Posted by: brad – Feb 13, 2017
The current political landscape makes for a strange terrain for political cartoonists. How does one make absurdity out of what is already absurd? Commonwealth Times illustrations editor and staff illustrator, Gareth Bentall, navigates this perplexity through his cartoons.
By absolving the terror from Trump and building up the ridiculousness of the callow President, Bentall mitigates the villainy image.
Humor has always been used to make a statement in politics, from Saturday Night Live skits, to parody songs, to political cartoons - there’s really no medium of art that hasn’t gone there. And generally, it’s distortion of political figures that is utilized. But, coming out of an administration head by maybe the most outwardly unruffled man to ever exist, to the pussy grabbing, disabled mocking, late-night tweeting, tantrum having Trump is a palpable juxtaposition.
“When I first started out I was continuing the tradition of other political cartoons,” said Bentall. “Politics were not necessarily absurd, they were pretty dry so they could have humor inserted into them but now that politics have become so absurd you can’t insert absurdity into it. It seems like there’s a lot of material to go off of now a-days, but it’s almost harder.”
“He’s a reality TV star - I mean, before you could have made a cartoon about that. Like ‘oh, what if George Bush was the star of his own television show,’ and go off that. You can’t do that now.”
Considering this complication, Bentall takes a different focus on how to combat the Trump Administration with his cartoons - by distorting the qualities which allay the image of the evil, nefarious, mammoth. Bentall says he draws Trump, “almost on the brink of recognizability.”
“It’s come to the point where the absurdity is the most honest depiction of these figures. Distorting reality until a point where the truth comes out.”
The sad thing is, Trump isn’t really avoidable. And even if we could avoid the headlines, reports, social media discourse, ect., it’s important to not totally disengage. Bentall’s skewing of the image of Trump by no means attempts to water down just how hard Trump is to digest, but he’s more of a gross, moldy, pizza slice found under the fridge rather than a deadly poison.
“I try not to characterize Trump as a big scary evil guy because we all know that he is. We don’t need any more depictions of him being an evil man. Now a-days I always try and depict Trump as a fool, as a buffoon. Like, my latest one he’s a little baby figure and has this massive pile of shit coming out of his butt - so it’s easier to stand up to someone you see as a little poop goblin than this Godzilla-frightening figure. It’s about taking the power away.”
In such a visceral time in which even concrete fact plays a minor role in one’s beliefs, Bentall is realistic with his expectations for his work. It’s not about trying to influence personal beliefs, but to contribute to the aggregate of critical rhetoric which keeps a culture of outspokenness against thriving bigotry.
“I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind because I don’t think that’s possible with my cartoons,” said Bentall. “There are larger things at play that influence people’s political view. That seems futile to me. Hopefully, I can make enough of these things and other people can make enough of these things where that viewpoint becomes prolific.”
“Don’t get discouraged, we can all protest in our own way. Going on marches, expressing your discontent, that’s great. But you can also do something from home, you can call your senator. Politics isn’t just politics anymore. Trump has brought it on a personal level and I think the more people resisting the better it is.”
And of course, in such an anxious state this administration has bred, Bentall just wants to give you a reason to smile. “If I can just make someone laugh,” he said. “Making someone laugh, it feels good; it’s immediate.”
For any inquiries on commissions, you can reach Bentall at [email protected]
Words by Greg Rosenberg