eventually brought him back to the Democratic party, essentially bringing the cycle full circle. Joe is a devout capitalist, but he does not endorse the type of pirate capitalism, the corporatist type of fascism that is currently being endorsed by the Bush Administration and the Republican members of the House and Senate. By the same Standard, Joe is by no means a pacifist, he recognized that there are times when military force is the only solution to a (festering) problem, but he does not endorse nor support the naked grab for power and financial gain which has become the occupation of Iraq.
So, if you want to see what Joe has been up to, and if you want to see the kind of slicing, cerebral work that drove the Republicans of Southeastern Wisconsin crazy for so long, please be so kind as to check out KRANKYS CARTOONS

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