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August 8, 2013

Political Cartoons Make an Art out of Controversy

While the adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a good political cartoon is often worth many more. When a skilled cartoonist puts pen to paper, they have the ability to enrage and connect with an audience in a way unique to their medium.

“I think one of the reasons that people get so enraged by cartoons is they’re frustrated because if you don’t like an article, you can write a letter to the editor even if it’s only in your head,” said Victor Navasky who recently wrote a book called “The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power”.

“There not only is no such thing as a cartoon to the editor, but cartoons and caricatures are by definition unfair. They only tell one side of the story.”

The power of political pictures has sparked protests, death threats and even assassinations of famous cartoonists, and has endured for centuries. Navasky points out that Boss Tweed, a corrupt politician who was attacked in widely printed cartoons in the 1800s, said, “I don’t give a damn what they write about me. My constituents can’t read. But get rid of those damned pictures. They can all see the damned pictures.”

Warm up questions

1. What is a political cartoon?

2. Can you describe any famous political cartoons?

3. What does the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” mean to you?

Discussion questions

1. Why do you think people react so emotionally to graphics and cartoons?

2. Do you think political cartoons are still powerful today? Why or why not?

3. Have you ever tried to draw a political cartoon? If so, what was your experience?

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