Discovery Set: Wielding the Pen: Editorial Cartooning for Social Reform

The work of social reform is a job for many hands and voices. Investigative journalists, editors, orators, musicians and illustrators may all contribute usefully to causes and organizations. But change begins with dissatisfaction, and with a notion that life could be better and that we can make it so. Editorial cartoonists often express this dissatisfacton, using their artistic and verbal talent to create memorable, thought-provoking social commentary that works to influence public opinion as well as reflect it. 

Unlike the comic strip, an editorial cartoon is typically a single panel published on a newspaper opinion page. Because of the single-panel's condensed form, editorial cartoonists use symbols, labels, and stereotypes to convey meaning quickly and succinctly. Caricature, satire, metaphor, and humor are other tools used to engage the reader emotionally and intellectually--all in the service of persuading the reader to share the cartoonist's opinion. Drawn for an adult audience, editorial cartoons express a range of emotions: anger, pride, sadness, disapproval, or amusement. 

For many years, newspapers provided the primary publication platform for cartoonists--and especially for political cartoonists. Outside the newspaper business, some artists found work with graphically innovative magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, Puck, and The MassesSuffrage publications employed a growing number of women editorial cartoonists, some of whose work appears here in the Image Portal. Lou Rogers, Blanche Ames, May Wilson Preston, and Rose O'Neill all made their case for changing roles for women in society. Comic strip artist, Edwina Dumm, became the first woman in the nation to work as an editorial cartoonist for a daily newspaper.  

At the start of the twentieth century, approximately 2,000 cartoonists were employed by large and small newpapers across the United States. Today, as newspaper circulation and revenues are falling, the number of staff positions for editorial cartoonists has declined to fewer than 40. Online sites, such as The Nib have arisen, but, voices and images of local social commentary are few and far between. 

Despite declining employment and rising threats, editorial cartoonists continue to create, wielding their pens to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. From Thomas Nast's Tammany Hall and the first published "Gerry-Mander" cartoon of 1812, to the work of Bill Mauldin, Herbblock, Garry Trudeau, Ann Telnaes, Jim Morin, and Darrin Bell--cartoonists continue to speak out--passionately and urgently encouraging us to imagine and create a more just society.

For further reading: 

Editorial cartoons, Social Welfare History Image Portal 

Pulitzer Prize winners for editorial cartooning

Target: The Poitical Cartoon Quarterly 

Inks: Cartoons and Comic Art Studies. 

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) 

Cartoonists Rights Network International. "Defending the creative freedom and human rights of editorial cartoonists under threat throughout the world."

Cavna, M. (2019 January 25). Another cartoonist loses his job. This does not bode well for the future of newspaper cartooning. The Washington Post.

Culbertson, T. (2008). Illustrated Essay: The Golden Age of American Political Cartoons.The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 7(3), 276-295.

Editorial Cartoons: An Introduction. The Opper Project. History Teaching Institue. Ohio State University.

Fischer, R. A. (1996). Them Damned Pictures! Explorations in American Political Cartoon ArtNorth Haven, Conn.: Archon Books. 

Hess, S. (1996). Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons. Montgomery, Alabama: Elliott & Clark Publishing.

Hess, S. and Kaplan, M. (1986). The Ungentlemanly Art: A History of American Political Cartoons. New York: Macmillan. 

Lamb, C. (2004). Drawn to Extremes. The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons. New York: Columbia University Press. 

Shafer, J. (2019 July 1). The End Times of the Political Cartoon. Politico Magazine.

Sheppard, A. (1994). Cartooning for SuffrageAlbuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Discovery Set: Wielding the Pen: Editorial Cartooning for Social Reform