Politicians who get caricatured by Bob Taylor shouldn’t feel hurt if he makes them lanky and gives them big hands and feet. Bob Taylor is lanky and has big hands and feet.
The editorial cartoonist for the Times Herald gets to work at 6:30 a.m. "I don’t have to," Taylor says, "but I tried bankers’ hours, and I find that if I try to beat rush hour traffic, everything I draw that day turns out mean." Taylor goes through the morning papers and reads what has come in on the wire, looking for material, then perches at his drawing board and goes to work. Sometimes it comes easy; sometimes there are dry spells, largely depending on the news. The campaigns were of course a never-ending source of material for cartoons, but the most recent Golden Age for cartoonists was the Watergate era.
"I got more hate mail during Watergate than any time," Taylor says. "One little old lady even accused me of being the reason why Nixon went down the tube. Made me feel real good." Though Taylor has no great love for Nixon the politician, he can’t help sighing a bit at the passing of the Nixon era from a caricaturist’s point of view. "He was a great subject," Taylor says, and one look at Taylor’s caricatures of Nixon shows why. In one of them, Nixon appears as the sphinx - the caption is "An eternal riddle, wrapped in enigma and surrounded by mystery" - and the tight, down-turned mouth, the jowls, the sags and creases, the famous nose, and the wavy patent leather hair are eloquently shaded and modeled. "All of the great cartoonists," Taylor says, "can capture emotion in a figure. People talk about how simple the drawing is in Peanuts, but when Snoopy does a dance you can really feel it."One feels the mystery in Taylor’s Nixon, too.
"Ford was hard - the most difficult President to draw," Taylor says, "but we all got him in the end." Taylor’s Ford is a rather lumpy, heavy-jawed figure with an amazing, almost simian upper lip - longer than his forehead. "Kennedy was difficult because he was good-looking - most people just drew a lot of hair. He was fairly easy for me, though. I try not to do the obvious. If everybody’s doing the hair, I try to get a likeness - and if everybody’s doing likenesses, I do the hair." Everybody is doing Carter’s grin, of course, but Taylor is finding other things as well - the fleshy mouth, the eyes that are so blue that Taylor reduces them almost to Orphan Annie circles, the face that sags like a half filled burlap bag when Carter is caught off guard.
Lyndon Johnson was not only a great subject for caricaturists, he was an avid collector of their work. "I don’t have many of my originals of Johnson - he requested almost all of them, so they’re all down at the LBJ Library." Taylor doesn’t sell his originals - "I’ve already been paid for them" - but he gives a lot of them away to the politicians and sports figures who appear in them. "I’ve been told I shouldn’t do it - there won’t be any originals if a contest comes up. But hell," he says a bit sheepishly, "I do it anyway."
Not all politicians are fond of Taylor’s work. John Connally - not a politician Taylor is fond of, either - apparently disliked one Taylor did last summer that showed him as a little boy underneath a window in which there are two pies labeled "Reagan veep spot" and "Ford veep spot." "I just can’t make up my mind which one I like the best," says the Connally figure in the first panel, but when the Reagan pie is removed, he points confidently to the Ford pie and proclaims "I like this one the best!" Connally was in Dallas shortly after the cartoon appeared and asked a Times Herald executive if he could meet Taylor. The artist, warned that Connally was indignant, feared his wrath. "He was as pleasant as he could be, however. I guess that’s what makes him a good politician."
A less cordial foe once gave Taylor what he now calls "a great moment. About 12 years ago, I was returning from a golf tournament in Fort Worth about 1 a.m. I turned on the car radio just in time to hear on the news that I was being sued by Bruce Alger for $1 million. I almost had a heart attack." The suit was actually against the Times Herald, but Taylor was named in it. Congressman Alger was upset by the Herald’s treatment of a poll of members of the House of Representatives in which Alger was named the House’s "least effective" member. The suit was dismissed when it came to court.
Taylor came to the Herald 18 years ago. A native Californian, he had started drawing when he was a kid. "I was envious of older kids who could draw, so I started trying to do it. I stole from Al Capp, Willard Mullins, Herblock, Maul-din. Teachers tried to break me of it, but I think they’re wrong. Hell, tracing’s bad, but copying’s how you learn." At Sacramento State he majored in education and did cartooning for the school paper. After college he joined the Air Force, still planning to be a teacher when he got out, but when he did a sports cartoon for an Air Force newspaper, he was transferred immediately into the Air Force’s journalism career field. After the service, he stuck with it, and was hired by the Times Herald.
The Herald at that time didn’t have a tradition of an official editorial cartoonist, and some of Taylor’s editors were strict. "I couldn’t draw spiders, snakes, skeletons or even big black areas for the editor I started under - they scared him.
"I was hired because 1 could draw well, not because I could think up ideas. I fought a long battle to convince them that an editorial cartoonist was like a columnist. Now they trust me to say what I want to say, though I guess if the Herald editorial writers come out strongly on something I disagree with, I skirt it. Occasionally, though," Taylor says with a sly smile, "some of my dissenting opinions have gone into print."
Taylor admits that his own political views tend to be liberal - "though not what conservatives call liberal" - and that his cartoons may have given the Herald a reputation for being a liberal paper that editorially it doesn’t really deserve. "I get a lot of nasty phone calls, and I’ve had my life threatened a few times - though not recently."
Times have changed in Dallas, Taylor says. When he first came to the city, he naively did a cartoon on Lincoln’s Birthday and "got storms of letters - I didn’t realize people in Dallas still disliked Lincoln." During the late Fifties and early Sixties, Taylor did many strongly pro-civil rights cartoons. "Some redneck called me one day and said he’d blow my head off if he ever saw me on the street." Most criticism is milder - people complaining that Taylor creates disrespect for public figures. Taylor is philosophical about such criticism; "My aim," he says, "is not to create disrespect but to create healthy irreverence. The American people sometimes seem to want to worship a leader, and I think that’s dangerous."
Taylor has tried doing "serious" work, and he says that aside from the great cartoonists, he feels strongly influenced by Michelangelo - "a lot of different cartoonists have said I put Michelangelo hands on everyone." But he finds that "the job burns you out. I used to be serious about painting, but now when I get the urge to paint I find that cartooning has crept into my ’straight’ work - all the figures have big noses or hands or feet."