Cartoons and Comics
Comics and cartoons offer a powerful way to communicate ideas and beliefs. People have often dismissed comics and cartoons as for children, but such images enable creators of these sources to push boundaries beyond what other sources can do. MAD magazine attacked Senator Joe McCarthy during his communist witch hunts in the 1950s when few others dared to question his tactics. When looking at a cartoon or comic, please note that there is often more than one story, not just the surface story. Also consider the context of when the cartoon appeared and why a cartoon as a source may be useful.
The political cartoon employs several models or approaches, sometimes with one or more of the following elements: exaggerations including caricatures (distorting for effect), symbolism (representing an idea with a picture or an analogy using one situation to explain a different one), labeling (depicting something accurately, different from the first three), irony (the difference between the how things are and how they may be expected to be), and a simple caption (brief words to convey important or ironic ideas).
Among the collections, we have the Herb Block political cartoons, spanning the Cold War from just after WWII until the 1990s. Block’s career illustrated the power of political cartoons to influence opinions. Block published primarily in the Washington Post, but also they were syndicated in other newspapers. Using the political cartoon as his means of swaying opinion, Block understood that a picture with no or few words enabled him to reach a mass audience in ways distinct from journal or newspaper articles. While newspaper articles may appeal to emotions as well, they tend to be more fact-based. Block’s cartoons showed that images could reach a wider audience more quickly. For example, Block’s cartoon showing burglars robbing a US government safe while a policeman watches helplessly illustrates how far the Red Scare had gone. Nobody was safe and even the police could do nothing. The thieves are people using the Red Scare to intimidate others. This scene powerfully illustrates and appeals to the emotions, specifically fear, that a newspaper story would have a difficult time replicating. Another compelling cartoon is Block’s attack on McCarthyism which shows McCarthy stabbing in the back the State Department, the army, and President Eisenhower is next. Block’s representation highlighted that McCarthy is not protecting the US but undermining it and nobody is stopping him. Block’s cartoon in one picture more clearly depicts then any news story. Both have strong symbolism that news articles lack.