It’s 2022 and a new year is upon us! It’s also January, and I don’t know about where you are, but in Paris, January means being perpetually cold and damp. As I write this, it’s pouring rain, it’s dark even though it’s midday, and I’m drinking tea because I’m cold. To be fair, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. In fact, there’s nothing I love more than being indoors when it’s raining, writing and drinking tea. But that doesn’t change the fact that January is normally a naturally dreary month. The holidays are over but winter is not. And with the constant rain and cold, I decided that this month’s topic would be something fun. Something that would make me smile. Which is how I landed on cartooning.
To start, I typed “What is cartooning?” into Google. I then watched this video by renowned cartoonist Liza Donnelly. In it, she lists off the many different types of cartoons: strip comics, comic books, political cartoons, single panel, graphic novels, web comics, animation, caricature, etc. So many! I quickly realized that I needed to narrow down my focus, because everything listed above could easily be a whole month’s topic on their own. I eventually decided on political and single panel cartoons, because those are the types of cartoons that I know the least about. Meaning I have the most to learn. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
First up. Where does the word cartoon come from? It either comes from the Italian ‘carton’ or the Dutch ‘cartoon’, both of which mean a strong, thick, and heavy paper or pasteboard. Early cartoons were often drawn onto these boards as a way to prep larger projects, such as stained glass windows. This was before cartoons were considered an art form unto themselves. Next, what is the difference between political and editorial cartoons? I kept coming across both of these terms this past week, and eventually decided to Google it. The answer, as it turns out, is that they can be used interchangeably. They also have an incredible history.
Editorial cartoons rose in prominence along with the rise of publishing and the print media. They enjoying a Golden Age between 1890 and 1930, but they have always been influential. Louis Raemaekers’ cartoons infuriated the Germans so much during WWI, they tried to have him arrested for endangering Dutch neutrality. Honoré Daumier was jailed for six months because of his cartoons, and the controversy over “At Last a Perfect Soldier” eventually led to the closure of the publication The Masses. I live in Paris, and I vividly remember the day when the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked. Images are powerful.
But they are also fun. And funny. They can be used for satire and social commentary. And they can educate while making us laugh, which is an extraordinary thing. They are also the oldest art form in our history. Cave paintings that are tens of thousands of years old are some of the earliest forms of artistic expression by humans. In other words, pre-historic cartoons. As a species, we have always used images to convey our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to say that the history of cartoons is the history of humans. Political cartoons are a perfect example of this. Because they react to current events, they provide us with an important record of what people are talking about at any given point in time. And not just the what. These cartoons are created to convey a certain viewpoint, meaning we don’t just know what people are talking about. We know how they feel about it as well.
Of course, like so many artistic mediums, the names I kept coming across this past week as I read about political cartoons were predominantly male. So I specifically searched for the history of women cartoonists. This is how I discovered the works of Lou Rogers, Edwina Dumm, Rose O’Neill, and Roz Chast. I read about how women cartoonists were an instrumental part of the suffrage movement and portraying women outside of domestic spaces. I read about how Edwina Dumm was the first full time woman editorial cartoonist in 1915, but it took until 1992 for the first woman, Signe Wilkinson, to win the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning. And I was very aware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the women I was reading about were white.
All of this is to say that there is a lot more to learn about political cartoons. Both the history of cartooning and technique. And there’s a lot more artists whose work I can’t wait to discover. Good thing I have a whole month in which to do so.
Happy New Year everyone! Happy January, and Happy Sunday. See you next week!
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!