Art editor Fran?oise Mouly knew the New Yorker magazine had to celebrate the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on its cover. But what simple image could rise to the occasion?
Sketched ideas from numerous artists came in by the dozens. Most were portraits, and many focused on physical aspects to represent her, including her robe, her earrings and her glasses.
“Small and unassuming as a person, her thoughts and hard work had transformed her into a towering giant, an inspiration for all the women who have to balance the demands of work and home life,” Mouly says of Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87. “I wish we could have shown every [powerful] image that came in.”
Ultimately, she chose the illustration of veteran cover artist Bob Staake, who rendered Ginsburg’s iconic white collar as a field of female symbols (the circle-and-line glyph) set against a somber black background.
“The moment I heard the news of Ginsburg’s passing Friday evening, I had my idea immediately in my head,” Staake says. “I went out to take a walk before going into the studio. Once there, I knew there was no real need to create a preliminary pencil sketch — I went straight to finish with the art and 10 minutes later, it was emailed to Francoise.”
“Honestly, once I had completed the image, I knew it was strong and had a pretty good chance of being the cover,” Staake notes. “I have had that sense only one other time: When I came up with the idea for ‘Reflection,’ my 2008 cover on Obama’s win as the nation’s first president of color.” (Disclosure: Staake is a contributor to The Washington Post.)
This week, Staake’s instinct proved right again. His Ginsburg artwork, titled “Icons,” “summed it all up into the simplest tribute, stark and moving,” Mouly says.
Like Staake, political cartoonists are trained in finding inspiration on deadline -- though even they can be caught cold by breaking news.
“I was floored by the news, which came in during an otherwise warm and friendly family dinner,” says Signe Wilkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for Philadelphia’s Inquirer.com. “I looked at my just-born granddaughter and thought: She could be in her 40s or 50s before a Trump-appointed jurist retired from the bench.”
Clay Bennett, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, had a similar response: “With Justice Ginsburg’s established record of beating whatever health challenges were thrown at her, maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t expecting to address this issue in a cartoon for some time to come.”
Wilkinson began weighing possible visual metaphors and was soon struck by the idea of a large judge’s gavel upheld by female supporters and the caption, “Carry On!”
“I sketched it and posted it on social media by about 11 Friday night, redrew it and colored it Saturday morning for my newspaper, which posted it on the paper’s site that afternoon,” says Wilkinson of her cartoon, which ran in print editions Monday.
“I went to my drawing board with no clear idea about what I would draw. Luckily, because of a very pressing deadline, an idea came pretty quickly,” says Bennett, noting that he drew the Constitution flying at half-staff to symbolize public mourning as well as the “ideals and principles to which Justice Ginsburg’s life was devoted.”
“I wish I could have come up with something better — I wish I could have drawn something that illustrated just how monumentally important Ruth Bader Ginsburg was to the fight for equality and justice in this country, or how singularly inspiring her life was to women and men around this world,” Bennett adds.
Ginsburg “deserved so much more than I was able to give her, but that’s the problem with a cartoon: Sometimes what you want to say is more than can be expressed in a four-column-wide cartoon.”
Here is how some other cartoonists memorialized her:
John Darkow (Columbia Missourian):
Dave Whamond (Cagle Cartoons):
David Fitzsimmons (Arizona Daily Star):
Dave Granlund (Cagle Cartoons):
(This post has been updated.)