As a wee girl from Glasgow, Scotland growing up in Toronto Canada and ending up living in Vancouver, always loved comics. Beano, Archie, Superman, Batman…the list was endless.
Was a huge fan of Saturday morning cartoons on the telly. Even as a kid, was convulsed by the brilliance of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny‘s “What a maroon!” remains one of my favorite sayings to this day.
The teenage me grew to love Mad Magazine…
As my interest in Canadian, American, British, Australian and global politics evolved, became aware of the art of the political cartoon, and I was hooked. Am smitten, besotted. A cartoon is after all, a picture – whether static or celluloid. And a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
Political cartoonists have always been our voice and our conscience
Nothing made this clearer to me when 25 years ago, a dear friend loaned me his original folio of political cartoons by the great British caricaturist James Gillray, who was born in 1757. I was gobsmacked! Remember spending an entire 24 hours going over the large book, page by fragile page, referencing the illustrations to help me understand their meaning. In addition to being brilliant, flamboyant and very funny… these beautifully colored pen and inks (with some watercolors) were extremely daring. His toon of Napoleon and William Pitt carving up the world is even more relevant today than it was then!
Gillray’s predecessor, William Hogarth, was born in 1697. Hogarth was “a painter, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects”.
Caricatures go back as far as The Renaissance and Leonardo Da Vinci b.1452 … He brilliantly used distorted features to mock his subjects. Visual protest is evident in Lucas Cranach‘s work during The Reformation in Germany b.1472
Thomas Rowlandson, born in England in 1756, never missed a beat in satirizing the socio/economic/political scene… from the thoughtful to the naughty
Ben Franklin, b.1706 was a true Renaissance Man himself, Ben Franklin’s Join or Die is a masterly cartoon of the times. Harper’s Weekly Review featured the caricatures of men like Alfred R. Waud who captured the tragedy of the Civil War
Thomas Nast b.1840, was considered The Father of The American Cartoon. He captured both the corruption of Reconstruction and Tammany Hall.
Louis Dalrymple b.1868 depicts Teddy Roosevelt‘s New Diplomacy, embodying the iconic “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, for Puck Magazine in 1905. E.W. Kemble b.1861 who illustrated Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, also worked for Harper’s Weekly Review penned Roosevelt’s final frustration with “Old Man Ananias” in 1910.
World War 1, World War 11: Frank Henry Townsend complimented Britain’s Punch Almanack’s roster of illustrious cartoonists. Even our beloved Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, created wartime cartoons.
Vietnam Anti-War Cartoons: North Carolina-born cartoonist Doug Marlette was killed in a car crash in 2007. Marlette felt that “Cartoons are windows into the human condition…It’s about life”. His principled take on life was reflected in his conscientious objector stance on the Vietnam War in some of the most poignant cartoons that I can remember. His long and illustrious career covered the Charlotte Observer, the Atlanta Constitution, New York’s Newsday and the Tallahassee Democrat.
I AM CHARLIE HEBDO:
It has always been dangerous to be a political cartoonist. Da Vinci risked loosing patrons and the wrath of The Church, as did artist Lucas Cranach. Harper’s Magazine Tammany critic Thomas Nast was threatened by supporters of Boss Tweed. But nothing has highlighted the perpetual risk of drawing for a living, than the recent massacre of artists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. This tragedy has shaken us all to the core.
Je Suis Charlie Hebdo has become a global rallying cry. As it was centuries ago and so is now, caricaturists refuse to be intimidated.
Iranian cartoonist, artist and activist Atena Farghadani was arrested in August 2014 for a cartoon that mocked Members of Parliament, depicting them with animal faces. Ms. Farghadani is charged with insulting The Supreme Leader and spreading propaganda. The 28-year-old, described by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, languishes in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, having suffered a heart-attack earlier this year. On May 19, 2015 Ms. Farghadani was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. It is difficult to reconcile this with the push to collaborate with Iran on a nuclear deal. We must keep up the pressure on the Iranian government to secure Atena’s safe release. **
So given the inherent dangers, not stellar salaries and relentless 24/7 news cycle, what exactly inspires political cartoonists to pick up the pen or brush these days? There is a far-flung family of artists from around the globe who share their thoughts with us on a daily basis. And of course we in The Colonies are some of the most brutal.
In Part 2 of In Praise of Political Cartoonists, I look forward to sharing the members of this historical family with you. Will titillate you now with some gems from the current global political scene:
Dave Weigel of Bloomberg Politics, calls Donkey Hotey “The Margaret Keane of Political Cartooning” He describes Donkey Hotey by saying “Nast used pen and ink; Donkey Hotey takes public images and alters them into parody or horror. He quotes DK… “I am remixing images, manipulating them and then treating the entire piece as a whole.”
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to provide David Rowe with endless toon fodder. Rowe’s watercolors (the most difficult medium to work in) are brilliant, brutal, and beautiful. Rowe is a Stanley Award-winner and Aussie, who casts his paint far afield.
Raising a Glass of Champers to Political Cartoonists Everywhere…and Those Sail With Them. Long May Your Voices (and Ours) Be Heard!
In Praise of Political Cartoonists Part 2 coming soon
** Please sign and share #FreeAtena http://www.amnesty.org.uk/iran-atena-farghadani-prison-cartoon-womens-rights-activist#.VYo2N_lViko