Always an artist on the respective fringes of fine art and alternative comics, Warren Craghead has carved his own niche exploring repetition, societal ills, and what can be learned from investigating both of them through sequential illustration. His topical current project has taken this practice to the harrowing next level.
The tagline at the top of Craghead’s new blog is “Donald drawn daily until this nightmare ends.” That has served as a warning and a threat, as Craghead has done just that—drawing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, seemingly more and more abominable, each and every day.
I wanted to know why Craghead embarked on this venture, what toll, if any, it has taken on him, and if outlandish caricatures and political cartoons can teach us anything in this era of current events.
RJ CASEY: Is there an official title of this blog? What do you call it?
WARREN CRAGHEAD: Trump Trump. I took that Tumblr name because I wanted to use the Trump name and then realized when you repeated the name, it also works as a verb at the same time. I started doing it at the spur of the moment during the Republican National Convention, thinking, “I should do this.” Luckily, Tumblr makes it very easy to start a project like this and share it.
You started it during the convention? What was the spark there that prompted you to start this daily drawing project?
The first drawing went up the night Trump accepted the Republican nomination. I decided I will then draw him daily until, hopefully, early November, when he loses. I wanted to pair the drawings with actual quotes from him, along with a link back to that quote, so it’s not like I just made it up. During the first few weeks, some people argued with me that he didn’t say those things, but I could then point out exactly where it came from.
This project is kind of a companion piece to two other projects I do. One’s called ladyh8rs and the other is called USAh8rs. Ladyh8rs are grotesque portraits of misogynist public figures and with USAh8rs, I draw grotesque portraits of un-American public figures, but my idea of un-American is probably different than what people usually associate with that word. If you’re racist, you’re un-American. If you’re anti-feminist, you’re un-American. If you’re a homophobe, you’re un-American. Trump, of course, fits all these bills.
I wanted to draw him because I feel like we are really reaching a new low. He’s horrible in every way and every day brings a new revelation of corruption or his willful ignorance or his belligerence. It makes it very easy to want to fight him and what he stands for.
And are these drawings actively fighting him?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t have any grandiose ideas of changing tons of people’s minds, but I wanted to make this a daily thing because I’m worried. Not so much about the people who are hardcore Trump supporters — I know I’m not going to change any of their minds. I’m worried about the people who are going to hold their noses, but vote for him anyway. The people who will willfully squint their eyes and not take into account the stuff he’s saying and doing. So everyday when I put my drawing up on my Tumblr and all of my social media feeds, I go, “Here’s a picture of him and here’s something he’s said.” I want to bring to the forefront the idea that you can’t just pretend he’s a good guy. I will put up drawings of him again and again and hopefully some people will realize this again and again.
With other projects I’ve done—I’m doing a project where I’m drawing World War I a 100 years later and another project where I’m drawing the Armenian genocide—everyday I do a drawing and put them up. After a couple years of being into these projects I began to realize that a daily thing can have its own rhythm, slowly eroding away and dripping into people’s subconscious. I’m hoping by continually showing that this guy’s really horrible, some people may overcome their partisanship and not vote for him.
You mention, “eroding away.” Does drawing Trump and genocide day after day have an effect on you? Does it erode you away?
That’s a good question. [Laughs] With Trump, it doesn’t. I find a little delight in drawing him because he’s such an animated and weird guy. I’ve never drawn one person this many times. Usually figures I draw are less of a specific person. I’m made comics my whole life, but I’ve never really thought of myself as a cartoonist, but now I’m learning some of the things that good cartoonists know how to do. You have to learn how to draw somebody. A real good political cartoonist will know how to draw President Obama—they’ll exaggerate the ears or the skinny neck or something. You pick up on traits. I’ve been making comics and drawing for twenty-five years, but am just now learning basic things about political cartooning by drawing the same guy over and over.
Do you consider yourself a political cartoonist?
I fought against the idea of being thought of as a cartoonist. I come from the fine arts world and just thought of this as making drawings. I admire a lot of people who are great cartoonists, but I never thought of myself that way. But yeah, I guess I am. Trump is a political figure and I’m drawing caricatures of him—that’s pretty cut and dry. But it’s not like the classic editorial-page cartoons with elephants and donkeys. I do realize that I’m backing my way into political cartooning in a weird way.
Some of the reasons I started this blog, or the reasons I draw Syrian refugees or victims of drone strikes, is to make myself look at it and really see it. A few years ago, I drew illustrations of a gas attack in Syria where the government officials killed hundreds of kids and civilians. I only heard about it, but finally I Googled images of it and it is horrifying to see. I made myself look at these images and made myself draw them. I made myself witness it. I know it’s nothing like being there or being a part of it, but still, it’s a lesson and a reminder.
With Trump, drawing him is reminding me everyday that this man’s a monster.
All the portraits have a similar feel—they are usually staring straight ahead at the viewer. How much of that is planned? How much prep work goes into these drawings?
I usually draw them in batches. They are all on index cards in pencil. I find photographs of him smiling, winking, doing gestures with his hands, and draw from those. Then I just take a photo of them using the camera on my phone.
Some of the drawings have an ominous shadow coming in from different angles. Is that light pencil shading or from using your phone?
That’s just from taking a photo of the drawing. I like things dirty and distressed. I could go into Photoshop and clean it up and make it really nice, but I don’t mind the grit and grime in my stuff. If there’s a shadow or wrinkle in the paper, I make a choice to leave it there.
You’re known for your poetic, minimal comics, but these Trump drawings are a departure from your usual style. They are so in-your-face and outrageous. Was this a conscious shift in style and tone?
It’s been happening slowly over time. A couple years ago at SPX, I had a table and had my experimental poetry comics there. A person came up to me and said, “I’ve seen your stuff on Comics Workbook.” Those are the comics I do about my kids, so they are straight up fun and goofy. The person said, “I really liked those a lot,” then picked up my books and put them down and walked away.
Many people come to my work from many different ways. I think what you’re mentioning is similar to that. I didn’t change my style consciously. Starting with the ladyh8rs project, and even before that, when the Egyptians kicked out Mubarak, I was so overcome with how awesome that was and the ability to watch a live feed of it, that I just started drawing and made a book about it. Since then, things have happened—I’ve been drawing the Black Lives Matter movement, I drew hundreds of images from the Mike Brown crime scene in Ferguson. It’s my way of witnessing it and making sure I’m seeing it. I am never going to pretend to be a part of it or be important at all, but I can’t help but be affected by these things.
That leads into my Trump blog. And you’re right, this is far way from what I’ve done in the past, but I’ve been discovering more about myself from doing it.
What does the future hold for this blog?
Hopefully in November, I can stop drawing him.
So there’s an end game in sight?
Yeah, when the election happens. I’ve had several people ask me to print the drawings up in a collection and I’m going to try to figure out how to do that in a way that I can somehow raise money to oppose him.
If he wins, will you continue do this everyday?
I figure if he wins, he’ll continue to keep saying stupid, horrible things, so I guess I’ll keep doing it. There’s a part of me that really likes these projects where I sign myself up to do something on a daily or weekly basis. Sticking to it keeps you honest. I was talking to a friend a mine, a younger artist, and she asked, “Why do you do these things?” I said that with all the distractions of jobs, kids, family, everything else, I just have do it. I made a commitment to an audience, no matter how small, to do this and carry it through. Even if it’s just a little bit every day, it quickly adds up. These kinds of projects can be useful to some artists, and they are definitely useful to me. As for Trump . . . please don’t vote for him so I don’t have to draw him anymore. [Laughter]
How has this project changed your perception of caricaturists or editorial cartoonists?
I always had a healthy respect for artists who could take a brief thought and turn it around and make it something awesome very quickly. It’s just incredible what some illustrators can do. There are tons of artists, especially in the comics world, that can make great work with no money and no time at all. For the past year, I’ve worked at a non-profit contemporary art gallery, and I can say that there’s more great work in one row at SPX than there is in the contemporary fine arts world as whole. That might get me in trouble.
I’ve learned a lot about shorthand tricks and small variations, and how hard learning those can be. I have even more respect now for the people who can draw the same characters, page after page, and keep it all interesting.
Has this daily routine changed your perception of Donald Trump at all?
You’d think it might turn into Stockholm syndrome at some point. [Laughter] Maybe one day I’ll look at a drawing I just completed and go, “He’s not so bad.”
But you draw him as some kind of boorish, melting monster!
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s getting gross. His nose fell off very early, and now his ears have fallen off too.
I read through a lot of horrible things he’s said to find the quotes for the blog. It’s not made me sympathetic towards him, but it’s made me understand him a lot more. He is a weak person that bullies people into giving him approval. He’s so puffed up that I think he even knows that he’s hollow underneath it all. It’s scary now because he could be president, but I think he’s sad and probably lonely. He’s never had any friends because he’s a terrible man.
Is this understanding something you try to express through your illustrations of him?
I want to push how far out I can draw him while still keeping him human. It’s taken me a while, but I feel like I’ve gotten him nailed down. I want to make him look on the outside the way he seems on the inside.