Like its progenitor the caricature, the cartoon in the satirical sense is a difficult thing to define closely. Basically any illustration containing elements of caricatural deformation could be called a cartoon. Cartoons are generally more complex in their communication than caricatures, generating meaning by use of signs, symbols, literary and historical allusions, visual analogies and written texts, all of which belong to a specific cultural context.
Words are contained in captions, speech balloons or within the drawing itself and are often essential for an understanding of the cartoon as a whole. This provides a useful general definition. Regardless of the purposes to which it is put, which may range from scorching satire to harmless persiflage, the cartoon is at base an aggressive medium, an offensive weapon whose effect can be devastating.
In what follows the term cartoon will be used to include caricature, unless the latter is specifically stated. A cartoon need no more be humorous than it need be satirical. Several terms are used to typologize cartoons and these will be clarified in what follows. Indeed they may be deadly serious. Political cartoons form the bulk of the primary material of this study.
They are not necessarily topical. Their appeal often rests on their seemingly broad, timeless applicability and thus their use of stereotypes. A division is sometimes made between political and social cartoons, suggesting they are parallel genres. However, this is problematical because many social issues, such as pollution and abortion, have strong political implications.
They aim to be humorous, may employ caricatural techniques to achieve this end, but do not have a clearly discernible satirical intent. Satire in word and image is believed to have existed in all cultural epochs. While satire developed as a rich form of literary expression from Antiquity onwards, its pictorial expression remained limited until the evolution of aesthetics during the Renaissance. At the same time, the upheavals of the Reformation were granting people unprecedented critical liberty. This was aided considerably by technological advances in graphic art and information dissemination, with woodcuts and copperplate engravings reproduced en masse as illustrated broadsheets by printing presses across Northern Europe.
It was in the often naive, but often surprisingly sophisticated, pictures of German illustrated broadsheets and frontispiece illustrations that men first learnt the basic techniques of graphic satire, exploiting puns and illustrating metaphors and images drawn largely from the Bible and the popular proverbs and idioms in order to reinforce the message of the texts. And it was in Germany that this tradition of religious polemicism was adapted for the purposes of political satire at the time of the Thirty Years War. The development of modern caricature is seen as closely linked with the emergence of the concept of individuality and a spirit of ridicule and mockery in the seventeenth century.
This was part of the process of intellectual liberation from the straitjacket of authority and tradition in the wake of the Reformation:.
Erst mit der neuen Anschauung vom Menschen, die sich im Die Karikatur ist bildhafter Ausdruck desselben Geistes, der aus dem von autoritativen und traditionellen Fesseln sich befreienden Kritizismus und Skeptizismus spricht. The invention of portrait caricature is attributed to the Bolognese brothers, Agostino and Annibale Carracci Bernini made an advance on their experiments by seeking to expose the very personality of the subject through caricature, thus further popularizing the style and establishing it properly as an artistic genre.
This new mode of representation caught on, with connoisseurs and critics of the period taking great pleasure in justifying and defining it in elaborate theoretical treatises. Cartooning in its modern sense was an outgrowth of caricature, and its development as an instrument of social and political criticism followed closely the rise of a liberal, tolerant, and democratically-minded bourgeois society, whose values it then put to the test. By the beginning of the eighteenth century such a society was establishing itself in England, providing the location for the melding of caricature and satirical print, which arrived from the Netherlands following the Glorious Revolution of There portrait caricature, a new device, recently imported from Italy, was used to quicken the old-style allegorical print in the work of Townshend, Hogarth, and their successors; it was their example that, reexported to the continent, was to lead to the establishment of the grand tradition of European political caricatures in the prints and latterly the journals of the early nineteenth century.
Graphic satire flourished in England as a settled political system developed under the Hanoverians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The concomitant climate of relative liberty encouraged political debate and assertiveness amongst ever widening circles of British society as well as in a burgeoning press, free of censorship. Their etchings were sold as single sheets by printshops and bookshops, principally in London, and only sporadically published in periodicals, while their use in the nascent newspapers was as yet technically and commercially unfeasible.
In the nineteenth century cartooning reached a classical high point.
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Around the French took up the baton of incisive graphic satire from the English, as the latter entered a period of genteel critical restraint in reaction to the Georgian free-for-all. Punch, or the London Charivari , the first English journal dedicated to cartooning and comic writing, followed in The Punch school tended to be reflective, more concerned with the quality of draughtsmanship than presenting clever insights or forcing home any weighty political message. Because of the time required for engraving and the conventions of printing, cartoons were not taken up by daily newspapers in Britain until later in the nineteenth century.
Political cartooning went into abeyance until the Revolution of allowed a brief flowering, before again being suppressed until Only Kladderadatsch achieved any permanence, providing the model for later journals such as Der Wahre Jacob and Simplicissimus Wilhelm Busch was perhaps its most prominent exponent. By the end of the nineteenth century, and with unification, Germany achieved a degree of social and political stability which allowed the restoration of independent, critical commentary on public affairs.
This was the role adopted by Simplicissimus , which showcased graphic satire of unprecedented artistic and critical distinction. The journal followed a zig-zag course in tandem with the development of the German bourgeoisie, exchanging its critical stance for full patriotic fervour in the First World War.
During the First World War cartoonists in Britain and Germany were restrained by censorship and propaganda guidelines. There is even evidence on the German side of systematic cooperation with the authorities. In the twenties the illustrated press flourished in Britain, and political cartooning generally reflected editorial policy. His international celebrity status was achieved by syndication as well as by the universal appeal of the characters he created, like the reactionary Colonel Blimp.
The Weimar period in Germany saw talents like Georg Grosz caricaturing capitalist corruption and exposing the violence associated with the rise of fascism. At the outbreak of the Second World War cartoonists were again enlisted for the war effort as part of a wider media propaganda programme. The occupying forces exercised control over the reconstruction of the German media, principally through the granting of press licenses. This was particularly important in the British and US zones where many facets of British and American newspaper publishing were adopted, including the editorial cartoon commenting on current affairs which appeared in the same place each day in the newspaper.
Many of those who had gone into exile stayed abroad or returned much later; few of those that had remained were free from the taint of Nazi collaboration. By the press was establishing itself as an integral part of West German democracy, and the satirical drawing was party to that process. Removed, however, was the bile and spleen associated with the destructive propaganda of the preceding decades.
As Keim states:. Moreover, post-war graphic satire in Germany was marked by a further evolutionary step: the use of the comique absolu , of nonsense, as best seen in the work of artists belonging to the Neue Frankfurter Schule. Commentators seem to agree that German cartooning pains no one much any more. In a press environment where broad-based regional newspapers predominate and cartoonists usually serve more than one title with the same sketch, it is commercially wise to keep as many editors and subscribers sweet as possible.
Despite this or perhaps because of it the political cartoon has experienced a boom in recent years in Germany. The reprinting of cartoons increased by more than thirty per cent from to , no doubt in part due to the momentous events of the period. The immediate post-war period saw a decline in political cartooning.
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The evil of Naziism had been defeated and with it much of the crusading impetus for artists like Low had gone. It provided a medium for the revival of a more acerbic style of cartooning in showcasing the talents of precocious young artists such as Michael Heath b. Yet the overall impression remained of a dearth in biting graphic satire. Writing in the pre-Thatcherite Britain of Walker was convinced that the spirit of the Golden Age had well and truly died and was not likely to be resurrected in a country still so much in thrall to past glories:.
Most sadly, the vicious energy, the sheer violence of political hatred which were the essence of Gillray and Cruikshank, has long since ceased to be the dominant style. Dyson had it, Scarfe and Steadman have touched it, but the constant, merciless screech of the Regency cartoonist has settled in the Twentieth Century to a well-mannered murmur. It is a kind of smugness about Britain, perhaps an inheritance from the war, when cartoonists like Low and Strube were in the front line of the propaganda battle for the Home Front.
Cartoonists learned and were expected to celebrate and to promote some of our comforting British myths about ourselves. One of the long-term effects of the ensuing eleven years of hardline partisan premiership may well have been the sustained rejuvenation of the satirical cartoon in Britain. It is generally agreed that the unique power that caricature once possessed has weakened. The future of press cartooning may not look very rosy to some, given the amusement-seeking, technologically diverse culture ours has become.
History has shown that cartoonists can be chameleons. This section explores facets of the complex nature of cartoons and caricatures that inform the way in which they are used as tools of communication about ourselves and others. According to psychoanalysts, cartoons like jokes provide us with basic enjoyment of the aggressive and obscene which we have otherwise lost through social, moral and logical pressures.
Ernst Kris and Sir Ernst Gombrich were pioneers in the psychological interpretation of caricature. Visual images do in fact play a different part in our mind than that played by words. The visual image has deeper roots, is more primitive. It presupposes a belief in the identity of the sign with the thing signified — a belief which surpasses in intensity the belief in the magic potency of the word.
The cartoonist can mythologize the world of politics by physiognomizing it. By linking the mythical with the real he creates that fusion, that amalgam, that seems so convincing to the emotional world.
In using techniques of this sort, cartoons allude to our fears, our vanities and our wishes. They evoke associations and, as a consequence, often elicit a strong emotional response, which might be of rage or rejection. Cartoons help us to make sense of the world, using processes akin to stereotyping such as simplification and the reduction of complexity. Cartoons reveal, graphically, that, as Santayana put it. Caricatural representation has been described as neither truly realistic nor wholly abstract.
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There is nothing more characteristic of pictorial satire than its conservatism, both in style and content. It cannot be abstract. It relies on the familiar in order to be understood and tends to draw on the same old stock of motifs and stereotypes. This will be tolerated as long as the lies are seen as acceptable and for the public good. Cartoonists blend fantasy with fact.
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So they mislead.
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