Defining Editorial Cartoons

An editorial cartoon can address any issue, be it political or social. But it must make a statement or take a stand on an issue or it's not an editorial cartoon. Editorial cartoons can be any of the following:

II Funny: Humor can give an editorial cartoon an extra punch, but only if the humor still allows the real issue to be understood.

✓ Poignant: Cartoons that use powerful images that evoke emotion. The memorial cartoons that followed the tragic events of September 11th are good examples.

✓ Critical: Editorial cartoons can seem mean-spirited or even vicious if you're the subject of the cartoon or a supporter of the subject. However, if you agree with the cartoonist's portrayal, you see his work as right on target. It simply depends on what side of the issue you happen to fall.

Thomas Nast: The father of American caricature

Historians refer to Thomas Nast as the "Father of American caricature." He's also regarded as the first American political cartoonist who started a rich, colorful trend that continues today. Nast laid the groundwork for not only editorial cartooning but also criticism and satire in all its current modern forms. His legacy continues in cartoons, late-night monologues, comedy sketches, TV opinion programs, and any other form of social critique.

Nast's drawing talents were apparent from very early on. In 1855, at the age of 15, he started working as a draftsman for a newspaper, and within three years he landed at Harper's Weekly.

Nast quickly became famous for his work and subsequently became a national celebrity. Perhaps the series of cartoons Nast is most famous for is the work he did depicting Boss Tweed, a powerful New York politician who used corruption as a method of operation. Nast's drawings were instrumental in the downfall of Tweed and his corrupt operation. Tweed was so concerned about Nast's drawings that he even attempted to bribe Nast with over a half million dollars — a vast fortune in the late 19th century.

Nast rejected Tweed's offer and instead continued the attack with his pen. Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud, among other charges. Tweed escaped in 1875 and eventually fled to Spain. Ironically, Spanish officials were able to identify Tweed the fugitive by using one of Nast's cartoons.

Additionally, Nast is credited with creating the symbols for both major American political parties. After President Andrew Jackson used the term "jackass" to criticize the Democratic Party, Nast began using a donkey in his cartoons as the symbol for Democrats. Nast was also responsible for creating the Republican Party elephant. In an early cartoon, he drew a donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled "The Republican Vote." That's all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party.

He also popularized the image of Uncle Sam and created the modern image of Santa Claus — the one often seen in classic ads for the soft drink Coca-Cola.

Editorial cartoons can be diverse, but most follow certain traditional styles. In modern political cartooning, two styles have emerged:

✓ The traditional style: This style involves the use of visual metaphors and stereotypes. Many cartoonists use visual metaphors and caricatures to explain complicated political situations, and thus sum up current events with a humorous or emotional picture. These cartoonists generally were influenced stylistically by Mad magazine. Their purpose is to bring across a message to people and try to make them think a certain way.

✓ The alternative style: Also referred to as the altie style, this style provides more of a linear read than usually seen in comic strip format. Altie style is typically more text-heavy and less reliant on visual gags than the traditional style.

Refer to the "Setting the Scene for What You Have to Say" section later in this chapter for more on these two styles.

Both are legitimate ways to convey a message; the traditional forms of editorial cartooning rely more on the art to tell the story and convey the message than the wordier, text-heavy, alternative formats do.

If you don't want to end up being caricatured in an editorial cartoon, don't run for office!

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