Editor’s Note: Katerina Wood, the author of this piece, graduated last year and wrote this for our annual magazine. This is the third and final piece in the Legends of U-32 series.
The Old Labor Hall in Barre is almost entirely one room. One red curtain hid stacks of chairs along the wall right to the entrance, a projector screen was pulled down in front, and at the opposite side of the room, a small, decorated table offered a few plates of cookies.
People slowly filed into the room, absorbed in the artwork that lined the far wall, before settling into the metal folding chairs arranged in front of the screen. After a few minutes of chatting, mostly about the cartoons, the lights dimmed slightly. A man with greyish hair and round glasses walked out from the kitchen area. Standing by the projector, facing the crowd, he introduced himself as political cartoonist, Jeff Danziger.
Jeff Danziger is known nationwide for his witty political cartoons, a career he began while teaching English at U-32. The artwork on the wall at the Labor Hall ranged from fully colored scenes to a few black and white people or objects. In “Winter 2015”, a guy forever shovels snow in a circle as it continuously falls from the sky. In another, the US Air Force scribbles the Miranda warning onto a giant bomb– this cartoon was released three days after the U.S. and Britain invaded Afghanistan. Whatever the political climate, Jeff Danziger takes all the confusion, ironies, and (most of the time) ridiculousness of an issue and spins it into one illustration.
Jeff Danziger started professionally cartooning while working as an English teacher at U-32, after returning from Vietnam.
In 1971, Danziger, like thousands of other men who’d been drafted to serve in the Vietnam campaign, found himself in need of a new life. U-32 was just opening and in need of staff.
“U-32 made a big impression on me,” he told me. “I was pretty screwed up after the war and U-32 gave me a good deal of new things to think about, and the place was a daily experiment.”
With its flashy glass exterior and location on the very top of Gallison Hill, U-32 also had a massive electrical bill. Danziger’s response was a “cartoon of the Public Service Board serving the people as a roast pig with an apple in its mouth, saying, ‘this is how we are serving the people today.’ There was a U-32 Board member who worked for Green Mountain Power who didn’t like that.” U-32 almost fired him.
“It was wonderful,” he remembers.
While Danziger taught English classes, he regularly published cartoons to local papers like the Times Argus and Rutland Herald. At U-32, he drew caricatures of his colleagues.
“The one I remember best was of another English teacher (Joyce Deforge) notorious for her harsh grading of papers and essays,” Mark Chaplin remembers. “I remember it depicted her holding a red pen, dripping droplets of blood….” Sometimes, U-32 commissioned these caricatures for retiring teachers.
Danziger usually spoofed pieces of Vermont life rather than diving into political issues but, as he puts, “not enough crazy shit happens in Vermont.” Nevertheless, there was always something he could snag on to.
At the Old Labor Hall, Danziger discussed his more recent work, which encompasses national and international politics.
When Danziger draws a cartoon, it needs not only to be eye-catching but to communicate a message fast and creatively. He walked the audience through his process with a cartoon called “The Blue Wave.”
“The elements of drawing are basically: anatomy, of both human and animal; perspective, like architecture; texture; and the last one, action,” he starts. In this cartoon, those last three elements are included in “a wave, and something that is about to happen… I hope.”
The next cartoon is more serious, commenting on the ever-widening divide between the rich and the poor. In this cartoon, “the rich people live in townhouses in cities and then the poor people have, you know, a little fire and they’re cooking a can of beans.” Those cans of beans are dropped unsympathetically down from the top of the stairs.
“The general expectation is that cartoons will be funny… maybe about three-fifths of mine are,” he explains. “But you can still use illustrations… to maybe get a little more angry.”