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The power of current political cartoons
January 19, 2014 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Do you think political (and only political) cartoons are taken seriously in this day and age?

Wikipedia describes a cartoonist as "a visual artist who specializes in drawing cartoons. This work is often created for entertainment, political commentary or advertising. Cartoonists may work in many formats, such as animation, booklets, comic strips, comic books, editorial cartoons, graphic novels, ..."

(Although my question is about political cartoons, I will mention this because it is still relevant since it is about political comic writing): I came across an interview with acclaimed comic book writer Joe Sacco, and he says: “The power of [comics] is that it is a subversive kind of medium, because I found out that whenever I come back from one of these trips--to Bosnia or to Palestine--people will ask me, “So what was it like?” and I will start to explain that, and after about five minutes, they kind of want to talk about what movies are playing at the multiplex. There's a limit to how much can people take, in the way I was presenting it maybe. I realized when I produced a comic book, they were willing to read something like that because they thought it would be an easy entree into a complicated subject. Now, the subversive thing is, you can pack a lot of information into a comic book, at least as much as in a documentary film. And in that way, it looks very appealing--for whatever reasons, people are very visual and it's a comic, they think it's going to be easy--but there's a lot of hard information in there, and sometimes very affecting information.”

The book, “Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East”, recounts how during the 70s and the 80s, famous Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali's status evolved from that of a popular cartoonist into a cultural icon. He became so popular, and his cartoons so influential on the language and collective awareness of the Middle East, that he posed a serious threat to those he criticized and was eventually assassinated.

Are political cartoons still relevant in today's day and age? If they are, where do they get their power from (especially since it is much easier to circumvent censorship today than it was 20 or 30 years ago)?
posted by omar.a to Media & Arts (5 answers total)

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They were the image-macro memes before the internet.
posted by ctmf at 8:15 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


To people capable of nuanced thought, yes. To others, no. I can't say how much that
proportion has changed in the last 20-30 years.
posted by LonnieK at 8:18 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


@ctmf: So that is to say that the internet has made them less relevant?
@LonnieK: I am not restricting the question to the last 20-30 years, that was in reference to how circumventing censorship has become much easier.
posted by omar.a at 8:22 PM on January 19


It's a bit of a sideways answer to your question, but yes, there's lots of evidence that political cartoons are still taken seriously. The international news section at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund site has lots of stories about cartoonists being popular/being attacked across the globe - India, China, Qatar, Egypt, Syria, Malaysia, Singapore - similar to your example from the 70s/80s above:

Qatari caricature artists enjoy a relatively large amount of press freedoms, which have allowed the culture of pictorial politics to flourish...Many of the cartoonists are locals who “carry the same spirit and soul of their community.” Because much of their other media is done by non-Qatari, the editorial cartoons are often a big hit, and some consider them the “star of the paper, read by all.”

Palestinian Cartoonist Finds Refuge in Norway: Palestinian cartoonist Fabi Abou Hassan has long courted the ire of the Assad regime in Syria due to his scathing cartoon criticism of the regime...

Political Cartoonists in Egypt Face Growing Attacks

If making dictators and fundamentalists uncomfortable counts as having power, then sure, current political cartoons continue to have some power.

Cartoonists Rights Network International might be useful, too.
posted by mediareport at 8:55 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


From last June, a profile of cartoonist Khalid Albaih: Cartoonist’s Pen Leaves Mark Across Arab World.

Scroll down a bit here to see "The Rest Will Follow," published just after the Tunisian revolution. I think it's pretty powerful. Here's what the profile says about another one of his cartoons:

Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution succeeded; soon revolutionaries poured into the streets in Egypt. But when Hosni Mubarak, the longtime Egyptian leader, showed no signs of ceding power, Mr. Albaih posted a silhouette of Mr. Mubarak’s face with the word “Egypt” in Arabic next to it. It was marked with an accent, though, that altered the word’s meaning to “insistent.”

Soon after, Mr. Albaih received an e-mail from a protester in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, telling him that his political cartoon had become a symbol for the Egyptian protesters, spray painted on the streets as antigovernment graffiti. His renown as cartoonist to the revolution only grew. “I suddenly started to get all these ‘likes’ on my Facebook page,” he said. “It was crazy.” Mr. Albaih’s work was reproduced on walls in Cairo and Beirut and spread to the Facebook pages of revolutionary youth in Sana, Yemen; Khartoum; Tripoli, Lebanon; Tunis; Algiers and elsewhere.

posted by mediareport at 9:13 PM on January 19


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