Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's Hear From a Cartooning Expert

Cartoonist Daryl Cagle explains how The New Yorker's Barry Blitt cartoon on their recent cover fails, and thus why it has got them into such deep do-do.

There are rules to political cartoons that allow cartoonists to draw in an elegant, simple, shorthand that readers understand. Exaggeration is a well worn tool of political cartoonists; we use it all the time. I've drawn President Bush as the King of England, to exaggerate his autocratic tendencies. I've drawn the president as a dog, peeing all over the globe to mark his territory. I exaggerate every day, and I don't expect my readers to take my exaggerations seriously -- but when I draw an absurdly exaggerated political cartoon, I'm looking for some truth to exaggerate to make my point. A typical stand-up comedian will tell jokes about things the audience already knows or agrees with, "it's funny because it's true," or true as the comedian sees it. It is the same for cartoonists -- our readers know that we're exaggerating to make a point we believe in....

There is no frame of reference in The New Yorker's cover to put the scene into perspective. Following the rules of political cartoons, I could fix it. I would have Obama think in a thought balloon, "I must be in the nightmare of some conservative." With that, the scene is shown to be in the mind of someone the cartoonist disagrees with and we have defined the target of the cartoon as crazy conservatives with their crazy dreams.

Since readers expect cartoonists to convey some truth as we see it, depicting someone else's point of view in a cartoon has to be shown to be someone else's point of view, otherwise it is reasonable for readers to see the cartoon as somehow being the cartoonist's point of view, no matter how absurd the cartoon is. That is where The New Yorker's cover cartoon fails.

Cagle himself offers this parody that clearly expresses his own point of view:

Matson at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch makes the same point about context with this:

How could a magazine so well known for such excellent cartooning make such a fundamental cartooning blunder?

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