Matt Bors
Comics, Politics & Ridicule

Bors Blog

Ill Communication

I'm reading "The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons" by Donald Dewey. I love that title. It's a coffee table book that collects cartoons spanning American history, including works by Ben Franklin, Thomas Nast, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess), Jules Feiffer and Ted Rall.

How far have political cartoons evolved over the years? Many of them haven't come far at all. Cartoons from a hundred years ago could stand along side today's with their ham-fisted humor and copious labeling.

The front section of the book features a detailed history of political cartoons and I thought this passage deserved scanning in. It is a quote from William Murrell written in 1935.

The imaginations of artists have failed miserably as most still cling to these elderly symbols.

The historical context of using these type of visual cues, beginning with Ben Franklin's snake, is that most people were illiterate at the time. In my view, this makes the Donkey and Elephant symbols more irrelevant.

Cartoonists should assume some intelligence on the part of their readers and ease up with the over reliance on symbols and labeling.

Bill Mauldin's cartoons on World War II were widely celebrated for showing the human face of war in Willie and Joe--while his peers used the old cliché from World War I, Death with a scythe. It never gets old and today's cartoonists simply place the cloaked harbinger of death in the latest conflict zone and win the accolades of editors for creating a powerful cartoon.

Is this simply the language of editorial cartoons or a laziness on the part of creators to never push the craft forward? And by "forward" I mean "beyond the 19th century."
08.18.2008 |