Political Cartoons: No Laughing Matter

Op-ed columnists write copious essays laying out carefully reasoned arguments to support their point of view; editorial cartoonists sum up their take on current events in one iconic, thought-provoking, and often humorous image. A case in point can be seen in Barry Blitt’s new book, “In One Eye and Out the Other.” A long-time cartoonist and illustrator for The New Yorker, Blitt uses analogy, exaggeration, and irony to make people think about events of the day.

Blitt comes from a long line of political cartoonists in America, beginning with Benjamin Franklin who in 1754 drew an op-ed cartoon of a snake sliced into pieces, representing the colonies, with the warning “Join or Die.” In the mid-19th century, Thomas Nast produced more than 160 political cartoons to expose “Boss” Tweed and his corrupt money swindling gang. Other cartoonists do less muckraking, but communicate their point through metaphors, analogies, and symbols, and grab reader attention through caricatures and hyperbole. Political cartoonists go through much the same intellectual process as op-ed writers, but they must rather than elaborate on their point of view, they must pare down complex issues to get at the gist of the matter in a single picture.