Political satire is in the cards

The 2012 presidential race is filled with candidates calling for serious reform in a rough economic climate, but Peter Green, an artist who has caricatured the top contenders since ’72, is looking for a laugh.

His newest set of Politicards, a 54-deck of collectible cards, matches the major Republican and Democratic players with film quotes.

President Obama is depicted as a perspiring Pee-wee Herman in a fitted gray suit with a red bow tie. His quote: “There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” from the 1985 film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

In 2008, when pro-Obama merchandise sold out rapidly, Obama was paired with a quote from Moses. Now, Green says, stores are trying to unload anti-Obama merchandise.

“Four years ago, they couldn’t keep pro-Obama merchandise in stock,” he says. “Now, there’s not even pro-Obama merchandise being sold.”

Green, who runs his company, Peter Green Design, out of an office on San Fernando Road in Glendale, sketched his first presidential candidate in 1972. He was asked to design a chess set with politician pawns, but he pitched the simpler idea of cards to his client. At the time, Green was a freelance illustrator for the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed pages. A colleague, Bella Stumbo, wrote a feature on the product with the headline “Politicards Sweeping the Nation.”

The original production of 20,000 decks sold out. Now, Green sells 200,000 decks per election in 500 to 800 stores nationwide. Glendale art supply store Swain’s and Pasadena bookstore Vroman’s have carried his political memorabilia since the beginning.

Two election cycles ago, Green began to sell his cards at Barnes and Noble stores before the chain’s chairman, Leonard Riggio, pulled them from the shelves, Green says. Riggio told him that they were too easy to steal, but another representative told him a different story.

Hillary Clinton, who had just released her memoir, “Living History,” complained to Riggio about Politicards, Green says.

“I was making fun of her, and she didn’t have the sense of humor for it,” he says.

Though the chain bookstore had what Green called “the perfect audience” for the cards, Green stands by his sketch of the current secretary of state.

“I don’t regret any decision about how we’ve depicted characters,” he says.

The second floor of Green’s office building is stocked with shiny new iMacs and a small staff of designers. The artist, however, still creates his caricatures by hand, using watercolors.

He sifts through a stack of illustrations on a work table on the ground floor of the building and stops at one of billionaire Donald Trump as Beetlejuice, sitting on top of the White House. Trump has bowed out of the race, but Green decided to keep him in the stack.

“I did Trump’s head three times before I found the right expression,” he says.

Obama doesn’t have any same-party rivals this time around, but Green filled in the Democratic half of the deck with the president’s Cabinet and media figures like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Arianna Huffington.

Green, who calls his product “the only nonpartisan item out there,” remains objective about his own political views.

“I cannot take a position,” he says, standing in front of his framed collections. “I’m kind of out there in the middle; I call myself the Switzerland of political humor.”