POLITICAL CARTOONS are art forms portraying government programs, policies, and personalities in humorous ways. Although occasionally used to elicit praise, political cartoons more often employ satire and parody to criticize opponents during election campaigns. Political cartoons also manipulate well-known cultural symbols to enhance the cartoon's comments about newsworthy situations. Political cartoons are the legitimate offspring of graffiti, and they retain the salacity and naughtiness of their parent. Political cartoons have become more pervasive with advances in communications technology.
The modern history of the political cartoon began in Great Britain in 1735. The passage of "Hogarth's Act" (8 George II c13) extended copyright and protection to the satires on current events reproduced by the new copper engraving plates. The works of William Hogarth (1697–1764) and other satirists on British politics and the Parliament drew immediate crowds to the bars, taverns, and coffeehouses throughout the colonial American cities of
Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Benjamin Franklin drew and published the first political cartoon in the American colonies. In 1747, his woodcut leaflet "Plain Truth" displayed a kneeling man praying to Hercules who is sitting on a cloud. Franklin's allegory of "Heaven helps him who helps himself" told the American colonists to defend themselves against the Indians without British help. His 1754 cartoon of a snake chopped into pieces, each piece labeled with a colony's name, advised the colonies to "join or die," that is, to unite against their common foes. American folklore always asserted a cut-up snake could rejoin its parts and live. Thus, Franklin made classics, mythology, and folklore into staples of the American political cartoon.
Satirical posters, leaflets, and banners quickly became an integral part of American political life, especially during the election campaigns. Most of these early efforts remained anonymous. Exceptions included Elkanah Tilsdale's "The Gerry-mander" (1812), the infamous winged dragon shaped from Massachusetts townships grouped for electoral advantage. Edward William Clay (1799–1857) drew cartoons extolling President Andrew Jackson in his fights with the U.S. Bank. George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879) painted effective parade banners of Henry Clay for Whig Party rallies in Missouri in 1844. The Currier and Ives Company used the new lithographic print process to churn out cartoon handbills by their chief draftsman Louis Maurer (1832–1932) for any party or candidate willing to pay for them from 1835 until 1907.
Political cartoons from New York City magazines spread their candidates' messages across the nation. Frank Leslie's Illustrated (1855–1891) published caricatures of Abraham Lincoln by Frank Bellew (1828–1888) that became almost as famous as Harper's Weekly (1857–1916), and Thomas Nast (1840–1902) later made cartoons of local political boss Thurlow Tweed. When Tweed fled the country to avoid prosecution, Spanish police identified him from Nast's caricatures. After the Civil War, New York City humor magazines continued to lampoon political figures. Puck (1877–1918) supplied pro–Democratic Party cartoons by Joseph Keppler (1838–1894) while The Judge (1881–1939) and Bernard Gillam (1856–1896) provided the Republican Party. Created for a literate clientele, such periodicals referenced Shakespeare and the classics to a higher degree than anyone had previously done.
Political cartoons appeared in daily newspapers as early as the 1860 presidential election. Walt McDougall began routine daily front-page cartoons for William Randolph Hearst's New York World with the half-page "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar, Blaine, and the Money Kings" on 30 October 1884. Republican James G. Blaine lost the 1884 presidential election to Democrat Grover Cleveland because he lost New York's electoral votes. Such cartoons
also supposedly enhanced circulation, but photographs and banner headlines quickly took over the front page of newspapers, moving the political cartoon to the editorial page. Many unemployed sketch artists then reinvented themselves as "editorial" cartoonists. By 1900, American newspapers employed around 500 of these new editorial cartoonists.
Editorial cartoons widened the genre's horizons by including seemingly nonpolitical cultural themes. They also turned bland because of owners' desires for profits and the establishment of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons in 1922. The Columbia University School of Journalism invariably chose inoffensive cartoons with subtle and universal messages for the Pulitzer. Until 1967, the school awarded the prize for single cartoons, resulting in three-time winners: Rollin Kirby (1875–1952) for the New York World and Edmund Duffy (1899–1962) for the Baltimore Sun. Eight others won twice. After 1967, the school conferred the Pulitzer only for a cartoonist's body of work. Gary Trudeau won in 1975 for his cartoon strip "Doonesbury," which most newspapers quickly moved to the editorial section. Cartoonists generally agreed with the Pulitzer's choices for recipients despite its methods for selecting cartoons.
Liberal-minded European American males dominated the ranks of political cartoonists from Franklin's time through the early twenty-first century. Late-twentieth-century giants indicative of this trend included Herbert Block ("Herblock") and Pat Oliphant. The historical list of women and racial minority editorial cartoonists is short. Edwina Dumm became the first regularly employed female editorial cartoonist in 1915 for the Columbus, Ohio Daily Monitor. In 1991, Barbara Brandon (Universal Press Syndicate) became the first black female cartoonist nationally syndicated in the mainstream press. In 1992, Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News became the first woman to win the Pulitzer. In 2002, Daryl Cagle's exhaustive Web site for editorial cartoonists listed only a dozen women out of 350 working cartoonists. Black male Oliver W. Harrington (1912–1995) drew regularly for Amsterdam News (New York City) in the 1930s and as an independent contributor thereafter. Michael Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times and Lalo Alcaraz of L.A. Weekly represent the growing Hispanic population. Political conservatives are equally as scarce. In 2002, only thirty-two of an estimated 350 employed editorial cartoonists regarded themselves as conservative.
In the twenty-first century, the Internet returned the genre to its visceral roots. Internet cartoonists excoriated both candidates for office and political issues in ways not seen in a century. Local party groups on the Internet and suburban newspapers distributed political cartoons by free-lance conservative cartoonists such as Jim Huber. Internet sites produced more daily political cartoons than newspapers do editorial cartoons.
"Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index." Available from http://cagle.slate.msn.com
Hess, Steven, and Sandy Northrop. Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons. Montgomery, Ala.: Elliott and Clark, 1996.
Press, Charles. The Political Cartoon. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981.
"Political Cartoons." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/political-cartoons
"Political Cartoons." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/political-cartoons
Throughout world history, political cartoons have illustrated the age-old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Since the sixteenth century, illustrated caricatures have been used as satire, drawing attention to important political and social events of the day. But in 1843, the practice gained a new name when England’s Punch magazine published a drawing parodying preliminary sketches of paintings commissioned for the houses of Parliament. “Cartoon No. 1,” as the illustration was called, was the first use of the word cartoon to describe humorous, satirical, or witty drawings or caricatures. It used simple imagery to communicate a message aimed at influencing public debate and the political process.
A surprising forefather of the political cartoon is Martin Luther, the sixteenth-century religious reformer, who used illustrated booklets and posters in a campaign to reform the Catholic Church. In Passional Christi und Antichristi (1521), illustrated by the printmaker Lucas Cranach, Luther contrasted easily recognizable scenes from the Bible with scathing caricatures of the Catholic Church. One set of illustrations juxtaposed Christ driving the moneylenders out of the Temple with the Pope selling indulgences. The practice of using satirical drawings to make political commentary caught on in Europe, and the practice eventually spread around the world.
Political cartoons were very influential in early American political culture. In 1754, Benjamin Franklin became the first to publish a cartoon in an American newspaper. Franklin, a supporter of unifying the colonies for protective purposes, used a common superstition to get his message across. It was believed that a snake that had been severed would come to life again if its pieces were put back together before nightfall. Franklin drew a picture of a snake cut into eight pieces, with the caption “Join, or Die.” Using easily recognizable symbols as shorthand for commentary remains a staple of modern political cartoons.
Even in the eighteenth century, political cartoons traveled around the world, crossing language and cultural barriers. One famous example is that of William “Boss” Tweed, the head of the political machine that had run New York City since 1789. Tweed was caricatured as a crook in a series of political cartoons by Thomas Nast in the American publication Harper’s Weekly. “Stop them Damn Pictures,” demanded Tweed, “I don’t care so much what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But damn it, they can see pictures.” When Tweed fled an American jail for Spain, a Spanish official recognized him from his cartoon likeness, leading to his arrest and return to America.
In the twenty-first century, cartoons are often used as a vehicle for disseminating political commentary around the world. Political cartoons now come in many forms, from the one-frame cartoons found on the editorial pages of newspapers to multipaneled cartoons commonly referred to as comic strips. Political content can also be found in other popular cartoon forms, such as comic books, graphic novels, and Japanese anime, and in different media venues, such as television, movie theaters, and the Internet. Recurring politically charged comic strips, or “funnies,” are particularly well suited to using humor to deal with significant issues. Comic strips are able to address social and political issues by weaving them into the day-to-day lives of their characters. In America, the syndicated comic strips Doonesbury and The Boondocks are examples of daily comic strips that provide biting social commentary and critiques of the government.
SEE ALSO Nast, Thomas
Hess, Stephen, and Sandy Northrup. 1996. Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons. Montgomery, AL: Elliott and Clark.
Luther, Martin. 1521. Passional Christi und Antichristi. Wittenberg, Germany: Johann Rhau Grunenberg. http://www.kb.dk/luther/passion/index.htm.
"Cartoons, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cartoons-political
"Cartoons, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cartoons-political