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Drawing Fire : Candidate Brad Sherman Incurs Wrath of Top Cartoonists

August 19, 1996|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Brad Sherman is a member of the State Board of Equalization and a Democratic candidate for Congress in the West Valley, a visible man but hardly a national figure.

Why then are some of the nation's most famous cartoonists taking aim at Sherman with their pens?

Sherman seems an unlikely villain. After all, he supported a recent change in the tax law that exempted cartoonists from a state levy on artwork.

But to hear the cartoonists tell it, Sherman and the board majority didn't go far enough. Their new rules, the cartoonists say, would still penalize many in their ranks by calling for a tax on certain illustrations.

So they have lashed back with the best weapon they have--their cartoons. The artists--including those who draw "Cathy," "Beetle Bailey" and "Hagar the Horrible"--have set up a World Wide Web site on the Internet expressly designed to lampoon the bespectacled Sherman.

"Sherman is an easy target," said Daryl Cagle, a Woodland Hills artist and a member of the National Cartoonists Society, the sponsor of the Web site. "He's running for Congress in a district which probably has more cartoonists than any other in the country," Cagle said.

The 24th District race pits Sherman against Republican businessman Richard Sybert. But the online campaign, Cagle said, is not intended to help Sybert, but to pick on Sherman because of his visibility and his position on the board.

So far, nearly three dozen artists have contributed to the Sherman Gallery, and the list of cartoonists continues to grow.

The candidate is portrayed as "Sher-Man," a Pac-Man-like figure gobbling up tax money, by freelance cartoonist Don Lee. Steve Benson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, has drawn him as a pointy headed, pencil-necked bureaucrat.

"An artist's best weapon is ridicule," Benson said. "In our arsenal, the weapon with the most megatonnage is a brush loaded with 15 cents worth of ink."

A Sherman spokesman said the Harvard law graduate is taking the lampooning in stride.

"Some people have chosen to criticize him, and that's their right," said John Thiella, Sherman's chief counsel.

"He understands it's part of the price anybody in public life pays. He's well aware that cartoonists are humorists and critics and that's what we expect from them."

Though Sherman would not comment on the cartoon campaign for this story, he has not been averse to poking fun at himself.

The Sherman Oaks resident, with his balding dome and bookish appearance, hands out hair combs with his name on them at campaign appearances and seems to take pride in his high forehead.

But the cartoonists' jabs at Sherman are out of line, said Peter Michaels, a San Francisco attorney familiar with the taxation of artwork.

"Illustrations have been taxed by the State Board of Equalization since 1939," Michaels said. "It's hardly fair to the current board or any of its members to suggest that they've done anything objectionable."

In January, the candidate was among the 3-2 majority who voted to reinterpret the state tax code to exempt cartoons and comics.

Under state law, transfers of literary manuscripts are not subject to the sales tax, said Dennis Fox, program and planning manager for the State Board of Equalization. But transfers of illustrations are.

Despite the existence of the tax, cartoonists were not subject to the state's careful scrutiny until 1991, when California passed a tax on newspapers.

The board decided to revisit the issue in January when it ruled that San Francisco artist Paul Mavrides, best-known as the co-creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, did not have to pay a $900 tax bill on his work.

The National Cartoonists Society art tax Web site at http://www.unitedmedia.com/ ncs/tax.html has been up on the Internet for about a month and will continue at least through November.

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