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Graphic Opinions: Editorial Cartoonists And Their Art

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Graphic Opinions: Editorial Cartoonists And Their Art

Editorial cartoonists are known for their masterful, often trenchant use of images and text to express opinions or provide critique. Sometimes their work even propels national conversation or social change.

The lesson provides an in-depth look at how the work of editorial cartoonists has held those in power accountable, as well as the characteristics and challenges of this important form of opinion journalism. Students analyze cartoons from around the world, with iconic examples from Benjamin Franklin, Charles Philipon, José Guadalupe Posada and others. The lesson also invites students to compare editorial cartoons with modern forms of graphic political expression, including memes.

The chances of Columbus residents being sketched, caricatured, and graphic-novelized have never been greater, as cartoonists from around the nation converge this week for the second annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus event (shorthand designation: CXC.)

CXC is a celebration of all things cartoon, from comic strips to graphic novels to animation to editorial cartoons. Appearing will be Pulitzer-prize winners Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, and Washington Post editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes.

Happily, such pictures are beginning to find less favor withreaders—and with cartoonists. Says Bill Mauldin, at 53 a. 35-yearveteran of the editorial page: "Cartoons are getting better, more andmore away from labels. Readers are more savvy. It is less and lessnecessary to put names on things. The trend is more interestingdrawing, less complicated captions." To sharpen his point, Mauldinspent last semester teaching a course in his profession at Yale. "Ideliberately started with a nondrawing bunch," recalls the mosttechnically proficient cartoonist of his generation. "What counts isthe thinking. A drawing with authority helps give authority to an idea,but there's no way a weak idea can make a good cartoon." Don Wright,Pulitzer-prizewinning cartoonist of the Miami News, agrees. "Theeditorial cartoon has become a welcome relief from some of theponderous, elitist, overwritten poopery that typifies so many editorialpages today."

Wright's judgment has been accepted by many editors who know that, ofall features, the editorial cartoon is the least imitable by TV.Cartoonists have been encouraged to explore new forms: Jules Feiffer'spsychiatric monologues have spawned a generation of imitators; GarryTrudeau's campus favorite, Doonesbury, is bringing politics back to thecomic strip. Moreover, because cartoons are a major journalisticattraction, editors are often tolerant of artistic statements thatwould not be welcome in a prose piece. Says Herblock: "A lot ofnewspapers run my stuff even though they don't agree with me. They feelit's a signed piece of work, an example of personal opinion." Thisliberty has brought U.S. editorial cartooning to something of arebirth. It is a renaissance with too few galleries; the great epoch ofnewspapers is gone and with it, many of the journals that carried theart of the great cartoonists. Yet the work somehow finds space in thesurviving dailies, in magazines and in student publications. At itsfrequent best, contemporary cartooning in the U.S. steadily outshineswork anywhere else in the world. No country now produces corrosivelampoons equal to Patrick Oliphant's vaudeville sketches or PaulConrad's acidulous critiques. The competition for attention may havereduced the impact of graphic art everywhere. Yet the cartoon seems tobe gaining influence. No photograph damaged Lyndon Johnson so much asDavid Levine's waspish drawing of L.B. J. lifting his shirt to reveal agall bladder scar—in the shape of Viet Nam. Richard Nixon onceadmitted, "I wouldn't start the morning by looking at Herblock." EvenPresident Ford, gazing forlornly at a gallery of U.S. politicalcartoons, recently conceded, "The pen is mightier than the politician."

It is likely to remain so. T


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