A Punch Line That Packs a Punch

At first glance, Tom Toles’s political cartoons look harmless enough. His simple, bold lines form rounded characters and landscapes that are almost completely devoid of detail. But don’t let his whimsical drawing style fool you. “Toles’s disarming doodles belie his intent,” says editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, winner of last year’s Editorial Cartoonist of the Year award. “Like a cute little dog that lunges for your jugular.”

Just ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2006, they wrote a letter condemning a Toles cartoon that depicted a quadruple amputee soldier (labeled U.S. Army) in a hospital bed. Says Doctor Rumsfeld: “I’m listing your condition as ‘battle hardened.’” “The Joint Chiefs called the cartoon tasteless,” says Rogers. “The rest of us called it brilliant.”

Toles, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, is the cartoonist for The Washington Post. His cartoons appear in the paper and on its website every day except Saturday, and are syndicated in nearly 200 publications nationwide. Toles received the 2011 Herblock Award — nearly a decade after he inherited Herb Block’s job at the Post.

He began his career at The Buffalo Courier-Express; he has also drawn for the New York Daily News, U.S. News and World Report, and The New Republic, among others. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Toles has received the National Headliners Award, the Overseas Press Club Thomas Nast Award, the John Fischetti Award, and the H.L. Mencken Free Press Award.

Toles has also produced a syndicated comic strip, “Curious Avenue,” and a syndicated panel, “Randolph Itch, 2 a.m.” His cartoons are collected in six books, and he is the author of a children’s book, My School Is Worse Than Yours. In his spare time, Toles is a singer and drummer in the Washington, D.C., band Suspicious Package.

See some of his cartoons: 1, 2, 3.