Smash Pages Q&A: Warren Craghead on ‘TrumpTrump’

The creator of ‘La Grande Guerre’ discusses the latest collection of his drawings of Donald Trump.

Warren Craghead has been drawing Donald Trump and his cronies every day for more than two years, and he’s promised to continue “until this nightmare ends.”

When Craghead began this project, he expected it to last a few months, but he’s an artist who has worked on a number of long-term projects. Comics readers might know him for Speedy, which received the Xeric Grant, as well as How To Be Everywhere and Ley Lines. Online he’s spent years on projects like La Grande Guerre, a daily project detailing World War I, and Medz Yeghern, which documents the Armenian Genocide.

Retrofit Press has just released TrumpTrump: Modern Day Presidential, the second collection of Craghead’s daily drawings. We spoke recently about daily practice and the importance of paying attention.

So you’ve been drawing Trump daily for more than two years now.

I started the night he got the nomination, July 21, 2016. It was exactly six months before Inauguration Day. The first collection is six months, from nomination to inauguration. The latest book is the first six months of the administration, so yeah, I’ve been drawing every day.

When you started this, you didn’t think you were going to be doing it this long.

I thought it was going to be a three-month project! [laughs]

Let me back up. Most of my comics in the past haven’t been political at all. It hasn’t even really been cartooning. It’s more images put together. A few years ago I started a project doing grotesque portraits of misogynist public figures called Ladyhaters. There are a lot of things that happen in politics, especially on a state level, and no one knows who these people are. You just can’t pay attention to everything. So I started drawing them. I’m an artist and that’s how I attack people – through drawing. There’s a side project, USA Haters, which are American public figures who are anti-American, which to me means you’re racist, homophobic, anti-poor. During the Arab Spring I started drawing that. At the time it was really exciting. I saw that I could filter some of the world through my work in this way.

I still sometimes wake up and go, “Trump is President?” I said, “I’ll draw him every day.” I thought I’d be done in November. I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen. I remember the election and I won’t say he won, but he didn’t lose. People on Twitter gave me a hard time, “You said you’d draw until the nightmare was over.” I took a deep breath and was like, “Okay, I’ll keep drawing.”

What’s been great about it is that I get to do something small. It is small and tiny compared to the other battles people are fighting. But I do something. I get to react to what’s happening. And just from an art perspective, if you draw something every day, you get better at it. I think it’s the case of anything. It’s been an interesting journey. And there’s always content. Every day there’s content. [laughs] He never lets up.

This is clearly an interesting artistic challenge, but some days does it just wear on you?

Someone I work with said, “I’m worried about your mental health having to do this every day.” To me it hasn’t been a burden. The only burden has been that other art projects that I’m working on have gone slower or been paused because I’m doing this every day. I like drawing. He’s fun to draw. I would have a harder time if he looked differently. What I’ve done is I steal from all kinds of artists I’m a fan of. I will steal anything to put into this. It’s almost like a conversation I’m having with these artists. There’s one from July 4, 2017 based on the Goya painting Saturn Devouring His Son. It’s a very famous, frightening painting, and I was giggling the whole time I drew this horrifying image. So maybe there is something wrong with me. [laughs] But I’m stubborn. I’m very stubborn. I think that this will keep going. Hopefully not too much longer.

When you started, how did you decide how he should look? Because every artist and political cartoonist had to find a way to portray him.

One of the things about my work before was that I never really drew the same person over and over again. I have such respect for traditional comic book artists because throughout a book they have to draw the characters looking the same, and I have such a hard time with that. I think with Trump – or with any political cartoonist or caricature artist – you will you seize on certain elements. Obviously he has hair. I think he’s got this mouth. He’s got these very defined cheekbones. I think all of us drawing him find these things and then you riff on it. I’ve seen some great work by people that are very minimal.

One of the things for me drawing him every day is that if I kept drawing him the same way, I don’t think I could do that. You can go on the Tumblr page and see that things go in waves. There are times when I’ve drawn him very cartoony, and times when I’ve tried to draw him as he looks, and times when he fades to the background and other things come to the forefront. If you do it every day you’ve got to find variety.

Daily practice in general, I think, is something a lot of us resist when we’re young, but that regimentation of doing something daily and accomplishing something daily is really huge.

It’s the secret, I think. Definitely the secret weapon for every creative person, no matter what they do. And now it’s so easy to publish online for relatively cheap, so now you can make an audience, even if it’s just a few people. You can feel, “I have to do this. They’re waiting for me.” I think it’s a great time to be an artist and a great time to be a young artist. So many things are wide open.

For a project like this, do you worry that you’re just preaching to the choir and drawing a grotesque figure for people who already think he’s doing grotesque things?

He has a lot of hardcore supporters, but he has a lot of soft support. People who hold their noses and support him. When I started, I wanted to remind those people who they were about to vote for. A person who said this and did that and advocates for this policy. Since then it is true, I am preaching to the choir in a lot of ways, but that’s who the preacher preaches to first. The choir. We need to give strength to each other to remind each other that this is not normal. That some of these things that he and his administration are doing are immoral. I do think that there is a bubble effect in a way. I try to engage with people who might be his supporters. As it’s easy for me to ignore them, it’s even easier for them to ignore me. I had a couple encounters on Twitter with people. I was nice to them and said, “If you don’t like my work that’s fine, but I hope you support other artists.” By the end they were nice to me. It’s shocking when people are nice on the internet. [laughs]

I don’t have huge ideas about what this is accomplishing in the wider sense. I’m not changing the world. This is for me. There’s a documentation aspect as well. The new book is the first six months of the administration and there’s a lot of things we forgot about. Sean Spicer and all of his craziness has faded away. How they tried to kill Obamacare that summer. There’s a lot of things I forgot about. I wouldn’t compare this to the hard work being done by people who are real activists or people doing the real political work. I try to do my part with that as well. One thing I did in the recent election was I said online, wherever you are in America I will draw your candidate and send you a jpeg you can print out, as long as you promise to put the posters up. People took me up on it from Texas to New York to Florida. Do I think that changed anybody’s mind? Maybe it reminds people to go out and vote. I think there’s a limited reach of a project like this. I would love to have the work have a wider audience and be seen more. I would love if Donald Trump tweeted mad at me about this. [laughs] Though I shouldn’t wish that since apparently when he does all kinds of crazy people from the internet come at you. I think that one of the most radical things one can do these days is to continue to pay attention to what’s going on. That’s not enough. There’s other people doing much more difficult and challenging things to try to help our country, so I don’t put myself on that level. I’m just a scribbler.

You’ve done long-term projects before this like The Great War.

I have more drawings of that which just haven’t been scanned. The Centennial of the end of World War I was last month, and I have a backlog to scan. The Armenian Genocide project is still going, but that’s going to start winding down as well. These daily projects are good to do, but I need to be a little more judicious with what I sign myself up for. Because I want to do a good job. I want to do justice to them. And I have a day job and kids.

Those projects are historical, but you are trying to document and pay attention to them in a similar way.

For the World War I project I do a drawing every day for what happened that day in the war. I’m behind now – and way behind on posting – but part of that project was feeling just how long it was. Drawing every day doesn’t compare to fighting it or what people in the war zones went through, but you feel exhausted that it’s still going on years later. An offshoot of that is the Armenian Genocide project. I have family who’s Armenian and Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is April 24th, which is my birthday, and I thought, the universe is telling me something. So I started drawing that every day as well. That was something I didn’t know much about and I’ve learned a lot doing that.

Drawing every day forces you to think and look and witness a little bit. Again, I wasn’t there and I try to be careful not to put myself in these, or to act as if I’m suffering. For example I did a book after Assad gassed people in Syria. I found pictures of the victims, adults and children, and I made a book and all the money I made I sent to a nonprofit. I made myself look and pay attention. I do try to balance it out so in my sketchbook I will draw nice things, too. [laughs] I try to draw flowers and my dog and other happy things to cleanse the palate.

There’s something about the fact that you’re spending all this time and energy getting the drawing right, and of course you could draw anything, but there is an implied deal to be as honest as possible.

In every drawing there is an implied artist who made that thing. It’s like the voice in writing. I think that there’s a responsibility with that like Joe Sacco or Molly Crabapple there’s a responsibility to try to present things well. Sometimes I’ve drawn things like the war in Yemen where I’m not trying to make a point like a political cartoonist would, I’m more just drawing the people who are suffering or the people who are in trouble. I think that that can be valuable to help us understand what’s happening in the world. I think none of us want people to suffer or to be hurt. I think people want to be good but it’s hard to pay attention to things. There’s so many things out there, but there’s a lot of good people. Look for the helpers, as Mr Rogers used to say. I’ve used that with my children and I’ve actually told myself that as well. I live in Charlottesville which is famous now for all the bad things that happened here, but there’s a lot of great people here trying to make things better here and everywhere.

You’re in Charlottesville, which makes a lot of people think about the Unite the Right rally, but that was people coming to Charlottesville because there was this long term work that united people in the city across race and class lines to push for change.

They weren’t from here. They were here because we were trying to get rid of those statues. Those participation trophies. It was definitely something from outside, but we have to be careful for ourselves as well and pay attention to what we believed and interrogate ourselves. There’s no shame in changing your mind about something. There’s a couple times with Trump where I have friends from high school who are Trump supporters and I’ll say to them, “You can still be a good conservative and not support everything he does.” Trying to think for oneself is hard. I sound like an old wise person and I’m not wise at all. [laughs] But I try to think about these things and pay attention to them.

Paying attention and focusing on individuals and their lives can make people think about and see the world differently.

It doesn’t always have to be horrible things. I think that art and drawing can illuminate the world in a different way. I’m not going to say better than writing or music or whatever, but it can do it in a way that’s unique.

After drawing Trump and his cronies for over two years now, do you have I don’t want to say sympathy, but some insight?

I thought of this last night. Obviously I’m not a fan of his, but drawing him this much, there’s a way to almost have pity for him. He seems so unhappy and so hollow. I don’t know if he’s at the edge of knowing that about himself or not. I’m not going to psychoanalyze him. I don’t know what his childhood was like. It sounds like it was very opulent but also cold. One of my friends wrote about how that emptiness and sadness he projects that onto the world as a weapon. He attacks because of that. I’m not going to say I have much sympathy for him, but on a human level I think he’s suffering and he doesn’t have the self-awareness to stop it at this point. He is who he is. I also have less and less sympathy the more I see that what they’re trying to do is driven by money, xenophobia and hatred. Cutting taxes and then complaining about deficits shows what your game really is. As opposed to actually trying to be fiscally responsible. I have some sympathy for the devil, I guess you could say. [laughs]

He’s this sad, lonely man who’s empty inside and projects that onto the world. If he wasn’t trying to weaponize that, we could have some sympathy for him.

Before all this I wouldn’t say he was a comic figure, but there was something about him that was charming. Before what I consider the overt racism. Looking back now, that’s been there all along, but I think it’s harder now to ignore that because it’s being placed on all of us and in our names. For those of us in the U.S., it’s our country. He’s doing things in our name. It’s like how you can see his sons are so eager to make their dad happy but they never will. Ivanka is the only one who will ever make him happy and that’s a little creepy. It’s just sad. On the other hand, he’s fun to draw. [laughs]

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