The King Is Dead

How better to say goodbye to Willie Brown than with an exhibit of wicked political cartoons?

He was a dandy, a deal-maker, even a despot, some say, but for eight years he was all ours. On Jan. 8, San Franciscans wave goodbye to Willie Brown, and accordingly the Cartoon Art Museum pays tribute to the controversial pol with "Don't Parade on My Reign," an exhibition of local editorial cartoons that tweaked Da Mayor's foibles during his tenure.

The 60 strips from Don Asmussen (he of the Chronicle's newsy San Francisco Comic Strip and Bad Reporter), Tom Meyer (most commonly seen on the Chron's opinion pages), Mark Fiore (ex-Examiner and -San Jose Mercury News scribbler, now at, and Farley creator Phil Frank hit the high notes Willie-watchers might expect. There are numerous pokes at Brown's highhanded manner (both Meyer and Fiore depict him in kingly robes), sartorial quirks (wouldn't be a Willie caricature without a fedora!), and extravagant ways (several sketches show him issuing edicts from the back seat of his plush ride).

Even better, the strips record the panoply of scandals Brown weathered, providing a time capsule of dust-ups, from his handling of the homeless crisis to his Muni woes. No weak spot is left unprodded, no foolish act undiscussed. (Fiore slyly draws Brown as a King of Hearts so enraged by meter-feeders that he orders, "Off with their heads!," while Frank derides the mayor's habit of handing out city jobs like breath mints with depictions of Brown's "patronage army.")

Alfred E. Brown contemplates the Pac Bell 
Park debacle.
Mark Fiore
Alfred E. Brown contemplates the Pac Bell Park debacle.

"Willie gave me so much material with his regal style and attitude," says Frank, whose new book of collected Brown strips has just been published under the same title as the exhibit. "He shoots from the lip, I say."

Despite their satiric leanings, the city's cartoonists will miss Brown, Frank says. Sure, he was brash, arrogant, and slick (as well as dapper, charismatic, and majestic). But there's one big reason local pen-and-ink artists mourn his term-limited departure: As Frank affirms, "Gavin's just not as much fun to draw."

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