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Political cartoon

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Political cartoon

An editorial cartoon, also known as a political cartoon, is an illustration containing a commentary that usually relates to current events or personalities. An artist who draws such images is known as an editorial cartoonist.

They typically combine artistic skill, hyperbole and satire in order to question authority and draw attention to corruption and other social ills.[1]


By the mid 19th century, major political newspapers in many countries featured cartoons designed to express the publisher's opinion on the politics of the day. One of the most successful was Thomas Nast in New York City, who imported realistic German drawing techniques to major political issues in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Nast was most famous for his 160 editorial cartoons attacking the criminal characteristics of Boss Tweed's political machine in New York City. In fact, Tweed was arrested in Spain when a customs official identified him from Nast's cartoons.[2]

Notable editorial cartoons include Benjamin Franklin's "Join, or Die" (1754), on the need for unity in the American colonies; "The Thinkers Club" (1819), a response to the surveillance and censorship of universities in Germany under the Carlsbad Decrees; and E. H. Shepard's "The Goose-Step" (1936), on the rearmament of Germany under Hitler. "The Goose-Step" is one of a number of notable cartoons first published in the British Punch magazine.


Institutions which archive and document editorial cartoons include the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in the United States, and the British Cartoon Archive in the United Kingdom.

Editorial cartoons and editorial cartoonists are recognised by a number of awards, for example the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning (for US cartoonists, since 1922) and the British Press Awards' "Cartoonist of the Year".

Modern political cartoons

Political cartoons can usually be found on the editorial page of many newspapers, although a few (such as Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury) are sometimes placed on the regular comic strip page. Most cartoonists use visual metaphors and caricatures to address complicated political situations, and thus sum up a current event with a humorous or emotional picture.

Yaakov Kirschen, creator of the Israeli comic strip Dry Bones, says his cartoons are designed to make people laugh, which makes them drop their guard and see things the way he does. In an interview, he defined his objective as a cartoonist as an attempt to "seduce rather than to offend." [3]

In modern political cartooning, two styles have begun to emerge. The traditional style uses visual metaphors and symbols like Uncle Sam, the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant; the more recent text-heavy style, seen in Doonesbury, tells a linear story, usually in comic strip format.Template:Or Regardless of style, editorial cartoons are a way for artists to express their thoughts about current events in a comical manner.[4]

Pocket cartoons

A pocket cartoon is a form of editorial cartoon which consists of a topical single-panel single-column drawing. It was introduced by Osbert Lancaster in 1939 at the Daily Express.[5] A 2005 obituary by The Guardian of its pocket cartoonist David Austin said "Newspaper readers instinctively look to the pocket cartoon to reassure them that the disasters and afflictions besetting them each morning are not final. By taking a sideways look at the news and bringing out the absurd in it, the pocket cartoonist provides, if not exactly a silver lining, then at least a ray of hope."[6]


Editorial cartoons sometimes cause controversies.[7] Examples include the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (stemming from the publication of cartoons of Muhammad) and the 2007 Bangladesh cartoon controversy.

Libel lawsuits have been rare. In Britain, the first successful lawsuit against a cartoonist in over a century came in 1921 when J.H. Thomas, the leader of the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), initiated libel proceedings against the magazine of the British Communist Party. Thomas claimed defamation in the form of cartoons and words depicting the events of "Black Friday"—when he allegedly betrayed the locked-out Miners' Federation. Thomas won his lawsuit, and restored his reputation.[8]

See also


Further reading

  • Adler, John, and Draper Hill. Doomed by Cartoon: How Cartoonist Thomas Nast and the New York Times Brought Down Boss Tweed and His Ring of Thieves (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Gocek, Fatma Muge. Political Cartoons in the Middle East: Cultural Representations in the Middle East (Princeton series on the Middle East) (1998)
  • Hess, Stephen, and Sandy Northrop. American Political Cartoons, 1754-2010: The Evolution of a National Identity (2010)
  • Keller, Morton. The Art and Politics of Thomas Nast (1975)
  • McKenna, Kevin J. All the Views Fit to Print: Changing Images of the U.S. in 'Pravda' Political Cartoons, 1917-1991 (2001)
  • Morris, Frankie. Artist of Wonderland: The Life, Political Cartoons, and Illustrations of Tenniel (Victorian Literature and Culture Series) (2005)
  • Nevins, Allan. A century of political cartoons;: Caricature in the United States from 1800 to 1900 (1944)
  • Press, Charles. The Political Cartoon (1981)

External links

  • American Association of Editorial Cartoonists Political cartoons by the members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists
  • Political Cartoons Comprehensive guide to political editorial cartoons on the Web
  • Using editorial cartoons in the classroom Sources, analysis, interpretation (mostly English with some German)
  • Gettysburg College Civil War Era Digital Collection Contains over 300 Civil War Era political cartoons
  • American Social History Online
  • Cartoons in Gilded Age Politics from American Studies at the University of Virginia
  • Political Cartoons and Comics Journalism from around the world
  • maroonbeard political cartoons
  • Sykes Editorial Cartoon Collection Political cartoons by Bill Sykes from 1930s-1940s. VCU Libraries
  • A key contributor to the museum’s virtual exhibit: Where to draw the line? Editorial cartoons in Quebec, 1950-2000

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