Michael Jackson was God’s gift to editorial cartoonists. Now that the gift has been “returned to sender” the cartoonists are mourning the loss of one of their most evergreen gags.
Jackson was a wonderful character for cartoons. From “Jesus Juice” to chimps and burning hair, he was a cartoon treasure. One of my all time favorites was a Mr. Fish cartoon during the jury selection process from Michael’s trial, showing Michael’s “nightmare jury” of scowling Fruit of the Loom fruit characters in the jury box.
The political cartoonists have been emailing each other, warning that we should not do the obvious obit cartoons, like Michael at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter says, “You’re bad, beat it;” or Jesus dangling little Michael from a heavenly window; or Michael and St. Peter “moon-walking” backwards through the Pearly Gates into heaven. And I can’t help but think of how Jackson’s children must have recoiled in horror when he played “got your nose”…
I was thinking of drawing Michael and Jesus on a cloud sharing a white wine “Jesus Juice” as Jesus holds a little box, saying, “God has a little gift for you — it’s your nose.” I floated a few of these ideas to my 45,000 Twitter followers, to a mixed reaction – one third of the responses were angry that I would show such disrespect to Jackson, and two thirds wanted the obituary gags to keep on coming.
I drew my favorite Michael Jackson cartoon when he was arrested. I had a police line-up, and the little boy/victim is pointing at Jackson saying, “That one;” the others in the line-up are a candy cane, a barber pole and the North Pole. Of course, the “secret” characteristic the kid identified was that Jackson’s penis was (allegedly) striped like a barber pole. I thought everyone knew this when I drew the cartoon, but unfortunately it turned out this was a little known bit of color about the King of Pop.
Soon after I drew my Jackson line-up cartoon, I got an e-mail from a couple of middle school kids that went something like this:
“Dear Mr. Cagle, Every week in our Social Studies class, our teacher, Ms. Fuddle, has what we call, “Cartoon Monday.” The class votes on an editorial cartoon that we will discuss that day. We voted to discuss your Michael Jackson cartoon in class next Monday, but we don’t understand it. Would you please explain it to us? Sincerely, Kid One and Kid Two”
I wrote back:
“Dear Kid One and Kid Two, Thank you for choosing my cartoon to discuss. The cartoon refers to Michael Jackson’s penis, which is striped like a barber pole …”
And the kids wrote back:
“Dear Mr. Cagle. Thank you for the explanation of your Michael Jackson cartoon. We think this will be our most interesting Cartoon Monday ever.”
When I think of all that cartoonists have lost with Michael Jackson’s passing, it makes me weep.
Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 850 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. Daryl’s books “The BIG Book of Campaign 2008 Political Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2009 Edition” are available in bookstores now.