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Chris Lamb editorializes on the power of cartoons

Chris Lamb, the author of the book Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons, has a great editorial in the Rhode Island Providence Journal about the power of editorial cartoons. According to him, violent reactions to cartoons have also occured on American soil.

This is not the first time an editorial cartoonist has created an international incident. During War I, Louis Reamaekers, of the Netherlands, was prosecuted by his own country because it was believed that his anti-German drawings had endangered the country’s neutrality. During World War II, Adolf Hitler ordered the name of English cartoonist David Low put on the Gestapo’s list of people to be exterminated.

Even in America, which prides itself on its tradition of free speech, editorial cartoonists have been jailed, beaten, sued, and censored for their drawings. In other instances, readers have taken their anger to the streets.

After a white mob lynched a black man in Maryland in 1931, Edmund Duffy, of The Baltimore Sun, drew a black man dangling from a rope. The drawing includes only the title of the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland!” Incensed readers, many of whom were members of the Ku Klux Klan, attacked the Sun delivery trucks, burned the newspapers, and beat up the drivers.

The cartoon, however unpopular with some readers, publicized the savage practice of lynching and raised awareness among other readers and legislators — which led to the state’s passing stronger anti-lynching legislation.

Duffy’s editor, the venerable H.L. Mencken, once summed up the simple potency of editorial cartooning by saying, “Give me a good cartoonist and I can throw out half the editorial staff.”

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