The Loop

The story behind this New Yorker cover of Donald Trump playing golf

May 15, 2018

This week's cover of The New Yorker, our corporate cousin a few floors up, features Donald Trump playing golf in a swamp, which appears to say something about the 45th president's time management, if not his driving accuracy. But that was just our initial take, so we reached out to John Cuneo, the cover artist and a regular contributor to Golf Digest, to discuss the genesis of the cover, and what he's learned drawing both Trump and golf—not always at the same time.

So what was the inspiration for the cover?

Unlike most editorial assignments, New Yorker covers are pitched, not assigned. So artists are left to follow instincts and respond to current events. Here I was trying to combine a couple of elements that are associated with the president and make a visual statement that incorporates a point of view with some humor. One tries to avoid being pedantic with this stuff as nothing can kill a joke quicker than somber outrage.

What does your illustration say about the president’s relationship with golf?

Having the president grimly “play through“ in this drawing is, hopefully, subject to some interpretation. To some he might appear determined, to others, oblivious. His affection for golf has been reported on and documented a lot, and his campaign rhetoric complaining about Obama’s time spent on the golf course and his pledges to do otherwise is yet another hypocrisy and broken promise in light of the record-breaking amount of hours he himself spends playing. He also appears to be confronting a difficult lie. But he ought to be used to that.

I’m curious if Trump is a challenge to draw in that he’s so widely satirized. How do you try to bring something new to the fore?

I envy the newspaper political cartoonists who have managed to reduce his face to a kind of formula. Some sublime reduction of lips, nose and hair that somehow resembles him more than a studied portrait might. I wish I had could have a mulligan myself on him here—I'd change a few little things. Pen and ink is an unforgiving medium, especially for those of us who haven't learned how to fix things in Photoshop.


Illustration by John Cuneo

Similarly, seeing how you do a fair amount of drawings for us, what do you find difficult about golf illustrations, and what do you find rewarding?

I got schooled early on working for GD. It turns out that golfers are just a wee bit particular about the proper way to grip a club and a myriad of other related nuances. Comic artists can usually get away with fudging the details, but when it come to golf not so much.

Golfer bodies are fun to draw—their postures, their body language and their (more extreme) fashion choices. Many illustrators will tell you that green is a particulalry difficult color to work with. I consider myself a drawer first and don't know enough about painting for it to be a problem, but even I can recognize that too much green can overwhelm a decent drawing.