“White Lines” a Cartoon by Steve Breen


The visual # 4 (“White Lines”) is a part of the cartoon portfolio of Steve Breen. This portfolio has earned Breen the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for the “agile use of a classic style to produce wide ranging cartoons that engage readers with power, clarity and humor” (Hall and Jiménez par. 1, 3). The “White Lines” is an anti-drug cartoon that uses the classic features of the genre to raise the issue of drug use and demonstrate the multiple aspects of the problem as well as their correlation. It appeals to the emotions of the general audience through the disturbing imagery of death expressed in transparent, understandable symbols.

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Cartoons are supposed to raise present-day issues and appeal to the emotions of the audience through their images or symbols (Barnet and Bedau 141). The present cartoon is consistent with the first feature: as Breen explains, his works are inspired by the news that “strike” him, and he seeks to present such news in a similarly striking manner (Hall and Jiménez par. 13-14). Indeed, the cartoon appears to be connected to particular realia that should be described to reveal the message completely. The key hints of the first panel are the word “police” written in Spanish and the name Tijuana. These hints appear to be a reference to the Tijuana drug cartels and the cruel slaughters that would take place there as a part of the “drug wars” (Vulliamy par. 1-20).

The white lines on this panel are the lines that are drawn by the police to demonstrate where the bodies of the killed had been lying. The panel contains seven body-shaped lines. It does not mean that any particular slaughter should be taken into account: cartoons presuppose oversimplifying and caricaturing as well as symbolizing; besides, Tijuana itself could be regarded as a specific case that symbolizes the drug-related violence in general (Barnet and Bedau 158). At the same time, Tijuana has a particular importance for the US since been described as the “gateway” to the US drug market (Vulliamy par. 1). This market is demonstrated in the second panel: the words are inscribed on the shadow of a man who is sitting in front of the lines of a drug, and the final pile of white powder is particularly large.

The final pile of the drug on the second panel might demonstrate the growth of US market demand, but the key messages of the “White Lines” appear to be different. It is easy to notice that the white lines symbolize death in both cases. However, it should be pointed out that, in the first case, the lines state the deaths that have already taken place while the lines in the second panel are potential deaths. Similarly, the two panels sport different colors: the first panel is light and peaceful: the crime and the danger appear as the matter of the past even though they have left the lines as the reminder. The second panel, however, is performed in dark colors: for the US market, this pile of the drug still promises danger.

Finally, it should be noted that by uniting the two panels with a single name, the author demonstrates the causal relationship between them. As such, the slaughter in Tijuana results in the provision of the US market with drugs; but, in fact, it is the second panel that is the cause of the first panel violence. In other words, if there were no demand for drugs, there would have been no need for the death of the people that the first panel symbolizes. Such a perspective on the issue emphasizes the fact that drug dealing does not only ruin the lives of the abusers, it also contributes to the crime level in other respects, resulting in deaths of people involved in the business and those attempting to stop them.

The message of the cartoon, it appears, is meant for the mainstream audience. Even though certain groups of viewers might be unfamiliar with the significance of Tijuana for the US market, the police white lines symbolize unrest very clearly. Apart from that, the phrase “white line” can easily be associated with drugs nowadays. This image has already been used in the art, for example, in the 1983 song “White Lines”, the subtitle of which is “Don’t do it” (“Grandmaster Flash”). In fact, the Oxford Dictionary does not suggest a drug-related definition for the “white lines” phrase, but the 1.16 definition for “line” is labeled as informal and describes the word as “a dose of a powdered narcotic drug” (“Line” par. 17; “White Line” par. 1-4). Therefore, it can be concluded that the audience must have no difficulties with understanding the imagery of the cartoon, and the disturbing character of the imagery is bound to appeal to the emotions of the audience.


The cartoon “White Lines” demonstrates two aspects of drug dealing and emphasizes the correlation between them. While it is necessary to know certain realia to deduce the message of the work in a proper way, the key image is clear for the general audience. This image, the white line, is the symbol of two types of deaths that are different in nature. In fact, the connection between these deaths is difficult to see at the first glance, but Breen’s work indicates it and through the disturbing imagery appeals to the emotions of the audience.

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Works Cited

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Adam Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. Print.

“Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – White Lines.” Online video clip. YouTube. 2014. Web.

Hall, Matthew T., and Jose Luis Jiménez. “U-T’s Steve Breen Wins 2009 Pulitzer Prize For Editorial Cartooning”. The San Diego Union-Tribune. 2009. Web.

Line.” Oxford Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, 2015. Web.

Vulliamy, Ed. “Tijuana streets flow with the blood of rival drug cartels”. The Guardian. 2009. Web.

White Line.” Oxford Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, 2015. Web.

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""White Lines" a Cartoon by Steve Breen." StudyCorgi, 13 Apr. 2021, studycorgi.com/white-lines-a-cartoon-by-steve-breen/.

1. StudyCorgi. ""White Lines" a Cartoon by Steve Breen." April 13, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/white-lines-a-cartoon-by-steve-breen/.


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StudyCorgi. 2021. ""White Lines" a Cartoon by Steve Breen." April 13, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/white-lines-a-cartoon-by-steve-breen/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '"White Lines" a Cartoon by Steve Breen'. 13 April.

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