'Political cartoons are vivid primary sources that offer intriguing and entertaining insights into the public mood, the underlying cultural assumptions of an age, and attitudes toward key events or trends of the times. Since the 18th century, political cartoons have offered a highly useful window into the past. Just about every school history textbook now has its quota of political cartoons'' ' Jonathan Burack
Burack says that the simplicity of the cartoons is what makes cartoons deceptive, the more simplicity of the drawing or visual, the more complex the thought behind it. He points out that cartoons have evolved from the 1700's where they were elaborate heavy on dialogues and obscure visuals. He says cartoons in short, are visual strategies to make a point in small spaces.
Cartoon is an imprecise term applied to a multitude of graphic forms. Though being better than other terms such as caricature, it can be broadly divided into two categories: cartoons of opinion and joke cartoons. Cartoons of opinion are primarily visual mean of communicating opinions and attitudes, humour may be present but not a necessary part of it. On the other hand, joke cartoons are designed to communicate humour.
This art form dates back to at least 3300 years. The world's oldest caricature was unearthed in Egypt where the subject of mockery was none other than the Egyptian king 'Pharaoh Akhenaton'. And it happened when he tried to give his country a new religion, new government and a new capital city around 1360 BC. Caricatures were always there, they have been found on Ancient Greek pottery depictions, lampooning both political leaders and overweight Olympian gods. The Roman Empire's political discontent appeared scrawled on walls, mocking strict or incompetent military commanders as well as fringe religious movements. Ancient Indian rulers also were no less immune to caricatures that attacked political elites and their Hindu gods. What is significant in these manifestations is that these cartoons were produced independent of editorial control or profit motive and appeared on mediums other than newsprint. Political cartoons are made of two elements ' caricature, in which the subject is parodied and allusion, in which the subject is placed under the situation or context. Caricature is a western art which dates back to Leonardo da Vinci's artistic explorations of the ideal type of deformity namely grotesque that he used to explain the concept of ideal beauty. As the time goes the established principles of form by Leonardo became so ingrained into the portraiture method that several other artists rebelled against him. So in order to make satire more lighthearted caricature came as a counter art. It was a new genre which was quick, impressionistic and exaggerating prominent physical characteristics to humorous effect, bringing out the subject's inner self in a kind of physiognomic satire. Caricatures started to become popular with collectors, perceiving the fanciful exercises as curiosities rather than an artistic work, so instead of displaying it publicly they were shown in parlors and drawing rooms. The printing press invention profoundly changed the scene of political cartoons. Printing led to the emergence of the broadsheet, which circulated throughout Renaissance Europe.
During the 17th century, William Hogarth was perceived as the precursor of political cartoons. His cartoons were loaded with satire and sequential artistic scenes, aimed for social criticism. His cartoons brought out the corruption of early 18th century Britain politics. His works includes the iconic portray of the disastrous 1720's stock market crash known as the 'South Sea Bubble' leading to loss a great deal of money. His masterpiece 'A Rake's Progress' had a strong moral tone that shows how cartoons were becoming a vehicle of setting social agenda. The art of cartooning started to develop in the latter part of 18th century. James Gillray was a well-known name during this time who explored the medium of cartooning especially during French Revolution. His works ridiculed the ambitions of the revolutionary and Napoleon's motifs through lampooning and caricatures. Gillray's incomparable wit and humour, his use of knowledge of life, keen sense of the ludicrous, and beauty of execution, put him amongst the top cartoonists once. It shows how cartooning was becoming influential and gaining widespread acclaim. Magazines like 'Punch' started to publish in 1941 became a national institution due to its influential and widely acclaimed artists such as John Leech, Richard Doyle, John Tenniel and Charles Keene.
By the mid-19th century, magazines were evolved into newspaper and publishers printed their take upon day to day politics. One of them was the famous influential cartoonist Thomas Nast from New York whose cartoons attacked the criminal activities 'Boss Tweed' political machinery. By the late 19th century cartoonists started to draw inspiration from other sources such as Shakespeare, Bible, sports, mythology and other contexts.
According to Charles Press, author of Political Cartooning, in order to make a political cartoon effective it must have the four following qualities '
' Artistic quality - but the artistry must not get in the way of the message.
' Genuine sentiment - but it should not feel phony.
' Fresh, uncomplicated imagery - should be striking, forceful, and amusing.
' Lasting importance - the subject of the cartoon should be important so the cartoon can be understood by future readers.
Following are the other significant elements that goes into the making of political cartoons -
' SATIRE - Political cartoons uses satire in order to make an observation about a situation. It touches those issues that may not be suited for commentary by an editor. A cartoon is endorsed by a newspaper and is definitely a questioning and decisive piece that at times may even be biased. A good cartoon says what the editorial may try to avoid, cartoons are safe as the prevalent humour quotient brings certain balance to controversies and that is why any newspaper tries at getting out the best artwork. Cartoonists use specific devises to get their message across.
' HUMOUR ' Humour is the most prevalent subject matter in political cartoons. The effectiveness of a cartoon depends significantly upon the element of humour it contains. Through humour, absurdity and hypocrisy are exposed and when a reader laugh at those who are in power, he becomes less afraid. The element of humour act as a sugar coating upon the bitter pill. And it also brings certain balance to controversies. As satire can hurt people, cartoonist uses humour subversively as an agent of change and reflection.
' SYMBOLS ' Symbols are important, as sometimes people are not sure how they feel and unable to make a decision. Studies shows that there is a high frequency of emotional symbolism in editorial cartoons as explained by the DeMause's theory. Manipulation of shared symbols is likely to be important in directing public attention and shaping public opinion, especially in modern democracies.
' IRONY ' The use of political irony often points out the contradictions in politics in a wry way. Rhetoric is often used in text with irony, this sort of irony is often seen in political cartoons. Sometimes it is humorous, and other times it can be quite hostile. Burack says that irony makes cartoons witty and point out the flaws in the system. He says cartoons must entail irony as they can make a contradiction and argument.
' STEREOTYPING - Stereotyping is a routine in cartoons, it's in a stereotype that the cartoonist tries, explains and simplifies a largely applicable point of view. Though being offensive, it largely helps a cartoonist to convey and establish an idea, making a strong point open for discussions and debates.
' AN ARGUMENT NOT A SLOGAN - Cartoons are pointed taking a jab at issues, they are not merely slogans that state a fact. Slogans are different for ex. Adidas has 'Impossible Is Nothing' slogan. But a cartoon subverts it explaining how this is achieved. In some cases it's opinionated and blunt. So even though if it's biased, the cartoon provides one, grounds for responding and even arguing back.
' DISTORTION - Exaggeration and distortion are the primary tools employed by a cartoonist which shows someone's power or weak??ness, the importance or the insignificance, dangerousness or helplessness of a person, group, or social force. In other words, distortion and exaggeration help to emphasise extremes in personalities or actions.
R K Laxman is an Indian cartoonist, illustrator, and humorist. He is best known for his creation The Common Man, for his daily cartoon strip, "You Said It" in The Times of India, which started in 1951. He is a pioneer of political cartooning in India. He is a legendary cartoonist not because of the paper he is associated with but because of the cartoons he put on it. His cartoons were effective yet less controversial. The Times of India owes Laxman for highlighting such issues that otherwise would have lost in a country like ours.
The book written by R K Laxman, titled 'The Common Man Seeks Justice' shows the complex life of the common man, who is a silent spectator to all that goes around him. Common man is a famous caricature by Laxman as a spectator to the situation he faces. The common man is portrayed as a submissive character with deep insights who is hopeful and usually disappointed in what he receives in the end. 'The Common Man Seeks Justice'' is about the battles of this extraordinary spirit. The face of the common man is one that everybody recognises and relates to. The common man, the iconic symbol of resilience and adaptability, who is a silent spectator to all that is wrong, looking at politicians and bureaucrats and is stumped by their actions. The common man however takes it in his stride and moves on with what he has to do making peace with corruption and apathy. He is okay with congestion and overpopulation; he genuinely understands the problems of his fellow citizens and tries not to judge. This book shows how cartoons are drawn and how they influence the minds of the readers. How the common man is a meek and submissive yet jolly character. It leaves to the imagination of the reader on how to interpret the cartoon. The cartoons in the series can be seen as all accepting, highly corrupt, sometimes stupid and unreasonable. The book is more like an exercise to understand subtle hints and inclinations of political cartoons.
R K Laxman being a social cartoonist, makes a commentary upon the lives of millions of Indians who live in challenging times politically, socially, economically. Laxman is known for his artistic talent which brings to life the problems of the common man, Laxman's readers found him to be realistic, a casual reader may see it as a slapstick, and this could be because the common man witnesses absurd events that have no logical explanations. Laxman's followers understands that this is to bring to notice the problems, not merely humour.
Political cartoons are an important part in any newspaper, though the position of this piece is small, the impact is huge. It conveys a lot of information with very few words. Even if the emotions behind them is harsh it would be oftenly taken with a sense of humour and understanding the humor of people gives definition to the society, definition not readily available in traditional history. Cartoons are complex, the reason why newspaper invests in them when writing would do the job is the reason for their popularity.
In India, political cartoons are used to propagate ideas and change. The press and political cartoons becomes mediums to convey the change and information. Even freedom fighters used this platform to convey their thought, not just during pre-independence time but also after it as well. Artists like BalaSaheb Thackeray and R.K.Laxman comments upon various things in the independent India. The emergency of 1984 is an example from the Indian context where cartoonists played a greater role in putting out opinions when Editorials were curbed and could not present their point of view independently. The purpose of cartoons usually is to promote social welfare and social well-being. Cartoonist draws attention to some wrong in the hope of stimulating activity to correct it. Political cartoons serves social functionalism. Historic and recent examples demonstrate the continued ability of the political cartoon to draw attention, spark controversy, and trouble leaders across the globe. It is the ability of cartoons to undermine the legitimacy of rulers, leaving an indelible stain on their public image, that remains one of their most potent and feared attributes. Occasionally, both governments and elites have attempted to harness the medium's power for political ends. Reportedly French artists were encouraged by Napoleon to create cartoons that sanctioned his policies (Lester 1995, 222). Social inequalities doesn't allow the citizens to enjoy and exercise their rights as an equal citizen of a country which therefore make the common man silenced and unacknowledged, completely absent from political equation remained being an indelible fact. Cartooning is a subversive art as dictators and political leaders are scared people, they can't risk ridicule that's why the totalitarian establishment suppress it. It's the ability of cartoons to subvert the authorization of rulers, leaving an indelible stain on their public images. So as an active nature of a democratic life, it's pulsated through visual satiric political representation. So drawing in the comical aspect of a functioning democracy, draws out a democracy alive to its inherent possibilities; a democracy laughing at himself despite all of the limitations and bringing out the best potential attributes, offering a social functionalism.
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