Pow! O-Man and Milt Rhomboid Battle in Comic Veteran's Satirical Strip

Robert Grossman has invented campy cartoon counterparts for presidents ever since Nixon, but these days, it's tougher for him to find a showcase for his Obama saga.

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Robert Grossman

In 2008, during the run-up to the presidential election, veteran comic strip artist Robert Grossman, known for his wickedly funny airbrush caricatures of the famous and venal, introduced O-Man, an earnest superhero who resembled the then presidential candidate who currently sits in the oval office:

    On the one hand there's Senator Barack Obama—just an ordinary Hawaiian Kenyan-Kansan who once lived in Indonesia and was President of the Law Review. And then there is the mysterious O-Man whose abilility to fly enables him to resue kittens from trees.

From his perch in O-Manland, our hero soars over the nation, primed to swoop down and engage in "random acts of heroism." All the while fending off his predatory rivals—Milt Rhomboid, former president of Drain Capital, Paul "Nursery" Rhyme (whose trademark couplet is "I got mine. So Take a Hike"), his battle with Rich Gingnewt (whose "scaly cold-bloodedness [is] simply irresistible") now over.

O-Man, however, does not have what every superhero and anti-hero needs most: media sinecure. O-Manland resides on its own website, but the publishing outlets for a contiguous satiric comic strips have dwindled. So Grossman accepts any viable print venue that he can get, notably the ocassional piece in The Nation and The New York Observer. Yet this was not always the state of his art.

In Clay Felker's New York Magazine of the '70s, Grossman was given "free rein to do whatever I liked in a little space that appeared under New York Magazine's weekly politics column titled The City Politic," he recalled in an interview. "It was Watergate time and there was much talk about bugs and bugging. I drew some insects named Haldebug and Ehrlichbug serving their master, the terrifying Richard M. Nightcrawler," he said. "Over time, the space developed into a slightly larger comic strip called 'Zoonooz,' featuring a president prone to bumping his head called Gerald Duck, and a Disneyesque movie star called Ronald Rodent." When Rupert Murdoch assumed control of New York Magazine, "Zoonooz" moved for several months to Rolling Stone before fading away with most of its characters stranded on a planet orbiting Arcturus.

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Grossman rejects the notion that his work is partisan. "I don't think cartoons are ever 'for' anything," he said. "The idea is to ridicule everything, although you are free to guess for whom I am likely to vote when the time comes."

After "Zoonooz," and thanks to Victor Navasky and Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation hired Grossman to record the antics of the amazing flying squirrel Cap'n Bushy, who somewhat resembled George Herbert Walker Bush, and his archenemy, the world's worst weasel, Saddie the Baddie. And then... "Coming from Little Rock as they did," Grossman said, "it seemed the Clintons were a natural to be cast in the stone-age saga, 'The Klintstones,' which The Nation ran episodically."

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Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

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