Books — Attack of the Political Cartoonists

The cartoonists strike back - A collection of political cartoons takes on the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and even Democrats.

Attack of the Political Cartoonists: Insights & Assaults from Today’s Editorial Pages,

edited by J. P. Trostle, foreword by Senator Russ Feingold, Dork Storm Press, 2004, 160 pages.


Here is a consistently good compilation of excellent editorial cartoons from 150 members of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists—presented in alphabetical order by last name. Each artist has one page of the book, composed of three or four cartoons, a bio, a photo and contact info. Yes, you can e-mail or phone each one of these jokers and tell him what you think.

Many of the cartoonists have won awards for their work (even a Pulitzer). Many have day jobs or former lives unrelated to cartooning. They include a Ph.D. in architecture, a former Marine, a former Air Force service member, a racecar driver, a Rhodes scholar and government consultant, a medical illustrator, a holder of a comparative literature degree, and a Sunday school teacher. They include big names like Mike Luckovich, Mike Smith, and Ted Rall (whose syndicated strip appears in Hippo), and smaller names with narrower audiences. Typical of cartooning in general, the group includes far more men than women.

Many points along the political spectrum are represented, but, because this is a crop of current cartoons and cartoons tend to lambaste whoever’s in power, Republicans take more heat than Democrats in this collection.

There are some cartoons that everyone can agree on and some that will draw bitter enmity—e.g. those that are starkly for or against our presence in Iraq. Most stick to the issues; only once did I notice a cartoonist taking an opponent to task for words the cartoonist put in his mouth.

A few are somber. Some are goofy. Not only is a wide political spectrum represented here—from rather conservative Ed Gamble razzing the Episcopal Church to The Boston Phoenix’s Mikhaela B. Reid, who “loathes with every fiber of her being” the Bush administration—but so is the gamut of artistic styles and approaches to political argument, from sarcasm to gravity to silliness and back. The mix includes Geoffrey Moss, the first nationally syndicated no-words op-ed artist, and Mark Fiore, who has abandoned print for the internet (“his work—complete with music and sound effects—must be seen online to be fully appreciated”).

Texas’s Charles Fincher goes after Bush without mercy, drawing him as a rogue cowboy, environment-trasher, and pretender. Jake Fuller jabs at Bush’s tax plan and deficit building, but supports gun rights and pretty much labels Democrats self-righteous, condescending guilt pits.

Iraq, homeland security, privacy, medicine, the Middle East, international relations, racism, smoking bans, the environment, U.S. oil dependence, vote-buying, and Catholic church scandals (woman to priest in confessional: “You go first”—Glenn McCoy) all take hits. Even the Segway gets its moment, courtesy of Wisconsin’s Joe Heller.

Of course a good number of the entries tackle hypocrisy. David Horsey contrasts Wal-Mart’s flag-waving with its effects on American jobs. Phil Hands points out that saying you’re open-minded doesn’t make it so.

Often the most effective cartoons are those with the fewest words: a Matt Davies cartoon showing a U.S. “Unemployment Counseling Inc.™ Call Center”—located in New Dehli; a Lalo Alcaraz cartoon drawing of Arnold Schwarzeneggar in a muscle pose with a small shape of California for a penis; an image by Donald Peoples of Uncle Sam striding along and stepping in a sticky wad of gum labeled “Iraq.”

In the book’s introduction, Ohio State professor Lucy Shelton Caswell notes that several states passed anti-cartoon bills in the early 1900s. Pennsylvania’s made it a crime to portray a person as an inhuman animal—the governor didn’t like being depicted as a parrot.

Let us be glad those laws were repealed.

—Lisa Parsons


2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH