The political cartoon arguably dates all the way back to the time of Martin Luther. In Luther’s battle against the Catholic Church, he decided that it would be beneficial to enroll the support of the less educated masses. By illustrating the hypocrisies Luther saw in the Catholic Church, he was able to influence the political opinion of many of those who couldn’t read.
Many years later, Benjamin Franklin created another famous political cartoon. The image was of a severed snake with the words, “JOIN, or DIE” written on the bottom. The drawing became a popular symbol in American culture that grew to mean much more than its original use.
If we move forward another hundred years, we come across political cartoons in Harper’s Weekly. The publication printed the work of Thomas Nast. He was a man of impressive skill in illustration, but his cartoons’ written messages were always quite blunt. He was successful, however, in bringing attention to William Tweed. Tweed was a corrupt politician and Nast’s cartoons turned the public against Tweed who was famous for saying, “Stop them damned pictures. I don’t care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!”
Later, a more nuanced artist came along by the name of Joseph Keppler. Keppler brought the Austrian magazine Puck to the United States and began to publish it in English. He was known more for his wit than anything, and his illustrations served to elucidate complex political issues for Puck readers.
Since the time of these early pioneers, editorial cartoons have continued to be a big part of political discourse. They kept up with public sentiment through controversies over Native Americans, women’s suffrage, scandal, celebration, and intrigue. Editorial cartoons have even moved out of the realm of the newspaper and magazine. You can find cartoons on critical and patriotic gifts in the United States and around the world. in the United States and around the world.
Written by: ARTHUR RICH