Hitting stores this month, Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People (Akashic Books) collects for the first time the pen-and-ink social commentary of Philadelphia artist Mr. Fish, aka Dwayne Booth. His drawings have been published widely, in Harper's, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post and Slate.
The book is divided into five chapters, each introduced with an essay and devoted to one of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief, from her famous 1969 book On Death and Dying. Booth asserts in an introduction that he sees catastrophe approaching from every direction, and so experiences these stages in reverse. But the essays introducing each chapter are long-winded and only loosely connected to their respective stage, so you might just flip past them to the formally varied and graphically punchy cartoons, which will make you deliciously uncomfortable.
The targets of Booth's satire are something of a lineup of the lefty's usual suspects—politicians, priests, hypocrisy, militarism—but the uncommonly acerbic tone sets him apart. In a cutting commentary on the Catholic Church's sex scandal, for example, a man sits in the barber's chair, the paper collar over the black gown making him resemble a priest. Asked "What'll it be?" he responds, "I was thinking a blow job and maybe a little ass play."
Booth makes fairly deft use of some of the icons of art history in cartoons with diverse messages. Man's contempt for God is conveyed economically in a satire on Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam in which Adam points a gun at his Creator. A tribute to Lenny Bruce in the bold style of Soviet propaganda posters shows the comedian in a forge, hammering out the First Amendment. A line drawing of a young girl unsuccessfully trying to hide a bouquet of flowers is titled "Georgia O'Keeffe caught with pornography as a little girl."
Barack Obama comes in for repeated lampooning. In one comic conveying the disappointment of many of the president's liberal supporters (Booth plainly among them), he sits under a giant portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., which is peeling back to reveal an image of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Another image directs frustration over the stalled economic recovery directly at the White House: a Depression-era hobo sits in front of a cardboard sign incorporating Obama's "hope" campaign logo into the offer "Will hope for work."
But in several satisfying instances, the cartoonist's voice also veers into the simply absurd. In a children's-book-style drawing, for example, a grinning little girl lifts her red dress to reveal a giant male member: "See Jane's Dick." In another, a figure-skating, tweedy figure is captioned "Chomsky on ice." Booth's vision of a culture in which even the premier linguist-cum-political-commentator of our time can be reduced to an entertainer is frighteningly on the money.
2012, aluminum, wood, sublimation print on polyester and concrete, 71 3/4 by 122 1/2 by 135 inches overall. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New Yor