A political cartoon is a type of illustration that enters the space of artistic, mass-media, and political discourses, while being a unique synthesis of literary creativity and fine art. On the one hand, an editorial cartoonist acts as a scriptwriter and a stage director.
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Whereas, on the other hand ––as an artist who embodies ideas in various visual techniques. Thus, the consciousness of a cartoonist displays a rapidly changing world. All the current and important events are often responded to by the immediate reactions of the artists through their works. Indeed, one of the most famous American editorial cartoonists Nick Anderson has already left his mark through his works for the Houston Chronicle. His cartoons on employment and immigration present a contradiction between the state vector of the USA and the needs of American society.
As a genre of fine art, a political cartoon is an image presented in the form of graphic satire. Usually, it has a clear ideological socio-critical orientation and is associated with current events or personalities (Shaikh et al. 75). Artistry in such images is connected with hyperbole and satire to ridicule and attract the attention of the community to political and social problems. Besides, the elements of exaggeration, comparison, and assimilation are often used in this type of cartoon. Shaikh et al. claim: “In the contemporary world, political action is prepared, accompanied, influenced and played by language and cartoons” (77).
Therefore, on the one hand, a political cartoon is an independent type of graphic art that has no applied value. However, from a practical point of view, in modern mass media, it becomes one of the components of infographics. Moreover, its importance increases in today’s era of information visualization, displacing the traditional satirical drawing (Shaikh et al. 78). Political cartoons inform readers about social events visually with a comic effect and thereby provide food for thought for society.
Political cartoons have a long history since art has always been the easiest way to transmit information to even the illiterate population. The origins of cartoons go back to ancient Egypt’s art culture and paintings on the wall; later, they traveled to Europe and can be found in medieval art (Shaikh et al. 76). The heyday of the political cartoon is usually associated with periods of major social conflicts and with epochs of the most significant activity of the masses.
Caricature in the USA became widespread by the beginning of the 20th century (Fischer 1). At that time almost all newspapers had already acquired their own editorial cartoonists. Moreover, since 1918, the Pulitzer Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in the field of journalism, began to be awarded to cartoonists (Fischer 2). Nick Anderson from the Houston Chronicle is a well-known representative of this genre.
In his work, Anderson covers contemporary political and cultural issues in the USA. Readers find his loose style appealing and exciting as it reflects modern social problems. As Anderson mentioned himself, his approach to work carries “healthy skepticism for the ideological extremists littering our political landscape” (Fischer 172). In 2005, Nick Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons for his unique graphic style that produced thoughtful and powerful messages (Fischer 172). His work represented political and legal events ongoing in the USA at the beginning of the 20th century.
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On the 31st of March 2006, the readers of the Houston Chronicle saw one more interesting and meaningful cartoon. In the picture, two men are standing in front of the grating fence and holding posters labeled “KEEP OUT” and “HELP WANTED.” A tall man in his striped pants and a big hat has the position of a leader. He looks enormous and powerful compared to a tiny person who stands between his legs. A giant has a grumpy face that reaffirms his “KEEP OUT” poster. He is not welcoming strangers to the other side of the fence. Meanwhile, a small white-collar who has “employers” written on his suit welcomes everyone with a friendly smile. However, it is difficult to notice a happy face and a “HELP WANTED” sign when the grumpy giant takes all attention.
For the readers of the Houston Chronicle, Anderson’s metaphor was evident at that time, because it showed the current flow of events. However, it also resonates with the modern audience even though 15 years have passed. A giant represents the political anti-immigration campaign that started with the new millennium as is still going on in the USA. Keeping out immigrants from American borders is what some US politicians advertise during their campaigns and later try to implement into society legally.
Meanwhile, the labor market is in need, and American employers, like that small white-collar from Anderson’s picture, want some help. They ask for a skilled workforce out of the border because they do not have enough within the country. However, employers and their wishes are hidden by political ambitions, so their needs may not be fulfilled.
The main feature of the cartoons is that each simple picture carries a deep meaning and relevant news that viewers can only see if they know the current context. According to Chen et al., political cartoons are artifacts that represent the historical period and its most significant events (125). Through the prism of Anderson’s work, it is easy to understand the spirit of the time. Although his picture is metaphoric, its meaning is evident because of his realistic painting techniques. Leon claims: “Depending on the context in which they are presented, political cartoons can be delivered as invective, as affirmation, clarification or persuasion for the viewer” (181).
Therefore, Anderson aimed to point out the problems of American society that were significant at the beginning of the 21st century. Acute political conflicts and unresolved issues within the US community served as topics and sources of his political cartoons. Indeed, this genre has several specific features, which is explained by the fact that it has inherited its characteristics from political, humorous, mass media, and artistic discourses.
The visual metaphor in the plot of a political cartoon is a universal medium that reflects these discourses. First of all, the visual metaphor is a well-aimed and vivid means of a description of the current political events in the world. Thus, it serves to allow one to depict the problems of the world community accurately and figuratively. However, the process of interpreting a non-verbal metaphor in a political cartoon is more complicated because the image is multifaceted. Therefore, the artists often resort to a verbal characterization presented in the form of a word or phrase to facilitate the perception of a visual metaphor. Knowledge of the political situation in the country, as well as knowledge of the symbols of the parties used in the cartoon, helps the reader to evaluate and interpret the plot of the political satire according to the idea of the author.
In the case of Anderson, “KEEP OUT” and “HELP WANTED” are the two opposites of one problem – employment immigration. A cartoon is what carries its meaning and represents its core. Therefore, a graphic image points to a politically significant event based on analogy, similarity, and comparison. A visual metaphor Anderson used in his work is shown realistically because one may observe two American men. Their appearance and even signs they carry give an idea of what is meant by the author. Lenette says: “Political cartoons can … be effective in capturing incongruences in political rhetoric through satire and caricature” (343). This statement can be applied to Anderson’s works. A caricature of a giant in his striped pants represents the American political power that is not happy with the flow of immigrants, whereas a friendly but hardly noticeable white-collar is asking for help. The background of the picture is a grating fence symbolizing the USA border.
Indeed, the communicative function of this political cartoon is also apparent. The editors and artists communicate with readers with the help of images in the press, and those, in turn, receive the information and give their feedback. It is worth mentioning that any text or picture created for mass media, including political cartoons, draws an audience to a dialogue. Moreover, in the process of such indirect communication, new themes and plots for pictures are born.
Satirical drawing, like other forms of fine art, is a factor and the result of successful human communication – the exchange of necessary information connected to the life of members of every society. And finally, since the metaphor in the political cartoons always calls for background knowledge of significant political events, visual understanding of political personalities, parties, their symbols, it thereby creates a common platform for editors and readers. Based on it, the cartoonist can more successfully bring his opinion and ideas to the mind of readers.
In the 21st century, historical relations of power in Western modernity show the dominance of political forces over the community. Therefore, a cartoon made by Nick Anderson regarding the immigration and employment issue is a direct metaphor for the division of power in the USA. American politics appears in the image of an unfriendly giant who does not allow immigrants into the territory of his country. But does this position correspond to the needs of ordinary citizens of the state? Labor shortages are demonstrated in the form of an employer who is waiting for help with a smile on his face. These were the political realities of Anderson at the beginning of the new century.
A political cartoon is an art form with a long history. Artists often resort not only to entertaining society but to using it as a tool to influence public opinion. Thus, in political cartoons, attention is drawn to acute social problems, and sometimes their solutions are also proposed. In the 21st century, the genre of political cartoons began to develop actively. The constant changes taking place in the world community have become an inspiration for many artists.
Many of them got the opportunity to show their position on the pages of various print media. The Houston Chronicle has become one of the sites where a well-known editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson put up his masterpieces. In one of his works, Anderson tries to attract attention to the issue of immigration and employment. His cartoon exacerbates the perception of the audience and makes one look at familiar things from a different angle. Moreover, it stimulates the comprehension of the issue described above. Anderson’s cartoon is a universal means of depicting the socio-political situation and relevant phenomena that take place in the American community. Therefore, such an interpretation of political events gives a new perspective on the issue.
Chen, Khin Wee, et al. “Towards a Discipline of Political Cartoon Studies: Mapping the Field.” Satire and Politics, edited by Jessica Milner Davis, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2017, pp. 125-162.
Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich. Caricatures on American Historical Phases 1918-2018: Pulitzer Prize Winning Editorial Cartoons from Wilson to Trump. Vol. 19, LIT Verlag Münster, 2020.
Lenette, Caroline. “Political Cartoons and Host Nations’ Public Dispositions Toward Integration.” Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, vol. 24, no. 3, 2018, p.343.
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Leon, Lucien. “The Evolution of Political Cartooning in the New Media Age: Cases from Australia, the USA, and the UK.” Satire and Politics, edited by Jessica Milner Daves, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2017, pp. 163-191.
Shaikh, Nazra Zahid, et al. “Cartoon War….. A political Dilemma! A Semiotic Analysis of Political Cartoons.” Journal of Media Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, 2019, pp. 64-92.