Artist illustrated President Trump tweets to help “understand him”

3:18 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 Community
Cartoonist Shannon Wheeler of Portland, OR inside the Artist Independent Republic gallery at EMKO, Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Wheeler’s exhibit “My President Says” will be on display at EMKO until February 10. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, cartoonist Shannon Wheeler  was trying to put together a book of his work that had been published in “The New Yorker,” “Mad” magazine and “The Onion.”

“But my heart wasn’t in it,” said Wheeler, who said at the time he was still thunderstruck by Trump’s election. “I was complaining about Trump to a friend who I think got sick of me, so he said I should do a book illustrating Trump’s tweets.”

Wheeler began by reading 30,000 tweets from Trump’s account, dating back to 2009.

“I read through the first 10,000 and had to take a break because I began to have bad dreams,” said Wheeler. “I do parodies for a living, but in this case, parody caught up to reality.”

Wheeler, known for his angsty Too Much Coffee Man  cartoons, began by channeling his 7th grade self, the 12-year-old who amused himself and his friends by drawing snarky cartoons of his teachers.

It was cathartic, but not really satisfying for a mature, adult cartoonist, if those two descriptors aren’t mutually exclusive.

He sought a narrative thread, something to help him figure out what the country’s unpredictable new president was thinking.

“I realized that it could be a way for me to understand him,” said Wheeler.

His illustrations ultimately became a book called “(Stuff) My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump,” although he uses a synonym for “stuff” that we usually don’t print in this newspaper.

Cartoons from the book, greatly enlarged, are on display in an exhibit at EMKO restaurant and gallery in West Palm Beach through February 10.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Artwork by cartoonist Shannon Wheeler of Portland, OR inside the Artist Independent Republic gallery at EMKO, Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Wheeler’s exhibit “My President Says” will be on display at EMKO until February 10. Courtesy of Shannon Wheeler

Each cartoon reprints one of Trump’s actual tweets including the date it was tweeted, accompanied by one of Wheeler’s illustrations.

Although Wheeler is no fan of the president, most of his cartoons are sly, sometimes almost gentle, pokes at Trump’s bluster, rather than angry, political diatribes. Rather than despair, the tone settles at wry exasperation at the absurdity of some of the president’s tweets.

“Trump wears his personality flaws on his sleeve,” said Wheeler, who was in town last week for the opening of his exhibit. “He’s like Tony Soprano without the charisma, or maybe, Tony Soprano without the therapist,” he quipped.

Some of Wheeler’s cartoons are straightforward, such as one of the president watching it snow that accompanies Trump’s 2013 tweet: “It’s freezing outside, where the hell is global warming”??

Others require context.

When the Washington Post revealed that Trump once spent $10,000 from the Donald J. Trump charitable foundation to purchase a portrait of himself, which was hanging at the Trump National Doral Miami resort, Trump tweeted, “I gave millions of dollars to DJT Foundation, raised or received millions more. ALL of which is given to charity and media won’t report!”

Wheeler shows Trump carrying a portrait of himself with a price tag attached.

Before his inauguration, Trump tweeted an obviously staged photo of himself at Mar-a-Lago with felt tip pen and legal pad, supposedly writing his inaugural address. What became obvious to anyone who has visited Trump’s private Palm Beach club was the fact that the photo had been taken in a tiled alcove where the club’s receptionist sits.

Wheeler drew Trump boorishly booting a secretary from her spot, saying, “I need your desk.”

“Sometimes, I’ll point out the hypocrisy in what he says, like in the Muslim sports cartoon,” said Wheeler, who has won two Eisner awards, the comic’s equivalent of the Oscars.

In 2015, Trump tweeted, “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?”

To illustrate Trump’s misinformation, Wheeler drew an illustration of Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and several NFL players who are all Muslim.

But Wheeler isn’t above throwing a few overripe tomatoes at Trump. After all, it’s pretty much a cartoonist’s job description.

“This is what I do, I make fun of authority figures,” he said.

In 2013, Trump tweeted about his branded cologne, called Success.

“Many people have commented that my fragrance, “Success” is the best scent & lasts the longest,” wrote Trump, which Wheeler decorated with a drawing of a toilet.

“It’s a cheap shot, but I’m not above a cheap shot,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “But, I genuinely wanted to understand him. This is another angle in which to look at him, a way to deconstruct him.”

In the beginning, Wheeler, like a lot of cartoonists, drew Trump as an ogre, before deciding it was more revealing to portray him as a sulky and peevish child, prone to tantrums and telling whoppers.

“He feels justified in whatever he’s doing, the way a child would,” said Wheeler, who tweets at @MuchCoffee, “so I made him a bit of a Richie Rich, and yes, I did make the hands a little smaller than normal.”

Although Wheeler’s book came out in August, he found he couldn’t ignore some of the president’s more recent tweets.

He’s published a paperbook ‘zine called, “Trump Tweets, Contd.”