Editorial cartooning comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, with the result being "a laughter of apprehension," says nationally syndicated political cartoonist Steve Benson.
"Editorial cartoons are political and scathing and they hurt," said Benson in a Tuesday afternoon address sponsored by Brigham Young University's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. "That's too bad, but that's the way it's supposed to be."Benson, who graduated from BYU in 1979 in political science and was a former Daily Universe editorial cartoonist, joined the Arizona Republic staff in 1980 as an editorial cartoonist. He had previously spent a year in Washington, D.C., with the Senate Republican Policy Committee working on Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign.
Recognized as a leading critic of Evan Mecham, who was removed by impeachment as governor by the Arizona Senate, Benson said, "The role of the editorial cartoonist is to remind public officials that they are public officials and that we are holding them liable and accountable for their actions."
He revealed his cartoon idea for Tuesday, which was squelched by the Republic management in favor of a somber attitude toward the seriousness of the impeachment. The idea a tombstone with the inscription: "Here lies, obstructs and misappropriates Evan Mecham."
The cartoonist called the Mecham administration "a Camelot" of cartooning opportunities. "I don't know what I'm going to do for material now."
Some two-dozen-plus of Benson's recently published cartoons lampooning Mecham became a visual addition to the near-two-hour lecture, with the former governor in part shown as a "What, Me Worry?" takeoff of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, a long-nosed Pinocchio on the witness stand, and the target of a recall effort signed by the Pope on his visit to Phoenix last year.
Both Benson and Mecham are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The pro-con division regarding Mecham's popularity has affected Arizona residents, LDS Church members and families as well.
In fact, Benson was the only family member not invited by his in-laws to the large family gathering last Thanksgiving.
Too much emphasis, however, has been placed on "the rules of theocracy with how democracy is played," said Benson of the religious opinions surrounding Mecham's ouster.
In his slide presentation, Benson shuffled through dozens of other political and editorial cartoons, spanning subjects such as TV evangelists, the federal government, the IRS, the Postal Service, the Middle East, Central America, and U.S.-Soviet relations.
One colleague at the Arizona Republic labels Benson as an individual who "marches down the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded."
Benson readily admits that editorial cartoons are one-sided, opinionated snapshots with a life span of an estimated seven seconds allowed to put across a message. While deploying exaggerated, comic-strip styles, editorial cartooning is serious business, with Benson noting that one of his California peers is facing a $1 billion libel suit.