Since 1989, Mike Luckovich has been delighting fans on the left and enraging detractors on the right as editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Luckovich won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 and 2006 for his cartoons, and the 2005 Reuben Award, presented by the National Cartoonist Society, for Cartoonist of the Year. He has published several collections of his work, and his latest offering is “The Twisted History of the GOP,” which was published Tuesday, Sept. 6.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What were the formative political events when you were a young person that made you so liberal?
A: I grew up in Seattle, and my parents weren’t very political. I was a big Mad Magazine fan. In high school I started being interested in politics and I started following some editorial cartoonists and then started working for my high school newspaper. I didn’t even know what it meant to be conservative or liberal. There was never a time where I thought, “Gee, I’m a liberal.”
I care about people. I would like the world to be a better place. I would like the United States to keep moving forward and not go backward. That’s sort of the definition of a liberal, to make things better for all people, not just for old white guys.
Q: How do you categorize yourself politically? Democrat? Progressive? Or as some of your admirers say, a Commie pinko?
A: [Laughs.] Progressive. I’m a Democrat. I know Democrats aren’t perfect. When Obama was president, I didn’t do a lot of cartoons hitting him, but I did a few.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become even more liberal. I want everyone to be able to do well in this country whether they’re straight or gay, trans, Black or white. We could be such a great country; we just have to keep moving forward and thinking about all of us.
Q: How much media do you consume during the day to make sure you have the right topic for the next day’s cartoon? Do you worry it’s too much media, sort of professional doom scrolling?
A: I do worry about that. I’m on Twitter all day long, reading the AJC and various blogs and media. I have to keep in mind my readers may not be as up on things as I am cause I’m just immersed in it. I have to ask is this an issue or event that people are gonna be aware of outside of heavy Twitter users?
Q: Some comedians have said Trump as a topic is simultaneously too easy because every day he does something so outside anything we could previously imagine, and also difficult to satirize because you can’t exaggerate what he does. Is that a problem for you?
A: Yeah. Having Trump around is like being married to a nymphomaniac. It’s fun at first. And then it just becomes miserable. It’s really hard to top his crazed stupidity. And it’s sort of the same nonsense over and over but it keeps getting worse.
Q: There’s a cartoon early in the book of a torture chamber with a rack stretching the word “Truth” and George W. Bush says “Keep stretching.” After the 2020 election, Trump’s lies didn’t just stretch the truth but demolished it. Does that earlier cartoon seem almost quaint to you now?
A: [Laughs.] It does. There is no truth anymore; it’s been obliterated. He’s got 30% of the electorate saying, “Yup, the election was stolen.” I get so despairing of some of my fellow Americans.
Q: But do you ever stop and think you’re not really changing anybody’s mind?
A: Yeah. Politics has sort of become like religion. You can make a point but some people are just not gonna buy into it. But I have to keep saying what I think the truth is. People who tend to agree with me, who see all this going down, they feel they have no voice, but they tell me they really appreciate my cartoons. They’re not alone feeling how crazy things have gotten. And I try to use humor so that even people who don’t agree with me will look at the cartoons and maybe I can make a difference.
Q: Who approves your cartoons before they are published?
A: They go to editorial page editor Andre Jackson and then editor Kevin Riley.
Q: Have any of them been challenged or rejected over the years?
A: Oh sure. When I’m coming up with an idea, I’m looking at those sketches and I look and look and pretty soon it loses its meaning to me even though I came up with it, like repeating a word over and over. So I need an editor to look at my sketches to make sure they make sense. Sometimes I’ve done a cartoon and the symbolism overwhelms the cartoon, the point I was making.
I do some fairly controversial cartoons and I upset some people. The AJC has been really good at letting me say what I want to. Years ago they used to just have my cartoon and then they decided to also run a right-wing cartoon. At first I didn’t think that was a great idea, but now I think it’s so great because I can be myself and say what I want knowing the right wing is there too.
Decatur Book Festival
9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. First Baptist Church of Decatur, 308 Clairmont Ave., Decatur. decaturbookfestival.com.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.