THEM DAMNED PICTURES: Explorations in American Political Cartoon Art by Roger A. Fischer

THEM DAMNED PICTURES: Explorations in American Political Cartoon Art

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fischer (History and American Studies/Univ. of Minn., Duluth) offers nine essays on various aspects of the history of American political cartooning. Pulitzer Prize--winning cartoonist Jeff MacNelly once noted that if they couldn't draw, most political cartoonists would probably have become hired assassins. It's a quote so witty and on the money that Fischer repeats it three times. As he observes, political cartoonists tend to be sharp-tongued as well as sharp-witted iconoclasts, and although their power has diminished in this century, they still attract unwanted attention to greasy politicians; after all, Paul Conrad made Nixon's ""enemies list."" Of course, in the previous century, before TV, radio, and the wire services, the potency of the cartoon image was greater. In the first and most interesting essay in this volume, Fischer revisits the war between Thomas Nast and his nemesis, William ""Boss"" Tweed, but what the author finds is a far cry from the legend. Tweed, he argues, wasn't the great crook of popular belief, nor did he meet his demise at the hands of the cartoonist. However, he readily allows, ""it was Nast who elevated graphic assassination to an art."" Fischer traces the elevation of Populist William Peffer, a rare third-party success who served in the US Senate, into a demonic figure by cartoonists who distorted his record mercilessly; the use of ""filler"" cartoons in 19th-century magazines that indulged in scurrilous racial and ethnic stereotyping; and the treatment of the Statue of Liberty and Lincoln as iconic figures. The result is an uneven collection, always informative, intermittently entertaining, but too often a seemingly endless catalog of ideas and representations. The best thing about this book is (as Boss Tweed called them) the ""damned pictures"" themselves.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 244pp
Publisher: Archon/Shoe String