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Ed-Op Cartoons are “A Relic of a Bygone Era”

Last month Jennifer Grygiel advocated that the ease of creating and distributing political memes made it a superior editorial single-shot image than the pen and ink cartoon. With the New York Times canceling the use of one panel editorial cartoons, Jennifer returns to say – so what?
Again championing the meme over the cartoon.

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?


Newspapers and magazine editors still rely on political cartoons to capture readers’ attention and to deliver some lighter material alongside heavier news stories. The need for this content isn’t going away, nor is the need for forms of communication that challenge governments and open up important public discussions – a role the political cartoonist has long held.

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

Jennifer Grygiel, for The Print, argues the everyman meme is as good as the artistic cartoon.

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.



In the Portland Press-Herald a letter writer says that editorial cartoonists that compare the N. Y. Times to other, more violent anti-cartoon actors “shows a lack of historical prospective.”

Political cartoons are a powerful force that should be wielded judiciously, with the full knowledge of their impact on public opinion.



Elsewhere it’s mentioned that the Times cartoon ban ain’t no big thing – it is just the continuation of a decades long slide from staff cartooning to a global web-based “gig” economy-like freelance status.

But this decision should be seen less an overreaction by a newspaper frightened of (of all things) bad press, than a wake-up call. It’s a moment to acknowledge the new realities of cartooning, globally. As The Times’ editors have asserted, this has been a long time coming.

Indeed, the writing has been on the wall for at least a decade. The hallowed cartooning traditions of the 20th century cannot continue without facing up to fundamental changes in the industry. Although this decision doesn’t spell the end of cartooning as we know it, this may very well be a tipping point for the global cartooning industry.

above: Tjeerd Royaards


Cartoonists wedded to the old-school, in-house ways of the 20th century can throw tantrums about free speech as much as they like. If they do not recognise the way the world has changed – and is changing – then they will be left behind as their profession moves forward.

History is not on their side. Just as 18th-century copperplate engravings were replaced by lithograph prints, and standalone caricatures were replaced by cartoons in 19th-century humour magazines, and they in turn by 20th-century newspaper cartoons, the web cartoon has well and truly arrived in the 21st century.

Only a brief, passing mention of the loss of a steady income for the cartoonists:

That comes at a cost: job security, a greater reliance on volunteer labour, and a decline in professionalism. But it’s where the future lies.

Richard Scully, at The Conversation, let’s us know the creative types will soldier on.

But beyond this one paper, cartooning will continue. Talented artists will continue to create brilliant comments on the news of the day; less talented amateurs can always knock up a truly witty meme. Check your Facebook or Twitter feed – there’s more cartooning happening now than ever.




Community Comments

#1 JP Trostle
@ 4:16 pm

Using the same logic as this ivory tower academic, teaching should be crowdsourced, and professors replaced with students using Google. So. Much. Faster!

#2 TVC15
@ 5:45 pm


Everything my generation does is better than you … said EVERY SINGLE GENERATION!

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