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2021: The Year in Calamity Cartoons

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In the grand tradition of year-end reviews (hey, even journalists need to take a break once in a while), I compiled some cartoons representing key milestones of 2021.

We started off the year with a shocking, violent insurrection and attack on democracy as former-President Trump tried desperately to cling to power.

A Mark Fiore cartoon featuring a Trump MAGA snake throttling the U.S. Capitol Building.

Even though a very real threat remains, frightening images of broken windows, smoke and rage on Capitol Hill were soon replaced by the moving words of Amanda Gorman, who recited a poem at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.A Mark Fiore cartoon featuring Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate, at the inauguration with a movie marquee with her name. Also starring, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here in the Bay Area, stay-at-home orders were lifted as we desperately attempted to return to our “normal” lives …


A Mark Fiore cartoon about COVID-19 restrictions easing and outdoor dining reopening as an atmospheric river is headed our way. Two people eating at an outdoor table in the pouring rain with one saying, "things are looking up!"

A Mark Fiore cartoon showing different color tiers for reopening schools, starting with Zombie Blue (online school), then In-Person Green (private schools), then Slow-for-Vaccine Yellow (cautious teachers), then We-Can't-Take-This-Anymore Red for fed up parents.

As vaccines began rolling out, misinformation turned out to be one of the biggest threats to achieving herd immunity.

A Mark Fiore cartoon showing an FDA doctor with an umbrella holding a clip board that says, "vaccine FDA approved." The person and umbrella are getting covered with a deluge of goop labeled "misinformation."

A Mark Fiore cartoon featuring COVID-19 saying, "fortunately, there's no vaccine for stupidity," as anti-vaxxers protest the coronavirus vaccine.

What should be a nonpartisan issue of public health continued to be just another front in a highly partisan culture war.

A Mark Fiore cartoon about wearing face masks, with the main character who is holding a face mask saying, "I take my mask off to show I trust science and am vaccinated... but I keep it handy in case I need to show I'm anti-Trump."

A Mark Fiore cartoon featuring a public health worker fighting COVID while being attacked on the other side by anti-mask people in "the two-front battle."

Cartoon: an old-timey looking poster with smiling school kids that reads, "California, requiring vaccines to attend school since 1889."A surprising number of police officers — whose job is all about public safety and following laws — balked at vaccine mandates.

Cartoon: "Officer No-Vax takes it to its logical conclusion." A man in a police hat dressed in circus-type gear and holding a cat on a leash says, "look, they can't tell me what to do with my body...or what kind of police dog I can have..."

And even more unbelievably, Gov. Gavin Newsom sided with the powerful California prison guards union as they fought mandatory vaccines for prison guards and staff.

Cartoon: a prison guard holding a "no vax mandate" sign is arm in arm with a COVID-19 character and Gov. Newsom. The governor holds a briefcase of money from the prison guards union. Caption is "Amicus Covidae, friend of covid."

Meanwhile, the investigation into corruption in San Francisco politics grew to the point where I helped KQED’s Joe ‘Fitz’ Rodriguez and Matthew Green create an interactive cartoon outlining the main players in the unfolding drama.

Featured image for San Francisco corruption interactive


In San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, the opioid crisis and deaths due to fentanyl continued largely unabated …  Cartoon: A bright red COVID character hovers over the street as a monstrous purple "fentanyl" character looks at COVID and says "amateur." We see homeless tents and "o.d." in the San Francisco background.

Cartoon: Drug companies and distributors like J&J and McKesson shown spraying huge hoses of opioids over a city while the J&J character says, "told you the opioid crisis isn't our fault!"

On the U.S.-Mexico border, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

A Mark Fiore cartoon comparing the border "surge" of 2019 to the large numbers of migrants at the border in 2021. In 2019, the Trump character says "it's their fault" while pointing at the migrants, in 2021, Republicans say "it's Biden's fault."

Cartoon: shows "then" and "now" images of a "remain in Mexico" immigration sign. The Trump-era sign says things like "rapists" and "murderers" while the current Biden sign apologizes yet still calls on asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico.

And what do you get when you have a guy campaigning with a live grizzly bear, another guy who likes to rant on YouTube while wearing a bathrobe and a governor leading a state with a gigantic budget surplus?

Another couple years of Newsom.

A Mark Fiore cartoon showing Governor Newsom standing atop a huge pile of cash representing the state budget surplus. Newsom, looking down at the small crowd running for governor against him (including John Cox's bear), says, "cute bear."A Mark Fiore cartoon showing a large COVID character holding two signs. One says, "Recall Newsom," and the other one says, "Larry Elder for Governor!" In the background, Larry Elder speaks to a crowd while wearing his trademark white bath robe.

The other big story this year (and every year for the next umpteen years) was climate change.

The Bay Area is a paradox of environmental activism and pollution-spewing oil refineries.

A Mark Fiore cartoon about Bay Area oil refineries and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District captioned, "decisions, decisions." The cartoon shows a refinery on the left with an "air pollution scrubber" and on the right, a community of people of color with asthma, low birth weight, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease.

Cartoon: Chevron CEO Michael Wirth atop a castle-like refinery saying, "let them plant trees," while pollution spews into the air and water and two small children look on from afar.

The summer of 2021 was much more than just “hot”

A Mark Fiore cartoon on climate change increasing heat, showing two scientists looking at a thermometer sign that rangest from, warm, warmest, hot, hottest, sweatiest, heat waviest, bakingest, meltiest, as one scientist says," we're going to need more superlatives."

People suffering from wildfires of years past caused by a deadly combination of tinder-dry forests and PG&E’s shoddy upkeep of its transmission lines were still waiting for a payout.

A Mark Fiore cartoon about the PG&E Fire Victim Trust that is charged with distributing money to fire victims. The cartoon shows a huge pile of money and a trustee making $1500 an hour balancing over the heads of destroyed homes with people standing down below looking upwards. The caption says, "overhead."

Meanwhile, the billionaire’s view from space may have looked a little smokier than expected.

A Mark Fiore cartoon that shows Richard Branson's spaceship flying over a flaming red and orange earth and western United States as a thought bubble over the spaceship reads, "I always thought it was supposed to look blue from up here..."

And sadly, many of California’s giant sequoias were killed by out-of-control wildfires.

Cartoon: The rings in a cross-section of a giant sequoia labeled to show when the tree sprouted to when fire suppression began on to when the tree died in a wildfire.

Climate change continues to bring more extreme weather as California went from fire danger to flooding in the blink of an eye.

Cartoon: Two National Park Service workers tread water above an "extreme fire danger" sign. One says, "guess we can change the sign now."

Which, if you’re in the coal business, makes it a little more difficult to sell the Bay Area on a fossil fuel distribution terminal.

Cartoon: A dirty coal train port terminal with a young boy and girl walking by. The boy says, "the good news is they're banning coal storage by 2027, the bad news is it's 2021."

In the spirit of turning over a new, upbeat leaf in 2022, I’ll leave you with a slightly more uplifting cartoon about wind farms that are likely coming to the waters off California’s northern coast.

A Mark Fiore cartoon featuring an offshore wind farm, with one wind turbine saying, "...sure beats working in a coal mine!"

Happy holidays! Here’s hoping 2022 has a lot less calamity …

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