The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a number of supply chain bottlenecks in various industries, including the beef and pork markets to which Iowa contributes. Now, I've heard two explanations of this. The first – consumers were panic-buying at the grocery store in the early days of the pandemic when restaurants were closed. That led some restaurants to sell their stocked meat to grocers, which met the immediate retail demand, but left packing plants having bought more animals than they could sell. The second theory is more simple – the mean packing plants are hoarding the profits at the top. After all, four companies control about 80 percent of that market. Either way, it's caused a number of legislators – including but not limited to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra – to scrutinize a market in which a majority of sales are made through contract rather than negotiated prices. Some testimony during a recent congressional hearing suggested the ratio used to be a 50-50 split about 20 years ago, but today only about 20 percent of beef and pork sales are negotiated. And many people feel that's hurting local farmers like those in Iowa.
This is the very first cartoon I've been able to complete since taking the news editor's chair here at the DCN. That's due to lack of time rather lack of interest. Thankfully the stars aligned, and I suddenly found myself with not much to do for a few hours. Out came the sketchbook, and thankfully I found I still had it.
The cow was the easy part. A few reference images for the ears, nose and legs and I was good to go – just needed to keep adding to the rotundness. The more difficult part was composing the three legislators, who also had to be at least somewhat recognizable (at least to Iowans). Feenstra was pretty straight forward since he has some distinct features, and while I've caricatured Grassley several times in the past, it's never as easy as I expect it to be. Ernst was the most difficult, which in part is because she's had a number of hairstyles throughout her legislative career, so the image of Sen. Ernst in one person's mind may actually look different than that in another person's mind. The pink blazer in her current legislative portrait helped some, but it's a likeness I'll have to work on as the opportunity arises.
As the sketch shows, the composition had to be widened to allow for the speech bubble. That widening also necessitated the need for a broader swath of grass. Originally, I had attempted to create a floating composition that didn't touch any of the frame, but it didn't look good no matter how I tried it – fancy brush strokes, waving lines, blurred color...fancy wavy lines on top of blurred color. So, the only solution was to just expand it and try to add some depth.
While the lighting logic on the cow itself was very important and prominent (thus the hatching), the shadows and highlights didn't have to be quite so accurate or defined, especially after the cow's shadow was added to really ground it in that plain. The haphazard strokes in the grass helped add a sense of natural randomness to the field, and the eye itself helps convince the viewer the details are there, when really what's happening is the viewer's gaze is drawn to the central elements, which pushes the grass into the peripheral so the brain assumes the details based on what it knows is there.
I had at one point intended to add some well-rendered clouds, but I'm actually glad I didn't I think white fluffy billows would have actually taken away from the centrality of the white cow (and by extension helped lessen the illusion of the grass detail). So, in lieu of that, I rounded the grassy plain to give some visual interest. It reads somewhat like a hill, which is perfect for character placement in the cartoony scene.
This panel took a little over two hours to complete and was everything from sketch to final post was done in a single sitting.