Creating Cartoons: Art and Controversy

(The following is an article written by Sara Duke and Martha Kennedy, both of the Prints and Photographs Division, for the May/June 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

The Library’s vast collection of cartoon art chronicles the nation’s political controversies from its founding to the present.

Controversy sparks and fuels the art of political cartooning. Political cartoonists thrive in a climate that allows contention and freedom of expression. The compelling union of image and word that characterizes political cartoons sets them apart from other art forms, endowing them with the potential to inform, provoke and entertain.

Occasionally, cartoons can trigger violent reactions like those that occurred on Jan. 7, 2015. On that day, five cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo magazine were killed by Islamic extremists in Paris. A decade earlier, cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands- Posten sparked violent protests worldwide.

Political cartoons also have the power to generate healthy public debate, highlight pressing issues of the day, move some viewers to consider both sides of an issue and take positive action. Cartoons have contributed to political change by unmasking and condemning corruption, smear tactics and obstruction of justice. They have hastened the downfall of flawed leaders such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy and President Richard Nixon. And they have championed– and mocked–political movements such as the struggle for women’s suffrage and civil rights.

The following sampling from the vast array of political cartoon art in the Library’s collections provides just a glimpse of the rich holdings that can be explored online, and in person in the Prints and Photographs Division. The emphasis is on those that aroused controversy and likely contributed to the process of political and social change.

All images are from the Prints and Photographs Collection.

The horse “America” throws its master, King George III, in this 1779 etching published in Westminster by Wm. White.

 

President Abraham Lincoln is blamed for the Civil War's huge human toll and for deflecting the issue with his notorious storytelling in this 1864 cartoon by Joseph E. Baker.

President Abraham Lincoln is blamed for the Civil War’s huge human toll and for deflecting the issue with his notorious storytelling in this 1864 cartoon by Joseph E. Baker.               

Thomas Nast depicts corrupt New York politician William M. (“Boss”) Tweed and his cohorts as vultures picking over the remains of New York City government in this cartoon published in Harper’s Bazaar on Sept. 3, 1871.

 

Cartoonist Herbert Block (Herblock) invented the term “McCarthyism.” But his cartoon, published in The Washington Post on June 17, 1951, shows that he understood that the smear campaign used to combat communism was not the work of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy alone but the result of others going along with the idea.                       

The climb to reach equality was a long and thorny one, as this cartoon by Bill Mauldin, which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 10, 1963, depicts.

The climb to reach equality was a long and thorny one, as this cartoon by Bill Mauldin, which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 10, 1963, depicts.                        

Matt Wuerker offers this visually appealing take on the rise of the Tea Party and increasing polarization in national politics in this cartoon, which appeared in Politico Magazine on Oct. 21, 2009.

Matt Wuerker offers this visually appealing take on the rise of the Tea Party and increasing polarization in national politics in this cartoon, which appeared in Politico Magazine on Oct. 21, 2009.

Ann Telnaes' cartoon, distributed by Tribune Media Services on June 20, 2003, juxtaposes the view of some Americans about the role of religion in our society with that of the Iranians.

Ann Telnaes’ cartoon, distributed by Tribune Media Services on June 20, 2003, juxtaposes the view of some Americans about the role of religion in our society with that of the Iranians.

 

Sean Delonas lampoons former Vice President Al Gore's propensity for talking about global warming in this 2006 cartoon that appeared in the New York Post.

Sean Delonas lampoons former Vice President Al Gore’s propensity for talking about global warming in this 2006 cartoon that appeared in the New York Post.

 

4 Comments

  1. Julie Cummins
    June 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Do you have any cartoons by Edwina Dumm, the first woman cartoonist?

  2. Norma
    June 7, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    “visually appealing” apparently depends on the political viewpoint of the LC blogger.

  3. Kathleen Mcgee Treat
    June 7, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    I imagine that wondrous Walt Kelly is very much in your collection but I am curious to see more Art Young. Could your
    contributions to this series be more often?
    Thanks beyond measure from
    Kathleen

  4. Erin Allen
    June 8, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Julie,
    Thank you for your interest in the collections of the Library of Congress. We have many original comic strip drawings by Edwina Dumm, including an original editorial cartoon drawing: //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/acd1996003453/PP/ . You may see the records for selected comic strips online in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog: //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009633829/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009615775/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009615776/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009615777/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009615778/, //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009615779/. In addition, we have a total of 155 original comic strip drawings and a notebook filled with ideas for comic strips that have been individually described for online access, but do not yet appear online. A timetable for the data migration has not yet been established.

    Edwina Dumm is not the first woman cartoonist. She was very successful and had a long career, but there were plenty of other women of her generation who made their livelihoods working as cartoonists.

    Ohio State also has an excellent collection of cartoons by Edwina Dumm and put together a little online presentation about her: http://cartoons.osu.edu/digital_exhibits/edwinadumm/.

    If you have further questions, then please do not hesitate to ask.

    Sara W. Duke

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