Betty White defeated me.
If you’ve been here more than twice, you are probably aware that I don’t like what we call in the business “obituary cartoons.” And even when I do draw them, I try not to use the pearly gates or Heaven tropes. Even in a week with some very high-profile deaths, John Madden, Archbishop Desmond Tuto, and Harry Reid, I didn’t draw an obit cartoon. Though I did consider drawing one cartoon featuring all three of those people, I was in Washington, the Ghislaine Maxwell verdict had just come in, and I didn’t feel like doing it. But, you would have liked it.
You would have liked it because people like nice obit cartoons. I had a couple of editors in the past tell me they were their very favorite cartoons, which I found very disturbing but it’s indicative of editors in the newspaper business. They prefer nice and sweet over harsh and brutal. Readers like them too. I once had a widow call me the day after her husband died to thank me for the cartoon I drew on it (to be fair, she already knew me). That blew me away because with all the things going on around her on that day, she took a moment to call me.
But to me, I think these are the worst cartoons in the business. They’re not a real challenge to cartoonists and they don’t put a lot of thought into them. For example, they’ll often put atheists, Muslims, and Jews at the pearly gates. When I worked at newspapers, I learned that the nice and sweet Heaven/pearly gates tropes worked really well with local people. Those days were basically days off.
I once made a deal with Free Lance-Star editor that every time I had to “take the day off” to draw a nice non-irreverent cartoon, that I got to do a hard-hitting cartoon the next day without him hassling me about it. You know, my job. Once, upon seeing an obit cartoon I drew, my editor told me he liked it so much that he nearly had an orgasm, I replied with “I’m gonna go home now, take a shower with steel wool, and throw up several times.” That editor often freaked out.
However, obit cartoons have always been a challenge for me.
They’re a challenge for me because I don’t like nice and sweet. Political cartooning is a negative art form and I’m a negative person, at least in regards to the issues I cover. When it comes to politics and expectations of those who are rich and powerful, I’m a glass-half-full-of-horse-piss kind of person. So, they’re a challenge for me because I usually try something irreverent with them. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to be cruel or vindictive to the recently deceased, but more like trying to make a point. Those are the best obit cartoons in my business. And sometimes I get screamed at a lot when I do those. My Mike Nesmith cartoon received more harsh reactions in 2021 than any of my guns, abortion, Trump, or January 6 cartoons did. My GoComics page lit up that day.
So I tried the same approach with Betty White. I wanted to use her death to make a point, but not in a cruel way toward her. I gave up on pointing out she died on the last day of 2021 because by the time any newspaper could publish the cartoon, readers will be so over documenting the new year. Quite frankly, aren’t you a little tired of all the year-in-review shit by now? So, I thought the more interesting aspect was that she died 18 days short of her 100th birthday. C’mon, death. Why would you do that?
There was a huge television special planned for her 100th birthday. People Magazine already had her on the cover for her 100th. Stop the presses. But, before I could get my cartoon idea, I had to find my point. I couldn’t find one.
I couldn’t find one except that everyone loves Betty White. How many times have you heard someone quote Betty White? Seriously, you have. I love Betty White, and I’m a negative person. She’s awesome. In fact, I re-watched The Proposal about a week ago which was made when Betty was around 90, and she was fit and spry in that. She also stole the movie, even with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds starring it, just like she stole every scene she was in on The Golden Girls, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Hot in Cleveland. She stole Saturday Night Live from the entire cast of comedians. She beat Deadpool…and she beat me too.
She beat me because I broke down and drew a nice and sweet cartoon for Betty White, the animal lover. I couldn’t find any other way than to be nice and sweet to Betty White. And while I don’t believe in Hell, one would probably be made for me if I did something other than nice and sweet for Betty White. And one of my proofers, Laura, told me that this is the cartoon that best shows how Betty White would want to be greeted in Heaven.
Laura and Hilary, my two proofers, kinda gushed over this cartoon and even forgot to tell me if all the words were spelled correctly. Laura told me she liked the cartoon more than I did. I believe her. And you will probably like it more than I do too.
But I do like it. Don’t tell anyone, but I smiled a few times while drawing the dogs. Aw, shut up.
Don’t you start with me on this cartoon being nice and sweet. Not you too. But, I like Betty White. I in fact, I love Betty White…and I love dogs too.
Music note: I did not listen to any music while drawing this cartoon but I did attach the chorus of Taylor Swift’s “Betty” to the 30-second TikTok vid of this (the version without the F-word). I thought it was kinda sweet with it.
Clay Jones is the 2022 recipient of the RFK Human Rights Journalism Award in Editorial Cartooning, and won a 2021 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists. He was a finalist for the Herblock Prize in 2019 and a finalist for the National Headliner Award in 2020. See more award-winning editorial cartoons from him at Claytoonz.com.