Wednesday, December 17, 2008

cartoons meet politics

From my files, a cool little article by Dan Gilgoff in U.S. News & World Report on the historical impact of American political cartoonists...

The drawing that turned Thomas Nast into the most powerful political cartoonist in American history wasn't the least bit funny. Published in Harper's Weekly in September 1864, it showed a triumphant Confederate soldier shaking hands with a peg-legged Union veteran as a woman wept over a grave of Union heroes from a "Useless War." Titled "Compromise with the South," the cartoon blasted the anti-Civil War peace platform adopted by the Democrats.

Facing Democrat George McClellan in that fall's election, Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party printed up millions of copies of Nast's cartoon and distributed them everywhere. Nast's popularity skyrocketed, and his cartoon was credited with helping turn the tide in favor of Lincoln....Three years after Lincoln's assassination, Nast struck again. Ulysses S. Grant attributed his own presidential victory to "the sword of Sheridan"—a top Union general—"and the pencil of Thomas Nast."

For much of the 19th century, political cartoons wielded tremendous influence in presidential races because they, along with more-respectful hand-drawn portraits, were the only candidate pictures voters had....

The clout of editorial cartoons has waned, but their ability to capture complex issues inside a single box makes them some of the most accessible and revealing documents from 200-plus years of presidential campaigns. And now two exhibits, one newly opened at the National Archives and one at the Newseum, which is scheduled to open in April, in Washington, D.C., highlight their importance and intrigue....

Although political cartoons were popular in Europe in the 1700s, their evolution in the United States began with a drawing by Ben Franklin published in 1754. Advocating a unification of the colonies against French and Indian aggression, Franklin drew a snake chopped into eight segments, one for each colony, with the caption "Join, or Die."

But it wasn't until 1828 that political cartoons really took off in the United States, thanks to the widespread adoption of lithography...

By Lincoln's time, broadsheets had given way to weekly magazines, which only increased the cartoons' power....

In the last decades of the 19th century, the birth of daily newspapers and cartoonists' mounting disgust for Gilded Age greed gave rise to populist-themed comics....

In the early 20th century, the advent of photographs pushed cartoons off front pages to the editorial pages—and cartoonists watched their sway slip. With their future uncertain, many of them opted for less-offensive images....

The birth of television in the 1950s and the spread of color photographs in newspapers and magazines gave political cartoons even more competition. This time, artists struck back with bolder, angrier, and more-irreverent work....

Currently, there are fewer than 100 full-time political cartoonists, down from 2,000 at the turn of the last century. But just like nearly all his predecessors, Kallaugher considers election season his favorite time to draw....

1 Comments:

At December 25, 2008 at 8:30 AM , Blogger Fairy said...

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