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Cartoonist Luckovich: Trying to keep things in context

Mike Luckovich
Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich  

(CNN) -- In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, some of the sharpest -- and most moving -- work about the U.S. mood has come from the pens of the country's editorial cartoonists. CNN spoke with one of those cartoonists, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Pulitzer Prize-winning Mike Luckovich, Sunday morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Editorials can be more than just words and paragraphs -- we're talking editorial cartoons here. ...

Mike Luckovich is with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And you've actually chosen, or at least initially, stayed away from drawing the president.

MIKE LUCKOVICH, EDITORIAL CARTOONIST: I have. Up until September 11 he was my funnest (sic) foil. But I think that he's really handled the crisis well up to this point. There are a few things that I disagree with him about; for instance, he doesn't want to federalize the air traffic security system, and so I'm going to him on that probably in the coming weeks. But for the most part he's done a very good job. And when you have a crisis like this, it's just not good to be kicking someone gratuitously, I think.

SAVIDGE: We've got a couple of your works that we'd like to show people, but we also want to go through your mind; so set us up for the first one here.

"Great news, honey -- they're just bills!"  

LUCKOVICH: OK. Well, I did this one -- this one actually ran today, and it was based on all the anthrax scares we've been getting, so I tried to handle it a little big humorously just to keep it in context and not to get too worked up.

The cartoon is a couple. ... They're in decontamination suits and the wife is holding out some envelopes and she's saying, "Great news honey, they're just bills." No anthrax in those.

SAVIDGE: It's so difficult, I would think, balancing humor against extreme sadness, which you try to do in your cartoons.

LUCKOVICH: Well, this cartoon actually, I did this the second day out. And when you have a tragedy that is so huge, you kind of have to focus on smaller segments of that tragedy to do a cartoon. And so as I was sitting there I was thinking about the firefighters running up into the buildings -- as folks were coming down, they were actually running up. And I just thought, God, that is so amazing. So I started to think, well where did they end up?

"We've reached the top."  

And so this is the cartoon I did. I've got a New York firefighter, and he's radioing down, "We've reached the top." (The firefighters are shown standing at the Pearly Gates.)

SAVIDGE: That says a lot right there.

LUCKOVICH: Well, I appreciate it, thanks.

SAVIDGE: The next one we're looking at, here -- this one is going to be a very strong statement. This is not sort of a humor thing.

LUCKOVICH: Well, no, you know, the way that these terrorists have just perverted the holy Koran is just amazing. And it's just maddening that people buy into this crap, that bin Laden can mislead people and they will follow him and do anything.

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So I did this cartoon within days. It's got a plane labeled "Islamic Terrorists" and I drew the holy Koran as looking like the World Trade Center, and the plane is about to crash into it just to show that they're really hurting what they purport to support.

SAVIDGE: Let's go on to the next one. ... The thoughts that go through your mind on this one?

LUCKOVICH: Right, you know, I was -- President Bush had said we need to get back to our normal routines, and I wanted to show that we, as Americans, were, but I wanted to show it in a good way. And so I drew this cartoon. A gentleman is sitting at home and his wife has come in the door and she's saying: "We need to return to normal routines, so I went shopping." And as you can see, her shopping bags are filled with American flags.

SAVIDGE: Not something people normally would probably buy in that excess.

LUCKOVICH: I know. They are now though, I mean -- I love it. I love going out and seeing flags on cars. It just makes you feel good.

SAVIDGE: Are there certain areas that you just won't go? We mentioned the president, for now. Are there other areas you won't touch?

LUCKOVICH: No. I'm going to -- I'm not going to stop hitting the president when I think that he's not doing the right thing. It's just that there are certain times that are just not appropriate. But I would never shy away from anyone or anything that I think deserves criticisms.

SAVIDGE: I want to move on to, really it's going to be the last one, this one. This one, when I saw it, it is haunting, it's striking, and it's certainly not funny.

LUCKOVICH: No. This was -- I drew this cartoon, this -- I was watching on CNN what happened to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I went to work and I was thinking, "How can I do a cartoon on this? What can I do?" So I spent all day thinking about the cartoon, and just trying to come up with something as good as I could.

So I did the cartoon and I brought it home to my wife and I was so disappointed. I thought I'd really screwed up, but she told me she liked it a lot and the next day readers reacted very positively to it.

It's the Statue of Liberty. She's got a tear in her eye, and reflected in her eyes you can see the second plane about to hit the towers.

SAVIDGE: You've done more with this than just run it in newspapers.

LUCKOVICH: Yes, my newspaper printed 100,000 of these things up in beautiful poster-size. And then area Kroger grocery stores here stocked them and sold them for $5 apiece, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the September 11 Fund. So it was just a great way to sort of help out in the thing, and I'm just glad that people responded as they have to the cartoon.

SAVIDGE: We haven't got a lot of time -- but you don't feel helpless, obviously, even though you are doing, pointing us ...

LUCKOVICH: No, no. I think Osama and all those criminals, they sicken me. And we shouldn't be afraid. We should keep things in context, but these guys are so screwed up, and we are going to defeat them. And I'm confident of that, and I'm just trying to keep things in context with my cartoons.

SAVIDGE: Mike Luckovich, thank you very much for coming in this morning. We look forward to more of your works.

LUCKOVICH: Thank you.


• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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