Re/Read: American Presidents by David Levine

Re/Read is an occasional column by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid that examines backlist titles you may have missed or are worthy of another read. This time we’ll look at the work of the late political cartoonist David Levine in American Presidents.

Brooklyn-born David Levine penned political caricatures for nearly five decades. His work appeared in Time, Newsweek, Esquire, The New Yorker, and The Nation, as well as every issue of the New York Review of Books for more than 45 years. His portrayals of presidents, congressmen, candidates, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and trusted advisors – from the Founding Fathers to the Obama administration – are both irreverent and revealing.

It may come as comfort to readers that the republic has survived countless miscreants, malcontents, and misanthropes in our nation’s highest office. Levine’s merciless imagery provides uncommon commentary on the limited intellectual instincts of those we elect to lead our country. But he drew without malice. In an insightful introduction, journalist Bill Moyers observes, “A great intelligence guided his hand, and also a great heart. Even as he held their flaws and foibles high on the skewer, he never seems driven by malevolence.” In the words of the artist, “Presidents have to power to hurt, we only have the power to question. Caricature is very hopeful in the belief that a drawing is going to help make change.” Here’s to that hope.

American Presidents and a large selection of other socially relevant comix can be found at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street in Seattle’s colorful Georgetown arts community. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Phone 206-658-0110.