Michael Jackson’s death is not funny, but it is a cartoon.

Michael Jackson cartoon of grave, with Farrah Fawcett and Ed mcMahon

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:

Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon and Michael Jackson die separately.
Michael Jackson, King of Pop, Farrah Fawcett Majors, Queen of Hair, and Ed McMahon, Jester of Johnny. Gravestones. ©D. Barstow 2009

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.

18 thoughts on “Michael Jackson’s death is not funny, but it is a cartoon.”

  1. You forgot David Carradine, Ace of Choreographed Martial Arts. I know, I know — rule of three.

    1. Geri, yes, he was a sad one. Only Ted Rall did a cartoon, that I saw, about auto-asphixiation. That was gross and in very bad taste, Ted!!!

    1. Sure, I guess, if you think dying by strangulation, and the whole world knowing your private moments, it was hysterical.

  2. eg heter michael jakson
    eg er sendis eg snakker nosrsk lit engelsk mest norsk
    eg er popolær og berømt
    eg har 10000 millioner penger
    eg er konge king

  3. i actually disagree with all of it if you don’t think its funny you shouldn’t put “he liked kids” or “she liked conditioner”
    i mean seriously how would you feel if someone you knew died and then someone wrote a quote that just make them look bad..
    you should think about the families and stop the bullshit on stuff thats not true.

    1. Well, Allison, it IS true. He built an entire amusement part on his property for kids! He invited them for sleepovers! He had fake marriages to get them! It doesn’t make him look “bad” unless you believe the molestation charges. I don’t. I said it’s not funny that anyone died. How they lived their lives in the public eye is occasion for humor at times.

      As far as Farrah Fawcett and conditioner, I’m sure she and her family would smile. No regrets.

  4. Tottaly uncalled for, all you guys do is judge him. you dont know him, you never lived his life. I hate how media does this, if you dont think its funny, why did you put he liked kids, now dont tell me you didnt expect people to laugh at this. this disgusts me.

    1. I AGREE 100%!!! UNLESS U KNEW HIM SHUT UP AND KEEP UR PETTY COMMENTS 2 URSELf!

      VERY WELL SAID CRAIG!

  5. I dont know what you meant with Michael’s grave saying he liked kids. He did. No, not molestation-wise, creepers! He loved kids because of his terrible childhood, he wanted to give kids, things that he didnt have when he was younger. For Farrah- yes it is cute and I think that she would have laughed also. Its only offensive if you meant that MJ liked kids molestation wise..

  6. All cartoons are supposed to be interpreted. If I have to explain them, – over and over, I mean – then something is wrong!

    Michael Jackson is famous for his love for and of children. I think he went too far when he invited them for sleepovers. That is certainly odd, and inappropriate. Does anyone agree with me?

    1. NO i dont agree with u… there was nothing “Bad” going on… he was still a kid inside… he even said he usually slept on the floor

  7. Ok this is not funny… Putting “He liked kids” on the stone was not a good idea… because first of all- no one knows for sure whether he did anything… so unless u know keep ur petty comments to urself…. and second of all its very disrespectful!

    stupid!

    MoOnWaLkInG iN hEaVeN!!!

    LoVe U mJ

  8. I LOVE MJ FOREVER AND EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!I CREATED MY OWN ABBREVIATION- MJFAE (michael jackson for all eternity- and Michael jackson forever and ever!

  9. The death of an individual may be tragedy to them and those around them – to the rest of us it can be bloody hilarious. Look at British tory MP Steven Milligan, a man who would have been right at home in the nuttier depths of the Republican Party…

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