Political cartoonist elevates humor to art form

(CBS News) Cartoonists have been lampooning politicians since the days of Ben Franklin.

One cartoonist has elevated that humor to an art form, using his pen to poke fun and make a powerful point.

CBS News caught up with Matt Wuerker this week and found out how he makes politics humorous.

Wuerker says there's a "certain magic" about a good cartoon.

In a long, drawn-out campaign season, Wuerker has his hands full.

When asked what the election cycle has been like for him as a cartoonist, Wuerker said, "The Republican primary was fantastic. I mean, you know Donald Trump, you're kidding me right? It doesn't get any better than that."

Wuerker is the political cartoonist at the inside the beltway newspaper Politico, where he paints his unique spin on the country's politics. So how does Wuerker caricature the candidates?

Mitt Romney: "He's got this sort of blockhead," Wuerker said, "and that Romney hair."

And President Barack Obama: "His ears stick out. He's got an extremely broad, toothy smile. That's great for cartoonists."

Wuerker says he started drawing political cartoons in junior high school protesting the war in Vietnam.

"I grew up as a kid following Paul Conrad in the (Los Angeles) Times, and Conrad - he made Nixon's enemies' list," Wuerker said. "I mean, his cartoons had that kind of bite."

Asked if that's his goal in life to make the president's enemies' list, Wuerker said, "That wouldn't be bad, I'd be OK with that. That would be great."

Wuerker said he has heard from the people he satirizes. He recalled a cartoon attacking Donald Rumsfeld during the Iraq War: "I got an email from a colonel in the Pentagon who said that [Secretary Rumsfeld] had seen the cartoon and was wondering if he could have the original to hang on his wall, which just filled me with such mixed emotions. I wanted him to feel the sting of my pen. And he wanted to hang it on his wall!"

The ideas come from everywhere, a steady diet of reading the papers, checking Twitter feeds, even mundane events.

After 30 years of satirizing Washington's elite, this year, Wuerker received newspapers' highest honor, a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.

This week, Wuerker was taking on the perception that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan could be outshining the top of the ticket. In his latest cartoon, Wuerker depicts Romney as Robin and Ryan as Batman.

But Wuerker said he's not trying to vilify with his work. "There are plenty of cartoonists who do that and I don't think that's good for democracy," he said. "I don't mind poking people with a stick, but I don't feel like I need to poke them in the eye with a stick."

Watch Chip Reid's full report in the video above.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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