§ Gawker predicts hard times for political cartoonists if Obama is elected. Part of the problem is that caricaturing the African-American candidate could draw accusations of racism. What’s really interesting about the piece is this bit about famous illustrator/cartoonist Thomas Nast (who invented Santa Claus, among other things):

Master cartoonist Thomas Nast proved political cartoons could be used to subvert racism, as in this classic satire of whites congratulating themselves for the emancipation of slaves from an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly:

Nast’s cartoons not only crucially challenged the way people saw political issues — coming as they were in a time with significantly less media — but they consistently fought against racist caricatures of black people.

The idea that in 1863 a great artist was actively campaigning against racist caricatures (in a country where slavery was a current event) comes as a bracing reality check for those who defend racial caricatures that have lasted right to the present day as an innocent reminder of a happy time when folks just didn’t know any better.

Guess what?

Folks have always known better.

200810280017§ In this heated election season, it’s only natural that candidates would use the power of comics to deliver their messages. In California, state senate candidate Hannah-Beth Jackson has put out a cartoon flyer:

On the comic-book cover of the mailer, a woman expresses shock at a paper’s headline, “Hannah-Beth Jackson kidnaps Elvis!!” The inside of the flier explains how “Tony Strickland has been making some pretty wild charges about Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson.” Another illustration shows a man reading a newspaper with the ridiculous headline, “Jackson voted to tax puppies!”

§ Not so innocently, in the heated Minnesota Senate race, incumbent Norm Coleman has been forced to repudiate a comic book attack on opponent Al Franken:

Sen. Norm Coleman doesn’t like the tasteless comic books attacking Al Franken sent out by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to Minnesotans, notes the Pioneer Press blog Political Animal, and the senator said so in a message to the group:

“The piece itself is something that simply should never made it to the mail. The direct mail piece, which comes in the form of something that looks like a comic book, focuses on Mr. Franken’s repeated efforts at comedy using jokes about rape, child abuse and other degrading commentary during his career,” Coleman wrote.

Guess ya gotta draw the line somewhere.


  1. I wouldn’t be so quick to deify Nast. Nast did some pretty loathsome caricatures of the Irish that were certainly as hateful and bigoted as anything. He was also an ugly conspiracy theorist when it came to Irish Catholic immigration, seeing it as part of a plot by the vatican to gain political power in the United States.

  2. Yeah, besides the Irish stuff (which is bad enough), towards the end of his career, he had actually gotten disenchanted with blacks in America as well, and began drawing them similarly to the Irish – specifically, he was irked that the Republicans (in Nast’s mind) were treating Blacks and Native Americans the same way the Democrats treated the Irish – as dumb saps who would do anything they told them to, and Nast drew them as such.

    Here’s a particularly unfortunate example of this thought process by Nast…

  3. I’m not saying that Nast was not a man with his own axes to grind…but racial (and ethnic) stereotyping was obviously a weapon in the caricaturist’s arsenal, not an innocent ode to naif art. Or to put it another way, 1863 political correctness must have had a different name.

    If you read the comments on my Memin Pepin link I think you will see what I mean.

  4. Nast also created the Republican Elephant and the Democratic Donkey. In 1968, Walt Kelly improved on that design by creating the Democratic Zebra.
    If Obama changes his ideas like Clinton did, or takes ideas from both sides of the aisle, then some might charicature him as a zebra, which could be considered an insult to his heritage. Otherwise, I don’t see cartoonists denigrating him. Mock his physical features: talk thin frame, very short haircut, his ears, and his professorial demeanor. Great editorial cartooning is about ideas and policies, not about how funny a politician looks.