R.C. Harvey reviews “Art of Ill Will”

R.C. Harvey has posted a detailed review of a new book called the “Art of Ill Will,” a book which claims to be the “Story of American Political Cartoons.”

While the Introduction is chronological, the illustration section is thematically organized?Wars and Foreign Relations; Ethnic, Racial and Religious Issues; Local and Domestic Politics; Business and Labor?but the selection brings us up to present times with cartoons about the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Mess-o-patomia. Some of the classic masterpieces of the genre are included, and several of the cartoonists represented are not usually visible in such anthologies?Dr. Seuss, for instance, and M.A. Woolf, more remembered for urban waif comedy than political clout, and suffragette cartoonist Laura Foster.

Many of the profession’s usual celebrated cartoons are included: Robert Minor’s “Army Medical Examiner” of 1915, depicting the “perfect soldier,” a headless hulk (in its essence, the “perfect editorial cartoon”); Art Young’s “Having Their Fling” (1917); Clarence Batchelor’s rendering of War as a prostitute, inviting European Youth into her lair, saying, “I used to know your daddy”; Thomas Nast’s “Let Us Prey”; Rollin Kirby’s Mr. Dry; Ted Rall’s “Terror Widows”; Herblock’s picture of Nixon emerging from a sewer; Bill Mauldin’s weeping Lincoln. A goodly survey, as I said.

The Introduction ends with Dewey’s rather jaundiced, and therefore entirely welcome, view of the present-day predicament of the profession?not the impending and much heralded demise of the political cartoon so much as the genre’s feeble or non-existent impact. Again conducting his discussion in shimmering but sometimes baffling gyrations, Dewey seems to wonder if the political cartoonist has lost sight of his role in American politics. He hopes an emerging generation of editoonists are politically and artistically savvy enough to do the heavy lifting even if they move “only one odd reader every once in awhile beyond the social attitudes he brought to the newsstand. Otherwise,” Dewey concludes glumly albeit wittily, “the history of cartooning is doomed to be nothing more than the history of cartooning.”