David Rees,  February 17, 2016

Scalia at the Pearly Gates



Politics is hard, and we need some straightforward and literal way to handily process the ever-shifting alliances of power in an election season. To that end, The Baffler has employed expert comic mind David Rees to give a visual rendering of the day’s signature political controversies. The only problem is that David can’t draw, so his cartoons are word pictures—which is to say, words. He does, however, warmly urge Baffler readers to submit their own visual interpretations of the scenes he describes, so that we can get away with calling this a cartoon feature, and meet our quota of user-generated content on the Baffler website. 

Image submissions from last week’s cartoon: The Iowa Caucus.

Courtesy of Rachel Smith.
Courtesy Catie West.
Courtesy Christine Scherb.
Courtesy Conor Gillies


Obituary cartoons are perhaps the most emotionally significant specimens on the op-ed page. When a beloved public figure dies, cartoonists can serve a vital role in our healing process. By drawing the deceased’s arrival at the pearly gates—usually rendered as golden, but artists can be forgiven this material inaccuracy in their moment of grief—cartoonists assure us that the public figure has found his or her heavenly reward. This profound image of ecclesiastical justice is often leavened with a bit of humor, often provided by that notorious cut-up Saint Peter, who stands watch among the clouds and sacred finery. Any cartoonist worth his or her salt will give Saint Peter a line or two of dialogue that calls to mind some well-known characteristic of the deceased, proving that a fisher of men can also be a fisher of pop-culture references. 

Here are some (actual) examples of the form, arranged in order of increasing semiotic complexity:

When Dick Clark died, I saw a cartoon of his arrival at the pearly gates that featured Saint Peter calling out to God: “I found someone to host judgment day.” (Dick Clark used to host televised events such as New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and the Miss USA pageant while he was alive, so Saint Peter’s comment makes sense—especially since Judgment Day sounds like a lot of fun.) 

When George Carlin died, I saw a cartoon of Saint Peter looking down at him from behind a great lectern, saying, “You can’t say those words here either, Mr. Carlin.” (George Carlin was a foul-mouthed comedian who delighted in using profanity. He was also an atheist, so this cartoon is doubly fantastic in its rejection of precisely those elements of the deceased’s career that made him worthy of an obituary cartoon to begin with.)

Finally, when Joan Rivers died, I saw an obituary cartoon that could serve as the obituary cartoon for the form of obituary cartoons itself. In it, Joan Rivers stands before Saint Peter and asks, “Can we talk?” Saint Peter responds: “Ha! Haha! Haw! Ha! Ha! Ha! Hoho! Hee! Hee ha! Haw! Ha! Hoho! Ho! Ho! Haw! Ha ha! Ho ho! Ha ha! Oh, yeah—eventually, after everybody quits laughing . . .” This is as inscrutable as any religious image in all of human history. Is Saint Peter laughing with glee at Joan Rivers’s death? At her assumption that, as a Jew, she would still be welcome in a demotically Christian afterlife? Or could it be that Saint Peter is such a Joan Rivers fan that the mere recitation of her catchphrase, regardless of context, is enough to make him double over with laughter? If it’s the latter, then Saint Peter is the worst kind of comedy fan and should be recused from the responsibilities of heavenly admittance, before Larry the Cable Guy winds up sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Here are two ideas I had for obituary cartoons about Antonin Scalia. (I would draw them myself, but I sprained my wrist making a key lime pie.)

1. We see Antonin Scalia in front of the pearly gates. He is being warmly embraced by Saint Peter, who whispers “NO HOMO.” (This cartoon is for your conservative uncle.)

2. We see Antonin Scalia in front of the pearly gates. He’s wearing a full S&M-style rubber suit labeled “Constitutional originalism fetish.” He asks, “Can we talk?” Saint Peter responds: “Ha! Haha! Haw! Ha! Ha! Ha! Hoho! Hee! Hee ha! Haw! Ha! Hoho! Ho! Ho! Haw! Ha ha! Ho ho! Ha ha! Oh, yeah—eventually, after everybody quits laughing . . . You see, God has no interest in talking to you. Take your selfish perversions somewhere else.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the pearly gates—which, for once, are correctly rendered as being made of a single pearl, as per Revelation 21:21, thank you very much—a crowd of gay angels, African American angels, and angels recruited from other formerly maligned populations, now all fully divine and haloed, cheer wildly, not in anticipation of the hellish punishment awaiting their former intellectual tormentor, but in celebration of the slowly widening scope of human decency. At the bottom of the cartoon is the legend: “Antonin Scalia, 1936–2016.” (This cartoon is for your liberal uncle.)

Can someone please draw these cartoons for me?

Submit your breathtaking illustrations—preferably before a Supreme Court nominee is announced—to [email protected]

Update: A repeat cartoonist, Catie West, has submitted two visuals commemorating Antonin Scalia—one for your conservative uncle, and one for your liberal uncle:

Scalia at the Pearly Gates—Catie West
Courtesy of Catie West
Scalia at the Pearly Gates—Catie West
Courtesy of Catie West


David Rees is the author of Get Your War On and How to Sharpen Pencils. He co-hosts the Election Profit Makers podcast. 

You Might Also Enjoy

Outside the Man Box

Tracy O’Neill

When A.J. asked Faith to marry him, he considered it a practical question. He had returned in 2012 to Camp Pendleton in California. . .


Further Reading

Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy.