Sharp pen, sharper wit

David Horsey pokes ‘em where it hurts.

At the height of “Monicagate,” David Horsey took on President Clinton.

The editorial cartoonist drew an devastating yet apt portrait of “Bubba” Clinton clad in socks and heart-print boxers, slouched in a lawn chair in front of a trailer, soda in hand and a cheeseburger resting on his gut, watching a TV rigged with a coat-hanger antenna.

The caption: “Sure, I’ll testify to Ken Starr, but only in a manner that preserves the dignity of the presidency!”

Republicans have also been subjects of Horsey’s rapier wit; over 30 years, the two-time Pulitzer-winning cartoonist has lampooned local lights and national luminaries, political figures and causes from radical left to far right.

“I’ve always tried to maintain an independence,” he said. “I figure there’s fools on all sides.”

Horsey, began cartooning in Seattle public schools, drawing “cowboys and Indians” when he’d finish assignments early.

His flair took him to the University of Washington, where he studied journalism and worked for the student newspaper. Horsey discovered he loved newspapers, but still didn’t see a clear career path for cartooning.

But he kept drawing, and within a year of graduating with a degree in communications, Horsey was turning out cartoons for Bellevue’s Journal American. After working as a government reporter and political columnist in Olympia, he was hired by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

In 1986, Horsey took a break from cartoons; on a scholarship from the Rotary Foundation, he pursued a master’s degree in international relations at England’s University of Kent at Canterbury, studies he says have enriched his cartoons.

Horsey also found he relished the autonomy of the editorial cartoonist.

“It’s a different, oddball thing,” he said. “It’s like being a columnist, but even beyond that, because a columnist still has an editor who thinks things should be changed.”

While content of his cartoons has ranged from the WASL tests to Seattle traffic, his favorite subject remains the president – and the larger than life, the better.

“Reagan and Clinton were great, there was something big about them both,” he said, “but Carter and ‘George Bush the First,’ they’re too life-like.”

He looks forward to drawing presidential candidate John Kerry, whose “big hair and long face” invite caricature.

Although Horsey says he often receives negative letters from readers offended by his work, the subjects of his cartoons are flattered, rather than put off.

“The people I draw, these are people with big egos,” he said. “They want signed copies of the cartoons. It’s as if they’ve made it if they’re the subject.”

Like most editorial cartoonists, Horsey found his drawing style early and his work has remained quite consistent.

“Typically there’s no time for more development,” he said. “Every day I’m trying to hit a deadline.”

Nonetheless, his drawing style has become more refined, trading bold dark strokes for more delicate line – a change Horsey isn’t always sure he likes.

The content of his recent work suffers from a parallel problem, Horsey says, because the price of increased sophistication is often a paralyzing ability to discern nuance.

“My work is more informed, and in some ways that’s made it harder, because I’m seeing too much,” he said. “If you just see the big picture it’s easier. The grey areas really screw it up.”

Over 30 years of cartooning, Horsey has seen the field change. There are, he says, fewer and fewer editorial cartoonists nationwide, a change he attributes to newspapers’ corporate culture. But current state of the world – and particularly the current administration – is “heaven” for Horsey, because he finds no lack of subject matter.

The only drawback, he says, is that he is losing his neutrality.

“I find with our current president, for better or worse, I can’t find a single thing I agree with him about,” Horsey said. “So that makes my work unbalanced.”

Horsey won Pulitzer Prizes in 1999 and 2003, but he’s typically modest about the honor.

“In 1999, I felt like I was getting away with something,” he said. “This year, it struck me that maybe I was doing something right... Once in a while I get sick of doing it, but then I remember what a great job this is. Basically it’s a lot of fun.”

* * * * *

Horsey’s mouth

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer David Horsey will give a multi-media presentation at 7:30 p.m. March 15 in the Bainbridge High School LGI room. The event is part of the 2004 Humanities Inquiry “Breaking News: The State of Today’s Information Media,” sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors at the door. Information: 842-7901, or

A free exhibit on the history of American political cartoons from 1754 to the present is on display through March 31 in the Bainbridge Library meeting room.

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