New Canaan 53

speaker’s corner

Weston Magazine Group: Since 1992, you’ve illustrated more than 80 covers for The New Yorker. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to start with The New Yorker cover from the 2008 Presidential campaign that made you famous, in which you depicted Senator Barack Obama as a turbaned Muslim fist-bumping his wife, who sports military fatigues and carries a gun. Can you tell us what you were thinking when you initially came up with this image? What were you trying to say? Barry Blitt: Sure! As you can imagine, I never tire of explaining a cartoon from six years ago that almost no one got. But seriously: it was meant to be a sly visual collection of all the ridiculous innuendo being spread by then-candidate Obama’s more virulent detractors. I thought it would render the crazy stuff laughable on its face. [Oh, to be middle-aged and naive again.] WMG: Youmust have realized that some readers would be offended. My understanding is that even your own mother was upset at you.What surprised you most about the public reaction? BB: Yeah, I figured there would be some limited outrage. I wasn’t expecting anything so viral. I’d drawn covers that ruffled feathers before, but this was the first one that really had the internet behind it [my previous controversial one was in 1942], and it went from kerfuffle to brouhaha overnight. [Or perhaps vice versa.] But that was what surprised me most—the connectedness of the web, and how the story was suddenly everywhere at once. [And yes, it even reached my mother.] WMG: Any regrets about the cover? BB: I sort of wish it was a better drawing [but that BARRY BLITT THE NEWYORKER’S COVER ILLUSTRATOR UNCOVERED by JacobM. Appel

sentiment isn’t limited to this particular image, alas.] WMG: President Obama has reportedly hung another of your covers in theWhiteHouse and requested an autographed copy of a third. Does this mean that you and Barack have patched things over? BB: Um. I believe [former senior advisor] David Axelrod had a print of a subsequent cover hanging in his office at the White House [“Vetting,” which depicted himself, the President, and Rahm Emmanuel interviewing dogs—when the Obamas were talking about getting a pet]. And someone from the White House called and asked for a signed copy of a cartoon I drew [that featured a donkey doctor putting on a latex glove–about to give an elephant patient a prostate exam, shortly after Obamacare passed]. Apparently it was being given to President Obama. But I’d sort of be amazed if he knows this cartoon was drawn by the same punk who did the


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