Cartoonist Captures Pol Foibles

Posted October 22, 2008 at 3:14pm

R.J. Matson says he will miss President Bush and Vice President Cheney. In fact, they’ve been two of the cartoonist’s favorite politicians to draw in his 22-year career.

Yet Matson, whose work appears regularly in Roll Call, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Observer, is ready for fresh material.

“Two years ago we all kind of felt that Bush was over. The fight wasn’t as much fun,” Matson said. “We were just sort of waiting for the presidency to be over.”

That sentiment is evident in the exhibit hall at Susan Calloway Fine Arts, a Georgetown gallery where a collection of Matson’s recent cartoons anticipates the changing of the guard. The pre-election show features jabs at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (N.Y.) failed run for the Democratic nomination and the Republican ticket of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — or the “Bull-Moose Maverick” ticket, as Matson calls it. [IMGCAP(1)]

He’s certainly gotten mileage out of Bush and Cheney. In fact, Cheney was the subject of a Matson piece that Time magazine named the best editorial cartoon of 2007. The cartoon is a riff on the movie “300” about the Battle of Thermopylae and pictures Cheney as a Spartan warrior leading 300 other soldiers, “the only ones still willing to defend the Bush administration.” It is one of 16 original sketches on display in the show, which opened Friday.

Matson said he strives to be nonpartisan and sees himself as a sort of political referee, but finding ways to make fun of Obama has been a challenge so far. And while Palin has been delectable grist for those in the business of lampooning politicians, recent polls suggest that Matson is more likely to be perfecting a lanky and bookish Obama.

“In this election he’s kind of been a straight man and it’s been first the Clintons and then the McCain campaign just flailing around trying to attack him,” Matson said. “This is the first time it ever felt like cheerleading.”

The show closes Nov. 1.