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www.nationalreview.com NATIONAL REVIEW 45TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL DECEMBER 31, 2000. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. ABOUT ROMAN GENN

The New York Times Caricature in the Age of Political Correctness. By FRANCIS X. CLINES

www.washingtonpost.com Arts Beat Form Follows Dysfunction In Georgetown, a Gallery of Politicians' Idiosyncrasies

www.latimes.com MUGS BY A MUSCOVITE. A RUSSIAN'S CARTOONS OF AMERICA'S NOTABLES AND NOTORIOUS ARE ON VIEW IN IRVINE



www.nationalreview.com 45TH Anniversary special
December 31, 2000
by Christopher Rapp


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. ABOUT ROMAN GENN
It was March 1997, and NR's "Manchurian Candidates" cover, poking fun at Bill, Al, and Hillary's zeal in fund raising from Chinese nationals, had enraged the ethnic-grievance industry. Protestors rented outside our offices in New-York and Washington; hundreds of letters poured in; the editor was surrounded by mob at Yale. But Roman Genn, the artist behind the cover, remained philosophical. "I think that's fine" he told a reporter. "Their job is to get ticked off at cartoons and my job is to draw them. We're all doing our jobs.
   " Genn has been doing his job for NR since 1994, skewering the high and mighty with his spot on caricatures. And while his work for the magazine has brought him notoriety, his knack for cartooning - and his coolness under fire - has been on display since he was a five-year-old cutup in Moscow. "I wasn't interested in anything the teacher had to say so I just wasted all my time drawing my school buddies and insulting them," says Genn, now 28. " I'd draw teachers so my buddies could laugh. But then I'd get in trouble, and end up having to clean the toilets.
   " At Communist youth camp, he entered competitions for drawing propaganda posters. "I was collaborating with the regime," he reflects ruefully. Not that he had any affection for Communism. As a teenager in the late '80s, he began selling his antigovernment cartoons to American tourists on street corners, attracting the notice of the authorities. He was arrested eleven times for his pictures, and was jailed overnight for lampooning a Kremlin politician. The interior ministry searched his apartment. On one occasion, the police came for him during a class at Moscow Art College, sirens blaring.
   In 1989 - when he was arrested nine times - Pravda (yes, Pravda) ran one of his drawings. "It was funny, because when the cops would harass me, I'd show them that I was published in Pravda; they'd leave me alone for a while".
   A turning point came in 1990 when a Los Angeles public-television producer came across Roman and filmed a segment about his work. The following year, with a help of L.A. synagogue, Roman and his mother emigrated to the United States. Settling in Pasadena, he learned English by watching John Wayne movies. In 1994, his agent sent a submission to NR. "You guys went for it," Roman says, "suckers that you were."
   Roman also contributes regularly to the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. He confesses he saddened by the eminent departure of Bill Clinton: "He's going and we're crying." Of course, as a caricaturist, he has his own priorities. Whom does he prefer between Bush and Gore? "Let the man with the biggest nose win!"
   The "Manchurian Candidates" cover remains his favorite. "I loved it," he says. "Remember, they marched in front of your offices, not my apartment." He pauses, perhaps contemplating future covers, then adds, "Don't put my address in this article".


The New York Times
The New York Times 
March 30, 1997


Caricature in the Age of Political Correctness
By FRANCIS X. CLINES

                  "Caricature is rough truth." -- George Meredith

There is a sense of achievement, plain as a Daumier leer, that comes upon a political cartoonist when his work stirs outraged condemnation. For some cartoonists, "going too far" is exactly where their pens must aim, and the bite of public complaint is encouraging, even necessary evidence of a bull's-eye.
   "There's a tremendous amount of people waiting around to get annoyed at something," said Roman Genn, the cartoonist who lampooned President and Mrs. Clinton as toothy and narrow-eyed Asians and Vice President Al Gore as an alms-taker on a National Review cover this month, stirring complaints of racism from Asian-American organizations.
   "I think that's fine," said Genn. "Their job is to get ticked off at cartoons and my job is to draw them. We're all doing our jobs.
   " The cover, dubbed "The Manchurian Candidates," depicts a coolie-hatted president obsequiously proffering a tray of coffee. The first lady grins widely at his side as a doctrinaire Maoist. Gore stares stolidly as dollars whirl into his beggar's cup.
   The cartoon is a send-up of the three administration principals involved in the Clinton re-election campaign's zealous, now fabled scramble for big-money donations among such groups as Buddhist temple goers and Asian-American business solicitors. In the most sensational allegation, the Clinton campaign was said to be the possible target of Chinese government agents intent on buying high-ante influence in U.S. politics.
   "Extremely offensive and racist," Daphne Kwok, executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said of the cover. She complained that Asian-Americans sense that their patriotism is being besmirched in simplistic renderings of the scandal.
   Not everyone, of course, agrees. "Roman did a great job," said Pat Oliphant, a master caricaturist whose wit is razor-sharp from four decades of skewering politicians. "We need it, God knows," he said of the drawing. "It's a wonderful fact that there is a publication that will still run these politically incorrect things."
    Not only did John O'Sullivan, editor of National Review, publish the cartoon in color, he defended it mightily amid the controversy that followed. He insisted the caricature was only fair in exaggerating such features as the First Lady's own toothy smile and not, as critics saw, the buck-toothed visage of an Oriental stereotype.
    Above all, he denounced the complaints as orchestrated by "the ethnic grievance industry," and, far from offering the apology requested by Ms. Kwok, demanded one from her.
   "Like Charles Philipon!" exulted Genn, referring to the 19th century journalist who defended Daumier's graphic ridicule of the French authorities when they locked up the great caricaturist for his opinions.
    Oliphant feels that the "confrontational art" of political cartooning needs a boost from provocative work like Genn's if it is to survive the homogenizing pressures of American culture.
   "We are drowning in political correctness and somebody's got to kill it," he said. "It's the ruination of my business," he added, citing individual newspapers that withhold his more controversial work or quickly apologize for it when the first complaint is lodged.
    "Newspapers are really the only vehicle there is for political cartooning and they won't speak up and provide a forum for the more outspoken cartoonists," he said, complaining not so much for himself, he said, as for the tartly gifted newcomers who are rebuffed by publishers wary of giving offense.
   But his sense that political correctness has triumphed is debatable. After all, Genn's cartoon is not the only rough-edged lampoon of an ethnic group. Last week's New Republic cover, "Jude the Odd," uses an Islamic prayer-rug as the setting for an American target, Jude Wanniski, the Republican economic theorist.
   And in a recent Wizard-of-Oz rendering by Oliphant of Alan Greenspan, chief of the Federal Reserve, some Jewish readers perceived an echo of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda.
   A friend and colleague of Oliphant's, Dan Wasserman, cartoonist of The Boston Globe, grants that editors can be timid, but insists that clumsy stereotyping is no less a problem.
   "Only a minority of cartoonists agree with me, but I don't think this is about sensitivity or political correctness," Wasserman said. "I think it's about racism. Cartoonists ought to get at the essential, not the accidental, and what's essential here is a fund-raising scandal in the nation's capital. The fact that some of the figures happen to be Asian -- that's number 20 on the list of important things.
   " Besides, he said, the main problem is not foreigners' contributions: "It's that U.S. corporations are buying the government." And Wasserman, like many caricaturists, is delighting in the rich possibilities of the donation scandal. "It's something of a smokescreen here to call up the Yellow Peril and not get to the heart of the matter. Why not pick on these hot-shot Ivy League lawyers who can't read the fund-raising laws?"
   All three cartoonists agree that dollar-hungry politicians have provided a fresh mother lode of material. "Hypocrisy is good for cartoonists," said Wasserman. "And we're up to our hips at least in hypocrisy."
   Oliphant, whose laughter has a merry edge of mayhem to it, thinks there is no way to be offensive in the depiction of Clinton.
   "He writes his own stuff like Nixon did," the artist said gratefully. "Wonderful! The man's an embarrassment of riches.
   " Oliphant's inclination is to pick on everyone and never apologize for what he does. "You have to get mad in this business, work yourself up to a boil once a day," he said, as if this precious work dynamic can only be dulled by trying to keep in mind the multiple sensitivities of his variegated audience.
    As a post-Soviet immigrant, Genn, who was once jailed overnight for caricaturing a Kremlin politician, suspects the current complaints come mainly from second-generation Americans who are concerned about having a place in the Establishment.
   "Clinton's the one who should be offended," the cartoonist said with a certain air of disappointment, as if maybe he had not gone quite far enough in rendering his Manchurian candidates.
   Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company


www.washingtonpost.com WASHINGTON POST
November 4, 1996
By Michael O'Sullivan Washington Post Staff Writer

Arts Beat Form Follows Dysfunction In Georgetown, a Gallery of Politicians' Idiosyncrasies

I don't care a straw for your newspaper articles,
my constituents don't know how to read
but they can't help seeing them damn pictures.
- William Marcy "Boss" Tweed


   The literacy rate may have improved somewhat since the 19th century when New York's corrupt "Boss" Tweed inveighed against his unflattering portrayal in the editorial cartoons of Thomas Nast, but the state of political caricature has, if anything, gotten nastier. That is to say, it's gotten better - if not for the modern politicos who suffer ignominy under the poisoned pens of today's artist, at least for the voters who have one reason to laugh at the end of a long and excruciating presidential campaign. Recent work by two of the best practitioners of the art of visual satire is on view through Saturday at Georgetown's Susan Conway Gallery, where the 24-year-old, Moscow-born prodigy Roman Genn, who now works and lives in Los Angeles, has joined forces with D.C.'s own Richard Thompson (of The Post's late "Why Things Are" column) to create a bicoastal bipartisan evisceration of American statesmanship. The exhibit features two roomfuls of cartoon likenesses of Bill, Bob and H.
   Ross, as well as many supporting players in the sordid drama that is an election year: Hillary Clinton as St. Joan of Arc, a wooden Al Gore and an ocher-haired Strom Thurmond. One word of warning: Although Genn and Thompson are certainly equal-opportunity character assassins, choosing victims from both sides of the aisle, the exhibit features a preponderance of GOP targets.
   A blushing Susan Conway professes astonishment recently when informed of the nearly 2-to-1 ratio of Republicans to Democrats on her walls. " I can't honestly say that I noticed that", Conway protested. "We just tried to pick the best drawings." Thompson says he also was unaware of the imbalance but attributes it to the Republican control of Congress and the lopsided nature of the presidential race. "Hmmmm. Aren't there just more of them?" he ventures. "I mean, let's see, you've got Clinton and Gore, but on the other side there's Dole and Gingrich and Buchanan and Forbes and Bill Bennett..." Although he acknowledges that Dole's "dark and angular" visage can be more fun to draw than Clinton's "funny, puffy face," Thompson is unconcerned that a last-minute visit to the gallery will sway undecided voters. "If anything it may convince them to emigrate," he says with a laugh. "Political Caricature '96", at the Susan Conway Gallery, 1214 30th St. NW. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 202-222-6343.


www.latimes.comLos Angeles Times
February 11, 1993
By RICK VANDERKNYFF


MUGS BY A MUSCOVITE. A RUSSIAN'S CARTOONS OF AMERICA'S NOTABLES AND NOTORIOUS ARE ON VIEW IN IRVINE
   Two years ago, Roman Genn was hawking his comic renderings of Soviet political figures on the streets of Moscow.
   Today, his caricatures of such American faces as Bill Clinton, George Bush and Magic Johnson regularly grace the letters-to-the-editor column of the Los Angeles Times.
   Genn's odyssey between those two points is a tale marked by both video-age good luck and old-fashioned perseverance. Examples of his work, starting with his days in the then-Soviet Union, are on display through Feb.
   19 at Irvine Valley College in Irvine. In 1990, KCET-TV "Videolog" host Huell Howser went to Moscow, met Genn on the street, and included a short segment on the young caricaturist and his mother, Ludmilla, in a one-hour public television special. Donald W. Pine, then editor of the Easy Reader in Hermosa Beach, saw the special, contacted Genn, and began featuring his work alongside that of U.S. cartoonist Matt Wuerker in a regular feature called "Cartoon Wars."
   Meanwhile, back home, Genn's work was getting him into hot water despite the advances of glasnost. He did manage to get a few pieces published in the official press, but mostly the risk wasn't worth the effort: "Editors were yelling at me when I brought things in," he recalled during a recent telephone interview, "so I didn't try very hard."
   In June, 1991, Genn and his mother emigrated to Los Angeles, with help from a synagogue there and from Pine. After a month in this country, Genn again began trying to sell his work and almost immediately The Times bought a piece, relating to the attempted coup in the U.S.S.R. But after that, Genn said, "it took a long time to sell something else" -- eight months, in fact.
   Still, he would visit The Times offices weekly. At one point Jeff Horn, an art instructor from Irvine Valley College who himself was visiting the newspaper, saw Genn's work there and asked about him. "I was really taken with this caricature of Reagan," Horn remembers. "I didn't know the background at all. . . . My initial excitement was that the drawing was so good." When he met Genn and learned his story, he was even more impressed -- first, that Genn was doing successful political caricatures after such a short time in the United States, and second, by Genn's age (he is 20).
   Horn decided to mount a show of Genn's work at the college, in the hallway gallery of the school's arts building. He felt "it would be a great lesson in perseverance and stick-to-itiveness for my students. He's their age. It's especially interesting that this lesson should come from a Russian."
   When asked if it took a long time to understand the American political system, Genn said, "I don't understand it, even now!" Actually, he is staying away from political cartoons as such, but in his caricatures, he has honed in quickly on personalities from U.S. public life. Some prove more difficult than others. Vice President Al Gore is particularly tough for lack of any unusual physical features, Genn says. But he does have his favorites: "I like (failed senatorial candidate Bruce) Herschensohn, (former President Richard M.) Nixon. The scarier the person, the better for me."
Copyright 1993 The Times Mirror Company


 

 

 

 

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