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The below is from the November 11, 2009, edition of The Kansas City Star,
on the editorial page. The author and artist is Lee Judge, the resident
editorial cartoonist of that newspaper.
This is a straightforward example of what's called an editorial cartoon or a political cartoon. As I understand it, an editorial cartoon is designed to depict in representational art -- as opposed to the mere words that make up all the rest of the editorial page -- some sort of statement about the politics of the day or other current events of interest.
Since currency is a hallmark of political cartoons, let me provide the context of this cartoon. On November 5, 2009, one Nidal Malik Hasan, a major in the U.S. Army, suddenly opened fire at a large army base in Texas named Ft. Hood, for no obvious reason, and killed 13 people and wounded dozens of others. The person depicted in the cartoon below, while not specifically labelled as such, is almost certainly meant to represent Hasan, a Muslim, who called out "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) just before shooting.
With that out of the way, now let me analyze this so-called political cartoon.
First, it is hardly a cartoon in the sense of a comic strip yet it is laid out that way, as a six-panel cartoon such as you might find on the comics page of a newspaper.
But a multiple-panel cartoon or comic strip should show something happening. I mean, that's the point of using more than one panel, right? You're supposed to show a change from one moment in time to the next. In this strip the only action is a person closing his mouth and then opening it again four panels later. I get the idea that the person pauses before he speaks the second half of his sentence, but that idea was thoroughly and unequivocally communicated in the first panel with the ellipsis.
I conclude that the four middle panels -- all identical and all depicting no action or change of any kind -- are superfluous. Which leaves us with the first and last panels, where there is a difference, which is that in the first panel the person starts a sentence and in the last panel he finishes it. But those two depictions of the person are themselves identical.
And it's not like you need to show a face with the mouth open versus closed to attribute speech to that person.
Which as I see it means this whole thing could have been condensed into a single panel with no loss of meaning. You draw the person, and above his head you print "I believe life is sacred . . . and if you disagree I'll kill you," and you're done. I think the cartoonist ran out of ways to take up space or something, what with the utter lack of details about anything whatsoever. With all that space at his disposal he still couldn't come up with any details, so he filled it with four panels, 67% of the space allotted to him, with no additional information whatsoever. It's easy to write a political cartoon this way. You just start a sentence and eventually end it with an irony. Why the need for the long pause?
For that matter, why the need for any art at all? Why not just a verbal description? I think this was a waste of space that could have been taken up by a better political cartoon.
And finally, and perhaps most important, the whole idea expressed by the cartoon is banal. It's been offered by many people over many years regarding many situations and many groups. As I see it, this particular editorial cartoon by Mr. Judge shows more laziness than ingenuity or art.
|So you won't be surprised by the August 22, 2010, cartoon, with
its four identical panels.
|This example, in the September 2, 2010, edition of The Star,
is Judge's default opinion: An initial assertion followed by at least four
wasted panels followed by a conclusion whose value to you as a
reader is open to debate.
|This is from the November 23, 2011, edition of The Star.
Here, in addition to a pointless ellipsis, we have not four but five identical panels. Surely this could have been reduced by two.
In this example of Judge's favorite type of sequence, instead of two simple, small changes in the people depicted there is only one. Can you spot it?
|The Kansas City Star ran this Lee Judge political cartoon on
January 15, 2012.
Once you've seen the first panel, the remaining five are prediictable.
As someone once famously said, this isn't writing, it's printing.
And this isn't art, it's photocopying.
|The Kansas City Star ran this Judge political cartoon on
December 8, 2011.
As similar to the others as you might think this is, it is especially similar to the next one.
|April 1, 2012, brings us this effort in The Kansas
Note the significant improvement, at least compared to so many previous such sequences, which is that in the fifth panel the left elephant not only turns his head to the left, he breathtakingly turns it back to the right in the last panel.
Still banal, but lots more action!
|August 25, 2012, brings us this Judge political cartoon.
Note the similarities to all the cartoons above.
|By way of comparison, here's the political cartoon that appeared
in The Kansas City Star on the op-ed page on August 11, 2012,
by Pat Oliphant.
The cartoon at left is so dense with information that it literally will not fit legibly in the width I allotted for any of Judge's cartoons, which I probably could have shrunk by half. To see this Oliphant cartoon at 1,635 pixels in width rather than only 500, click here.
|This is my idea of a political cartoon. Note
the differences between this one and all the Judge cartoons above.
● Each panel is different. Activity in the art is displayed, as you expect from any multiple-panel cartoon.
● Each panel offers new words to move the opinion along.
● There's a veritable plethora, an outright cornucopia, of information and opinion. Each panel by itself contains more information and opinion than the entirety of the Lee Judge cartoons above.
● Significantly more effort was exerted by Oliphant to make the art (as opposed to the words) artistic. Furthermore, once you have identified the two combatants you can get a feeling for the meaning of the words by looking only at the art.
This, in my opinion, is how political cartoons are supposed to work. Oliphant's cartoons are dense and worth paying attention to.
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