Looking at this, you’d think it was Cuba that had the embargo on the US, not the other way around. But what a deft way of drawing Obama: the moment is so winning. We see again Oliphant’s gift for fantasy based on characters from the news. (Previous Oliphant installment here.)

UPDATE: Matthew, my leg man in Oliphanting, points me to the latest: 1) Cheney the torturer and 2) the epicene cowboys of Texas secession. And, yeah, those are two freaky cartoons.

The Cheney cartoon takes a big, simple point (Cheney’s a nasty guy who defends torture), lobs in some clutter to put you off balance (the long legend on Cheney’s apron, the Prussian gentleman standing by in his helmet), then sneaks in for the kill with a final touch that is tiny, unobtrusive, complicated and inexplicable. Who is that little guy on a bicycle? Why is he tearing off for the distance? Why does the bike have training wheels and why do the training wheels look so much like legs and feet? Why does the man’s head look like three knuckles? Why is he so blase about torture and, finally, why are we hearing from him? Traditionally, an editorial cartoon will show someone in the news saying something that the cartoonist has put in the person’s mouth, and then there may be some little figure piping up with the cartoonist’s personal wry commentary on the situation. Here we have a third party, a man with a three-knuckled head and a special bike, and he’s popping up to say what he thinks too. Damn, it’s weird, and yet it takes up so little space. It’s a dab of condensed insanity.

Matthew says maybe the little guy is Obama: thus the training wheels and, I guess, the three-knuckled head (big ears). My guess, if it’s anyone we know, is Bush. Bush was always working out and Oliphant drew him with big ears. Oh, the hell with it.

All right, the epicene cowboys of secession. Here’s how I figure Oliphant’s logic chain: Texas wants its federal money like anyone else, so therefore this secession talk is bullshit; the secession talk takes place at tea party rallies or in front of crowds who might turn up at tea party rallies; the British drink tea and are very courtly about asking each other if they want one lump or two; therefore, to express the posturing hollowness of the secession talk, one portrays the Texans as mincing little Percys with tea cups in their hands.

One gets the horrible feeling that Oliphant actually thought his way toward this conclusion. The deranged vision didn’t come to him in a flash; he put on his thinking cap and worked with lunatic clarity to reach his goal.

UPDATE 2: Now Sam and the sharks, again because Matthew brought it up. Clear point, a bit simple but intelligible, and nothing actively weird in the drawing to throw you off.

Matthew mentions how well O draws the sharks, and it’s true. He also draws a lot of them. This brings up a big point about Oliphant. He is so much better at drawing than most of his colleagues that his facility gets him into visual trouble. In the old days, when he was at the top of his game, he created images with a density of detail and complexity of composition that allowed them to take over the reader’s eye. Now he doesn’t manage his detail, he just lets it roll out from his pen, and composition be damned.

The problem isn’t too bad in this latest. But Uncle Sam does get a bit lost among all those sharks; the overall situation takes a few extra seconds to register because Sam, who is its center, has to be tracked down by the reader’s eye. The Cheney cartoon suffers a lot more; even without the little mystery man on the bicycle, the picture is a mess of one thing after another.

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