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Editorial cartoonist Ted Rall has plenty to say

Editorial cartoonist Ted Rall – whose left-of-center stories feature grotesquely drawn figures inhabiting a world of despair – is coming to Buffalo armed with two newly published graphic novels.

One concerns Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency administrator who leaked thousands of highly classified files to the media about previously unknown illegal spying activities occurring on an unprecedented scale. The other is about Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and self-described socialist whose unwavering views have outlasted critics and put him in contention for the White House.

Rall – no stranger to controversy – will be speaking about Snowden and Sanders, the 2016 presidential race, his award-winning career and more at 7 p.m. today at Burning Books.

Rall attributes his drawing style to underground comixs and the jagged angles of punk rock album art. His world view came from growing up in New York City.

“It was the ’80s, gritty – even grittier than today – and I was listening to hardcore music, like the Dead Kennedys, and had a very jaundiced view of the world,” Rall said.

“The world around me was pretty ugly, and I thought the work needed to reflect that. To me a good cartoon was brutal, vicious and could not be ignored.”

Rall said he decided to write about people he admired after being rightly criticized for being too negative.

The “Snowden” book traces the whistle-blower’s political evolution, and recounts how others who have tried to expose government illegalities during the Obama administration saw their careers ruined. At the same time, he wonders why Snowden’s co-workers lacked the same courage to speak up.

“With Snowden I have this unvarnished hero, a role model,” Rall said. “Here’s a guy who does what we should all do.”

In one panel, Rall reduces Snowden’s actions to a simple belief in the values learned as a Boy Scout. Rall draws Snowden in a decorated uniform, his right arm raised, with the words, “A Scout is trustworthy, brave, clean, helpful, courteous and reverent.”

“There are people like Snowden and I who took the stuff learned in civics class seriously – things like how the government is not above the law, and even though we now know it’s not true, we want it is be true because that’s the ideal we grew up with,” Rall said.

Telling the story of Sanders was more challenging.

“Bernie Sanders narrative is almost dull. Politically, he’s been the same guy for half a century. There is no political realization, like once I was a right-winger, and now I’m not,” Rall said.

“He is interesting more because he has been in the same place politically all these years, and the country has finally caught up with him.”

Rall puts Sanders story in the context of a Democratic Party that has moved away from identifying with the left since Sen. George McGovern’s presidential run ended in colossal defeat in 1972.

With the Iowa caucuses Monday, and the New Hampshire primary a week later, Rall said he’s as curious as anyone to see how far Sanders and a certain Republican candidate can go.

“If America chooses Trump, then we really deserve ISIS to take over,” he said, half-laughing.


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