I grew up in the age of newspapers. We were a Los Angeles Times family. I remember three things about the Times: Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson, and Conrad. Ah, Conrad. His editorial cartoons were artistic and provocative. He even came to my high school to inspire the futures of an auditorium full of teens. I rarely agreed with him politically, but I did love his art and his voice.
Now that I’m old, I’ve grown to appreciate the “voice.” I love listening to people, who are passionate and informed regardless of whether I agree with them or not. From Pablo Bryant comes a documentary about the state of editorial cartooning today and its most prolific member in Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End.
“…graphic, offensive, and for the lack of a better word, art.”
Mr. Fish is Dwayne Booth. He is an artist, a rebel, and a contrarian. His work appeared in LA weekly, Harpers, the Village Voice, and The Nation. Back when they published cartoons. Mr. Fish’s voice, and others like him, are methodically being silenced by a news media that now shies away from controversy. Yes, even today.
You would except a film about an artist to be full of artwork…and it is. Mr. Fish’s style ranges from hilarious line art and “childish” drawings to incredibly detailed photo-realistic pencil art. His contemporary work is graphic, offensive, and for the lack of a better word, art.
The work of Mr. Fish, Bryant selects is his best. But beyond the art, Bryant’s documentary is filled with fascinating moments worth-watching. Mr. Fish’s agent is brutally honest about why Fish is not able to find work. Papers want cartoons that don’t offend in fear of a social media backlash. And as an admitted Liberal, readers loved it when he attacked the Bush administration, but when he told his truth about President Obama, specifically showing him dressed as the police officers arresting Martin Luther King, Jr., no paper would run those pieces.
“The return of the debate is why this documentary is important…”
Also included are real moments in Mr. Fish’s private life. Being married to an artist is not easy. Financially-speaking, being married to a political cartoonist is almost impossible. Fish is fortunate to have a working wife, who understands the passion of the artist and the financial bounty they can never provide. We get to peek in on some frank talk about their finances and some tough, unpopular decisions that need to be made.
If there is a message to Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End, it is the realization that in this high charged divide that this nation is experiencing, the climate is not getting better. Mr. Fish observes that “it is depressing that the places where you can have a political conversation or significant conversations about what’s happening with the culture…are dwindling.” The return of the debate is why this documentary is important.
Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End (2017) Directed by Pablo Bryant. Written by Pablo Bryant and Adam Lichtenstein. Starring Mr. Fish, Robert Scheer, and Graham Nash.
4 out of 5 stars