Sure, I’m curious why he died. But NO, I never thought he was funny. Not the animals, the plastic surgery, the kids. Nor is his death funny. I’m sad a talented performer died so young.. What about Farrah Fawcett, or Ed McMahon, or the strange, sad confluence of the 3? NO. Not funny, either. All equally sad.
My job as an editorial cartoonist is to comment or reflect on the news, not make instant flower bouquets, or practice sanctimonious phrases. But… is death funny?
Actually, this is the first time a well-known figure has died since I started doing cartoons for Slate in February, so I wasn’t sure just how to approach it. I rarely read other editorial cartoonists cartoons(, but I read a lot of silly comments by Daryl Cagle and Ted Rall and other political cartoonists, on Facebook and Twitter, wondering aloud how far they could go with Michael Jackson’s peccadilloes. And then there was the Jeff Goldblum hoax on Twitter. Maybe death just makes people stupid.
Anyway, I sure didn’t want Michael Jackson’s death to steal the spotlight from the lovely Farrah Fawcett, and the, um, advertorial Ed McMahon! I mean they all deserve a dignified goodbye. Each is special. So I included all 3 of them, and picked a graveyard – always a favorite backdrop for me – and you can see the cartoon above. The first cartoon. Because I chickened out. All it took was seeing those weeping, obsessive fans in Hollywood, and all the reverential tributes in the media, and I wondered if I was being disrespectful. (all this agonizing and second-guessing usually takes part in the middle of the night, when friends are asleep, so I can’t get any feedback.)
So I redid it for Slate, below:
But this time I asked people on Facebook, which is the better cartoon? They liked the first one. And I think I do, too. Sometimes death can use a little humor. I think these stars would have smiled, too. But what do you think? Which cartoon would you rather read with your coffee, or would you rather do Sudoko?
PS. Joe Heller is one of my fave editorial cartoonists and did a great cartoon on MJ. (Do you think he drew all of these views by hand, or was it Photoshop magic?!)
*Just found this post on how to draw cartoons about death or people who have passed on, by Steve Greenberg:
The problems are either doing a cliché — usually something involving St. Peter and the Pearly Gates, and there have been a zillion of these — or doing cartoons similar to what other cartoonists might be doing for the next day.
Some tributes work, too. Read the whole thing for insight from an experienced cartoonist.