The Koch Brothers' Toxic Empire
SEPTEMBER 27, 2014
I’ve done the Koch brothers before for various magazines. Interesting how just a few years ago, Google reference was quite limited. Not so, anymore. That said, the challenges facing a caricaturist remain the same. One brother, David, always had the more interesting horror movie mortician appearance, while the other, Charles, in actuality the real driving force behind the evil empire, facially bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the older Robert Redford. When RS art director Mark Maltais called me with the assignment it turned into another opportunity to study these mugs and, hopefully, create an image strong enough to complement the copy.
It’s funny, but these stories, like so many on politics and business, contain maze like plot lines and criss-crossing agendas. To try to cover all the elements of a complicated journalistic endeavor like this story sometimes requires less attention on the specifics in the article and more focus on a unifying theme in the image. Simpler sometimes is better, but simpler doesn’t necessarily mean less detail in the actual illustration, merely a solid core around which to work.
My sketches approached the article from several points of view. I thought of maybe creating a P.T. Barnum style circus poster with the brothers as ringmasters and all the various side shows revolving around them, including the contortionist politicians grabbing for money. I’ve always loved Caspar Friedrich’s “The Wanderer” and felt the figure standing on a mountaintop of money bags surveying not a magnificent landscape but an expanse of pollution would look cool except for the fact it is not a lone figure in the article but two. Portraying them as vultures seemed a possibility as well and no one portrayed corrupt individuals as vultures better than Thomas Nast. I had fun with those. Then there was a simple straight ahead option, involving caricatures of the brothers holding a diseased globe but smiling/laughing very contentedly. It certainly allowed for focus on caricaturing self satisfaction. When people are this rich you can criticize them till the cows come home and it won’t matter. They are well protected. Putin in Russia enjoys a similarly brazen, contemptuous attitude, being probably the richest man in that kleptocracy. Still we press on and keep firing them arrows.
The gang at RS went with the straight ahead approach. The faces are predominant as are the expressions. Exaggeration for exaggeration’s sake has become far less interesting to me over the years as much as trying to capture something in the character via that right expression. So these are less wild attacks of bravura distortion and more studied visual statements. As their business empire runs well past the borders of America to Russia (not surprising) and even Iran (Axis of Evil, anyone?) it felt perfectly right to spread the diseased skies and landscape all over the globe. Healthy blue was not a consideration; better the corrosive browns and umbers of shit in the air.
Less a direct lift from the original Nast and more an inspiration with the twist of forcing the Bald Eagle out of the nest.
But who would play David in the movie?