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Kerry is every editorial cartoonist's dream | (KRT) Christmas has come in July for editorial cartoonists: the Democratic candidate comes gift-wrapped with a face they can take to the bank.

"Kerry is a godsend," said JWR contributor Ed Gamble of Jacksonville's Florida Times Union. "Even conservative cartoonists won't mind having Kerry for president because there is so much to work with. It's hard to mess him up, with the hair at one end and the chin and big nose at the other end."

"I find him about as good as you can get," agreed Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News. "Clearly defined features. A face that goes on forever. Dark hair, dark eyebrows.

"And he never changes his expression," she says with a chuckle, "so you only have to learn one."

That enthusiasm is a far cry from the cartoonists' reaction to the 2000 Democratic nominee. Caricature artists found little to laugh at in Al Gore's stone-faced expression.

"It's much harder to draw somebody who is basically nice-looking but with no distinguishing features," said Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News. "If John Edwards didn't smile so much, he would be deadly for cartoonists."

"At the beginning most of us are just looking for likeness," said Jim Borgman of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We're looking for a prominent feature."

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"You try to do it in your head before you put pen to paper," Peters said. "Your brain is making decisions: Big forehead? Dots for eyes or long slashes?"

Peters won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Then, as with Kerry, he had great hair to work with.

"You could put that pompadour on a smile button and everybody got that it was Reagan," he said. "And the longer anybody is on the scene, especially if they become president, whatever you exaggerated becomes even more exaggerated. So for me, the pompadour got bigger and bigger."

Bill DeOre, the longtime editorial cartoonist of The Dallas Morning News, agreed with several of his peers who say it's easier - and more fun - to draw the guy you don't like as much. "With a foil like Kerry, your job is a lot easier," he said.

The candidate's wife has offered her own tips for drawing Kerry. Teresa Heinz Kerry used an overhead projector at a meeting of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists last year to make a few points. The secret, she suggested, is to capture his "noble chin" and "focused gaze."

"My husband should not be confused with Punxsutawney Phil," she said of the Groundhog Day icon. "He isn't a basset hound. Please resist the impulse to use Heinz products when drawing my husband."

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© 2004, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services