WASHINGTON — On TV, President Bush looks like a normal middle-aged guy. But in editorial cartoons he's a beady-eyed buffoon with Dumbo the Elephant ears.
All politicians endure such pummeling from cartoonists, and it tends to get worse the longer they're in office. That's because politicians' inevitable blunders deliver fodder for ridicule even as the cartoonists' skills in caricaturing their features grow.
As Bush's popularity has dropped in the polls, for example, his cartoon alter-ego has shrunk.
"He's gotten smaller and smaller, and his ears have gotten bigger and bigger," said Matt Davies, the cartoonist for The Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y. "I draw him small because he's intellectually insignificant."
Steve Kelley, the cartoonist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, draws Bush with a "tortoise mouth, beady eyes that are close together" and big ears.
"But I try not to overdo it with the ears," he said. "Sometimes I think there's too much of an emphasis on the ears."
Other approaches range from Ted Rall of Universal Press Syndicate's Bush-as-Latin-American-dictator to Miami Herald cartoonist Jim Morin's cowboy-boot-clad Dubya.
The trick, which can take months or years to master, is to draw a particular politician in a funny and exaggerated — but still recognizable — way. That means capturing that person's physical and intellectual essence so well that no name is needed.
Kelley likened the process to learning to sign your name: With repetition, the writing becomes looser and more stylized.
During a politician's first months in office, cartoonists study photographs and video clips and often check out each other's drawings. The result is a kind of collective shorthand.
"With the Internet, now everyone's seeing everyone else's work," Kelley said. "In some ways it's a good thing: Even though there are about 85 cartoonists who are drawing (Bush), their cartoons look enough alike that people can recognize him."
While some cartoonists said they'll miss drawing Bush when he leaves office, others can't wait for fresh material. Still others, such as Morin, say all politicians "are really a joy to draw."
"Hillary will be fun, Obama will be fun, Giuliani will be a blast," Morin said. "The only time it'll be difficult to draw somebody is if they're flawless."
Some politicians appreciate cartoons. Some don't.
In 1973 Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad made it onto Richard Nixon's enemies list for his scathing work.
Many public figures, however, collect even the most negative cartoon depictions of themselves. The British royal family in the 1700s and early 1800s collected nearly 10,000 royalty-mocking drawings, according to the 2006 book "Cartoon America." Some of the prints showed royals punching each other in the face and cavorting with semi-nude prostitutes.
Dwane Powell, the cartoonist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., said politicians often ask him for prints. Among them: President Ronald Reagan and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt.
"Sometimes you wince when you look at them," said Hunt, "but you know that you were there and you were in the arena: Those memories flow back to you.
"People who have been in public office probably appreciate and treasure the political cartoons more than anything else they leave office with," he added.