Picture George Bush dressed as Luke Skywalker. Sarah Palin as Alice in Wonderland. President Barack Obama sitting like The Thinker — on a map of Afghanistan.
These are some of the images in “Drawn From The Economist: The Editorial Art of KAL.” The show at the Cartoon Art Museum includes more than 40 cartoons by Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, who has drawn for the London-based magazine for more than 30 years.
Kallaugher, 55, has produced thousands of cartoons over the years, working on tight deadlines and spending years studying famous faces to capture the essence of who they are.
The hardest part is not the drawing; it’s keeping abreast of the news and figuring out what’s important for the pen.
“My job is not to make people laugh. It’s to make people think,” Kallaugher says. “You’re trying to further the political discourse using a tool which is accessible to the masses.”
Besides being wickedly funny, the cartoons are impressive works of art — meticulously composed and beautifully drawn. Each one has a story.
In 2005, while vacationing in Wyoming, Kallaugher received an e-mail. He’d submitted a sketch to The Economist for a cartoon that showed Uncle Sam and a Chinese dragon drinking oil like a pair of addicts.
The editors liked the sketch and wanted it finished for the cover later that week.
Kallaugher explained that he was at a dude ranch in the middle of nowhere and didn’t have any art supplies. No worries, the editors said. See what you can do and call us back.
Kallaugher talked to the wranglers, who told him to drive 10 miles down a dirt road to a drugstore where there was a woman who liked to paint. He procured some paper and a child’s watercolor set and went to work, sitting at the ranch’s kitchen table.
It took a few hours to get a connection and e-mail the picture. Two days later, “The Oiloholics” appeared in every country in the world.
Kallaugher says some politicians are easier to draw than others. Ronald Reagan had plenty of wrinkles to work with, while Dan Quayle looked like “a Midwestern weatherman.”
“I don’t want to have an easy person to draw,” Kallaugher says. “I want a face that’s going to be interesting and challenging.”
Although he’s American, Kallaugher lived in England for 11 years. He moved to Baltimore in 1988 and drew political cartoons for the Baltimore Sun until 2006. These days he’s working on animation and his post as an artist-in-residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
What’s surprising about the exhibition, says museum curator Andrew Farago, is how it resonates with the younger set.
“I’ve seen kids react really strongly,” Farago says. “It’s prompted them to pull out their sketchbooks and start drawing.”
IF YOU GO
Drawn From The Economist: The Editorial Art of KAL
Where: Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes March 13
Tickets: $7 general, $5 seniors and students, $3 children 6 to 12, free for children 5 and under; “pay what you wish” first Tuesday each month
Contact: (415) 227-8666, www.cartoonart.org