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The Afflicted: Richard Thompson, 51, the Arlington illustrator behind weekly Washington Post satirical cartoon Richard’s Poor Almanac and the daily syndicated strip Cul de Sac.

Diagnosis: It’s the expression, stupid. Thompson’s biggest challenge with political caricatures is nailing down the character behind the cartoon, which demands a grasp of personality as well as looks. “You need to have a good sense of what the figure’s character is, beyond the fact that they have a big nose or that their ears stick out,” he says.

Symptoms: Read their lips. When Thompson puts a politico on the drawing board, ease of satire can come down to a personality contest. “It’s hard to parse [Barack Obama’s] character because he’s fairly elegant,” says Thompson. But less composed pols have also eluded him; He cites Dick Cheney as especially difficult to render. “I’ve drawn him well only once,” says Thompson. “The daily editorial cartoonists, they’ve got him down, with the little sneer and the bald head.”

Treatment:Bet on a maverick. Politics are full of evasive characters, but Thompson knows finding one who lays her cards on the table is just a matter of time. “Oh, all of a sudden, [Sarah] Palin is easy,” says Thompson of his newest satirical life preserver. “She’s got so much to her. She’s such an identifiable character.” John McCain similarly lends himself to satire. “You can see him on the edge of an explosion half the time. He has that manic smile,” says Thompson. Still, Thompson says he doesn’t let caricature potential affect his vote. “There are certain [politicians] you wish would rise to the top, but I wouldn’t vote that way,” says Thompson, who’s decided on Obama, the less-sketchable candidate.

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