A Brief History of Political Cartoons

In this article "A Brief History of Political Cartoons" (Backer 1996), the author describes a history of political cartoons, especially in the ages, 16th–19th centuries.

According to the author, political cartoons are composed of two features which are caricature and allusion. Backer (1996, para. 1) also distinguishes that individual parodies and caricature derives from the Mediterranean with Leonardo da Vinci, whilst associating editorial cartoons with the German author, Martin Luther. His cartoons had strong impact with simple images. As a result, more people who were of low literacy classes could read and understand.

The author points out an American political cartoon, the title "Join, or Die." which was made by Benjamin Franklin, was published in "virtually every newspaper on the continent" in 1754. In this cartoon, the disconnected body of a snake became famous and is notable as the start of political cartoons in America(Backer 1996, para. 5).

To recognise the history, the author uses examples to identify the development of political cartoons in America. Illustrations of these are Thomas Nast’s, Tweed’s and Joseph Keppler’s cartoons. "The effect of cartoons after the Civil War can be found in an anecdote whose components have elevated it to the stature of myth."(Backer 1996, para. 6). From these words by the author, can be believed that the American Civil War affected the cartoons of Nast and Tweed but people’s behaviour would become anti-social and satiric tempers. That was the reason why high and middle classes did not like their political cartoons. In addition, one of the illustrators in that time, Joseph Keppler gave the low-class readers accessibility to understand cartoons more easily.

In conclusion, the author, Backer (1996) clarifies that the start of political cartoons by Martin Luther has brought ability to people, especially in low and middle classes, to participate in politics, providing increased value of the people’s opinion.

Backer, D. 1996, 'A Brief History of Political Cartoons', United Mugwumps and the Masses, viewed 17 July 2007, <

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