Caricatures often fail to get the respect and recognition they deserve as a powerful art medium. There’s a reason the cartoon section in the newspaper was and still is, the most popular section of the entire paper. It’s why they still get printed and is the only content that has remained constant on newspapers. People still look forward to reading them every day because they never know what to expect and what social commentary will be made that they can laugh to.
While political cartoons can be humorous, they also tell a truth that we need to pay attention to. Political cartoons have a history of marking critical events in the world’s history and using social criticism to tell a story. By looking at political cartoons throughout the years, one can piece together the events of things like the World Wars and make sense of what was going on at the time, and more importantly, how it affected people and made them feel.
Here are some political cartoons that have that effect and speak volumes of truth and reason through humor.
“Join or Die”
Perhaps the most influential political cartoon of all time, at least in the western world, is the one that ignited a revolution. First published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754, Benjamin Franklin’s cartoon depicting a cut up snake with the abbreviations of each disjointed colony at the time next to each body piece. The point of Franklin’s cartoon, often referred to as America’s first political cartoon, was for the colonies to band together against French expansion and Native Americans. The cartoon was extremely popular and reprinted many times throughout the colonies and was later used as a symbol for the American Revolution.
Drawn by Bernhard Gillam, this cartoon shows 1884 Republican candidate James G. Blaine covered in tattoos of all his political sins. It was first printed in the satirical journal Puck and resulted in the election going in favor of the Democrats. The reason for this cartoon being notable is because of the fact that no other cartoon had as much influence and vogue over an election as “The Tattooed Man” by Blaine. It was received so well by the public that Gillam made an additional 20 more cartoon for the series, but made sure to clarify it was for satire purposes and not a personal attack.
“Don’t Waste Petrol. It Costs Lives.”
Printed in 1942 in The Daily Mirror, Philip Zec’s cartoon on the petrol industry caused havoc for the British government. At the time, the British government had raised the price on petrol, inspiring Zec to draw up a cartoon of a torpedoed sailor lying on a raft with oil smeared on his face, with the caption reading “Don’t waste petrol. It costs lives.”Winston Churchill interpreted the cartoon as the sailor’s life being sacrificed on the altar of the profits for the petrol industry.
Printing this cartoon earned the paper a reprimand from the British government and Zec was investigated by MI5.