Political Cartooning is Becoming a Lost Art

The famous 1,000-to-1 words-to-picture ratio may be understated when it comes to the political cartoon. A case can be made that public opinion has, over time, been more often shaped by these artists than by the words of their polemicist colleagues on the nation’s editorial pages. A salient political point made with humor can pack more punch than the same idea draped in invective. Many citizens who would not take time for a lengthy essay have learned of an issue or taken a cue from a well-drawn sketch and a clever caption.

Mitch Daniels, a Washington Post contributing columnist, is president of Purdue University and a former governor of Indiana. He offered up this opinion piece for The Washington Post today.

If that link is inaccessible, try this San Francisco Chronicle link.

The best cartoonists can be appreciated for the smiles, the artisanship or the principled philosophy that usually underlie their oeuvre. One needn’t agree with their opinions to appreciate the skill of those who see public debates and participants through more imaginative eyes than our own. That is especially so when their work is drawn in a spirit of genuine humor and good will. Like the tough copy editors and corrections columns of yesteryear, they’ll be hard to replace.

Mitch Daniels, being from Indiana, concentrates on Gary Varvel, the political cartoonist in Indianapolis.

The cartoonist I’ll miss most laid down his pen earlier this year.[emphasis added] For a quarter-century, including the eight years I spent in elective office, Gary Varvel delighted and illuminated the fortunate readers of the Indianapolis Star with his craftsmanship and his insight in equal measure. To someone who can’t draw a circle with a compass, Varvel’s seemingly effortless ability to capture the essence of his subjects was inexplicable. To someone who was working daily in public life, his grasp of events and clarity of thinking brought, not infrequently, second thoughts or even a change of viewpoint.

Correction: Gary Varvel, while no longer with the Indianapolis Star, is very much still cartooning. Syndicated by Creators and with a regular gig at the Indianapolis Business Journal.