Political Cartoons are Relics, Replace with Memes


As a scholar who studies social media and memetics, I wonder if political cartoons are the best way to connect with today’s diverse readership. Many crave searing, cutting political commentary – and they’re finding it in internet memes.

What if internet memes were elevated – not only as a serious art form but also as an important form of editorializing that’s worthy of appearing alongside the traditional cartoon?



Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) & Magazine, News and Digital Journalism, Syracuse University, argues that hand-drawn (or even Wacom drawn) political cartoons are relics of the past – dominated by that infamous group of old, white men.

But in many ways, political cartooning can seem like a relic of a bygone era.

A 2015 Washington Post report also underscored the lack of diversity among political cartoonists in newsrooms, noting how not a single black individual was employed as one.

Then there’s journalism’s top prize, the Pulitzer.

An extensive 2016 study by the Columbia Journalism Review unveiled how the ranks of editorial cartoon Pulitzer winners have been largely dominated by white men. Since 1922, only two women have received a Pulitzer in this category, and it wasn’t awarded to an African American until this year, when syndicated cartoonist Darrin Bell became the first to receive the award.

One roadblock to diversifying the ranks of political cartoonists is that the potential pool of candidates is limited. Few have the technical skill to draw pen-and-ink drollery, the common style for political cartooning.



Professor Grygiel advances the opinion that newspapers should replace the political cartoon with the internet meme; or, if not replace, at the least supplement their editorial pages with the new and more democratic composition.

But the field’s high barrier to entry – not to mention the time it takes to actually produce a cartoon – clearly poses a problem. A new, quicker and more inclusive solution to political commentary is needed.

The political cartoon is technically a meme, which is simply any piece of culture that can be copied or replicated.

A different sort of political cartoon, the internet meme, dominates on social media. Often crudely constructed, they’re far easier to create than, say, your typical New Yorker political cartoon. Many simply appear as a photo with text overlay, something that can be made within a few minutes via an online meme generator or mobile app. But the lack of technical skill needed means that they’re democratic in nature – and those that resonate the best will get shared the most and rise to the top.

The essay is online as part of The Conversation.

Again, this isn’t to say that traditional political cartoons no longer have a role. But it’s time for publishers to anoint the internet meme as worthy of publication.

After all, the best political commentary is just as likely to be found on Tumblr as the pages of the Times.





2 thoughts on “Political Cartoons are Relics, Replace with Memes

  1. This is like comparing songwriting to Muzak.

    But I particularly appreciate his concern that an art form that lives and dies on opinion should be measured by gender and skin color while ignoring completely that ed. cartoons are overwhelmingly liberal. And have been since MacNelly died.

    But I got no beef w/ memes. Bring on more anonymous unsigned clip art memes and trash heap the real artists / cartoonists who not only sign their work but have to entertain trolls named “BabaMonkeydung45” .

    How progressive.

  2. It was an encouraging step when Wisconsin Gazette replaced their editorial page assemblage of internet memes with the cartoons of Clay Jones.

    But then WIG folded. I guess paying for content doesn’t pay.

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