GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the former director of marketing for the International Olympic Committee, Michael Payne has seen every obstacle and every scandal. He has also seen that the mission of the games always shines through.

“To this day, it is still a great celebration of humanity,” Payne said. “When (the cynics) see the world coming together … and just focus on the athletes, it’s special.”

Payne is also an avid collector of political cartoons about the Olympics.

“I used to collect some of the great cartoons that were made on the Olympic movement. So I built up a small collection and thought, one day, wouldn’t it be fun to tell the history of the Olympics through those cartoons?” he said.

When the pandemic forced him to cut back his travels, he went to work contacting hundreds of the world’s greatest political cartoonists and seeking permission to show off their work in a book.

“I think the cartoonists have an incredible, unique creative skill: the way they can tell often complex, difficult political stories through a very simple image, often without words. As such, I think it’s a great social commentary on the world’s largest, greatest event,” Payne said.

He added his own inside stories to some 1,200 cartoons to create a coffee table book titled, “Toon In.”

“The official response from the IOC is, ‘This is a scurrilous, outrageous and probably libelous book — and we can’t wait for the second edition,'” Payne said.

IOC President Thomas Bach attends the book launch for Michael Payne’s new book “Toon In” in Lusanne, Switzerland. (IOC/Greg Martin)

The most recent cartoons poke fun at the challenges faced by the Tokyo games, while others reference scandals of years’ past.

“One favorite is the picture of a wheelchair athlete sitting in a wheelchair and he’s accused of cheating, and you see him leaping out of the wheelchair and he’s saying, how dare I be accused of cheating. And that actually happened in the Paralympic games,” Payne said.

Payne said the cartoons also tell the story of how the Olympics have been used as a political pawn.  

“I think if there was one takeaway from an Olympic perspective, is how the games have lasted 125 years in spite of everything that is thrown at them; the resilience of the games to pull through with all of the political, financial challenges and scandals,” he said. “They do pull through and people love them.”