George Carlin Cartoons June 26, 2008

George Carlin Cartoons

After comedian George Carlin‘s death, a number of political cartoonists wanted to pay their respects.

Take a look at some of these cartoons and see if you can spot a pattern:






So what do they all have in common?

They show Carlin in Heaven or Hell — places Carlin didn’t even believe existed.

One cartoonist, Daryl Cagle, posed an excellent question to the various artists who depicted Carlin this way:

… Carlin was a very vocal atheist and the question sometimes comes up about what the cartoonist has in mind by drawing a memorial cartoon featuring dead celebrity in a religious scene from a religion the celebrity didn’t choose…

Does the cartoonist’s religious view trump the celebrity’s religion in an obituary cartoon?…

The responses are really interesting:

From Steve Benson:

… Atheist Carlin (assuming he ended up in “heaven’ which, of course, he did not because there is no such place as the Pearly Gates) would have had a great time shakin’ up the joint — and hopefully St. Pete would have appreciated the show.

In cartooning, an artist’s religious or non-religious views often make their way into their artistic commentary in clear, iconoclastic and sarcastic ways — and at the end of that process, the inkslinger’s view trumps everything.

Myself, I am — like Carlin was — an atheist…

From Steve Nease:

…I am not in the least religious, but I often do obit cartoons on famous people using the “pearly gates” setting.

It’s not that I actually believe in such a scenario, but, much like other metaphors and symbols we cartoonists use, it immediately puts the reader in touch with the situation, regardless of their religious beliefs. George Carlin’s personal views on religion never entered into it for me…

Cagle also offers a personal anecdote:

When I was on my recent speaking tour of China, I showed a bunch of Pearly gate cartoons (I’ve drawn my share of Pearly Gates cartoons, too). Often a question would come form the audience, “Are you a Christian?” I would reply, “I’m not much of anything.” And the questioner would reply, “No, no, I think you are a Christian.” – Daryl

Matt Bors is right: this cartoon by Kevin Moore seems to “understand” Carlin the best 🙂

(via Bors Blog)

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  • EKM

    “Are you a Christian?” I would reply, “I’m not much of anything.” And the questioner would reply, “No, no, I think you are a Christian.” – Daryl

    Will this insistence from total strangers that we believe what we say we do not ever stop?

  • I was at a Pearl Jam concert the other night. Eddie (the lead singer) is a big fan of George Carlin and offered up a George Carlin quote to the entire Madison Square Garden crowd. It went something like “We need to keep the church and the state apart since they do such a good job of screwing up everything on their own.”

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the irony.

  • Larry Huffman

    Wow…before I even got down to your comments, I was thinking the exact same thing. Where have these people been…or the more cynical side of me figured they knew exactly what they were doing.

    I wonder if it makes them feel better to draw Carlin in front of the heaven fariy tale. I wonder if they realize that…rather than giving him some sort of sublime ‘I told you so’…they just look stupid. I mean…after all…these are not photographs, they are cartoons. Yeah…cartoons, where men fly and bend steel and rabbits walk and talk…and yes, there can be a heaven in cartoon land.

    Carlin, i am sure, would have predicted such a sendoff. I am sure he almost counted on the religious nutbags (a favorite term of his for them and their ilk) to give him this. I am also sure he knew those of us who use our brains would see them and notch one more up for Carlin in his successful efforts to make the religious look silly…post-mortem.

  • Siamang

    I’m wondering if these comic artists would depict a beloved muslim or buddhist or jew at the pearly gates talking with St. Peter?

    So cute and funny!

  • Oh, it’s just the fluffy cloud heaven trope. It’s as devoid of actual religious content as Santa Claus.

  • Hez

    I think you might be reading into the cartoons too much, i thought they were great!

  • Ben

    Yeah, they were cute little cartoons I suppose. And just to piggyback on the China comment: I’ve been living in Taiwan for about 4 years now. I can’t count the times that people say to me “I thought all Americans were Christian.” Ugh. Of course, they are also surprised I’m American since I don’t have blue eyes…

  • TXatheist

    I came up with a different take. What I see strongly is the position god/devil is in. He’s behind a pulpit and up high. That’s a position of power and man is to look up to him. The perpetuated hierarchy of god being in a position of power is about fear and control…imo.

  • Cartoonists are in the business of plugging into common images. You only have a few seconds to establish that connection. These folks aren’t speaking to Carlin, they’re speaking to his fans, who all have at least some cultural awareness of the whole “fluffy-cloud-gates-dude-in-beard-and-halo” image.

    Moore definitely had the right of it, though.

  • “So what do they all have in common?

    They show Carlin in Heaven or Hell”

    Well, that and they pretty much all have the exact same ‘7 words’ joke. Really, now… None of them could come up with anything better than riffing off a routine he wrote back in ’72?

    I personally take no offense at the heaven/hell thing because… well, it’s cartoon reality. I don’t think the writers were even thinking to make a statement about his atheism so much as they were just looking for a scenereo that would move along the punch line.

    The same punch line.

    Four times…

  • Actually, the trope itself doesn’t bug me that much. It’s just a standard cartoonist’s trope, like psychiatrist’s couches and desert islands with palm trees.

    What does bug me is the number of cartoonists in this set who used the opportunity of Carlin’s death to dis him. I see a distinct difference between the loving ones — “Thank God someone’s here to liven up the place,” “I asked for a transfer” — and the “You can’t use those 7 words in Heaven” ones, which are essentially saying, “Carlin can’t be himself if he’s going to get into Heaven.”

    I mean, death is the one time that everyone has to say nice things about you. How many other public figures (apart from truly hated ones like Spiro Agnew) would get a “You’re not good enough to get into Heaven” cartoon on their death?

  • chris

    Gee, he was just here a minute ago!!!

  • What I’d have liked to see is a cartoon where Carlin goes to heaven, and it turns out that, in contrast, everybody there is already cursing all the time. Now that would’ve been funny.

  • Luther Weeks

    Katherine Hepburn suffered the same “fate”.

    It seems that the godfull cannot imagine a person they admire as godless.

    Just like the godfull, atheists die. But before they die, most atheists truly live.

  • James

    For a “Carlin in Heaven” cartoon, I thought this one was pretty good:

  • I like what God had to say about George Carlin:

    What do you want from Me? He was old and had heart problems, ok? He also snorted a lot of cocaine in his day. It’s a miracle I could keep him alive and entertaining you for this long. But don’t worry, he’s not in hell as Satanus would have you believe. He’s up here with Me in Heaven. He looks really surprised. I know he was a staunch atheist his whole life, but he really makes Me laugh. He wasn’t exactly thrilled about being here at first (as everyone he was ever friends with is in hell and he’s surrounded by Bible-thumping Christians), but I brought up some of his pals from hell on his behalf and gave them a mountain of blow to do and everything else they could ever want. I also reunited Georgie with his first wife and his beloved dog Tippy. He’s adjusting well and has already started work on a new book of his observations and musings on Heaven.

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