Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Origin of Cartoons

Origin of cartoon

What may be seen as possibly the earliest political cartoon is an mysterious woodcut permitted Le Revers du Jeu des Suysses (The Other Side of the Swiss Game), fashioned in 1499. In this, the pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the kings of France and England can be seen live playing cards while, under the table, a Swiss soldier heaps the decks in a satirical annotations on French ambitions in Italy (the support of elite Swiss soldiers was essential to France).

At about the same time, Pope Alexander VI was portrayed as a devil and in another drawing a Jesuit priest is given a wolf’s head. Perhaps the most memorable sketch of this period—and one exactly datable and attributable to a known artist—was an anti-Protestant woodcut by Erhard Schoen of 1521, showing the Devil playing a pair of bagpipes, the bellows of which are depicted as the head of Martin Luther.

A number of other artists of this period also fashioned heavily allegorical and often fantastical drawings which have resonances in the modern cartoon. Conversely, it was in Italy at the hands of the Carracci family and others such as Pier Leone Ghezzi—the first artist to earn a living solely by this kind of work—that the modern cartoon can be said to have been molded.

It was also in Italy that these early comic strips flourished, and almost uniquely so until collections of such drawings (especially those of Ghazi) found their way across Europe, and Hogarth began his sequence of “modern moral subjects” in England in the 1730s.

The 18th Century

Lord Byron is alleged to have said: “Ridicule is the only weapon the English climate cannot rust.” In the field of cartoons and caricature it could be argued with some rationalization that the English—or more properly the British—have often exerted the sharpest arsenal of all.

The first British artist to excel in this area—for many the true founder of the modern cartoon in all its aspects, whether socio-political spoof, caricature, or simple graphic humor—was William Hogarth. He was also the first artist to churn out his own work, in the form of engravings, for sale to the public.

His satires on the follies and vices of his age—opening with A Harlot’s Progress and The Rake’s Progress—were a great success and set the tone for all future work. On the other hand, Hogarth’s successors differed from him in two respects—they had their work reproduced by etching rather than engraving and they were more concerned with political propaganda and pictorial jokes than moral themes.

The London-based printer and publisher Arthur Pond produced a collection of European caricatures (including many by Ghazi) in 1744 but, according to Horace Walpole, the first Briton to make satirical drawings of specific political figures was the unpaid artist George, Marquis Townshend. On the other hand, Hogarth’s two most crucial successors in the 18th century were Thomas Rowlandson and James Gilroy.

The Early 19th Century

Rowlandson was chiefly a social satirist and made numerous prints that commented on the manners and fashions of the day, or that depicted bawdy scenes. However, he is probably the best known for his creation of what is perhaps the first cartoon character, Dr Syntax, in The Three Tours of Dr Syntax (1809, 1820, and 1821).

Though Rowlandson did in-fact produce many fine political drawings (especially of Napoleon), it was James Gilroy, with the support of the leading West End print-seller Mrs. Hannah Humphrey (above whose shop he lived), who subjugated the political field in this period. His attacks on Pitt, George III and George IV, the French Revolution, and Napoleon bore a savagery and obsession that have only recently begun to reappear in the political cartoon.

The last of the really key British graphic satirists of the Georgian period (before France began to dominate the scene) was George Cruikshank. Working at first with his brother Robert in the Scourge, his graphics to William Hone’s leaflets attacking George IV forced the king to try to bribe him to tone down his work.

He also fashioned a string called Monstrosities (1816-1829), mocking fashions, and was so popular that Sketches by Bozo, which he illustrated, sold at first largely on the artist’s name rather than that of the then little-known writer Charles Dickens. However, in about 1847 he coupled the Total Abstinence movement and his work lost its edge completely.

Other notable British artists of this period include William Heath (Paul Pry), who abridged and illustrated the Northern Looking-Glass (1825-1826), the first caricature magazine in Europe; John Doyle (HB), the grandfather of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and the gifted Robert Seymour, who was the main illustrator of Figaro in London (a precursor of Punch) and who produced seven plates for Dickens’s Pickwick Papers before his inappropriate death by suicide.

The technique of lithography, invented in 1798, gave artists the break of drawing directly on to the printing surface and allowed a much wider range of textures and colors than was possible with etching or engraving (see Prints and Printmaking). Caricaturists were not slow to utilize the new medium. Primary among them was the Frenchman Honoree Daumier, whose work dominated this period and who exerted enormous influence worldwide.

The early 19th century was also the era of the mass enlargement of the press. Hitherto, humorous or satirical drawings had only appeared as individual works of art or as limited-edition prints—often hand-colored—available only in specialist shops in large cities such as London. In the 19th century, however, with the advent of lithography and woodblock etching, cartoons and caricatures began to appear in newspapers and magazines, which were widely strewn and sometimes also used color printing techniques.

In France the cartoonist Charles Philip on, generally approved as the father of the modern humorous magazine, founded La Caricature in 1830. In its pages, he and Daumier, among others, cruelly lampooned Louis-Philippe.

On one juncture, Daumier drew him as Gargantuan (the giant whose legendary exploits were popularized by Rabelais) sitting on a commode and Philip on himself once depicted him as a pear—the subsequent furor led to both artists being imprisoned.

Then in 1832 Philip on began the less political but even more flourishing magazine LeCharivari, with donations by Daumier, Paul Gavarni (under the pseudonym Guillaume-Sulpice Chevalier), Jean-Ignace-Isodire Grandville (under the pseudonym Gérard), and others. When in 1835 French censorship laws prevented direct attacks on individuals, the satirists took to using type-figures, Daumier’s characters Ratapoil and Robert Macaire being particularly remarkable.

In the interim, in Britain, the Northern Looking-Glass (which had been republished as a monthly sheet of caricatures by Thomas Maclean in 1830) smooth the way for Gilbert à Beckett’s Figaro in London (1831), with its maxim that “Satire should, like polish’d razor keen / Wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen”, and ultimately led to Henry Mayhew’s hugely successful magazine Punch: or the London Charivari (1841), modelled at first on Philipon’s journal (as reflected in its subtitle).

It was in a feature in this latter weekly magazine, two years after its foundation, that the word “cartoon”, in its modern sense of a entertaining or satirical drawing, was first used. A competition had been announced for designs for frescos to garnish the walls of the new Houses of Parliament in Westminster (the old building had burnt down). When all the entries—which took the form of traditional cartoons, or templates of the kind used for fresco painting, tapestries, mosaics, and so forth—had arrived, an exhibition was held in 1843. Punch satirized the show and at the same time drew attention to the plight of the city’s underprivileged masses in a series of six poignant drawings by its main artist, John Leech. The first of these, properly super scribed “Cartoon No. 1”, depicted a crowd of disheveled people looking at the exhibition, with the caption “Shadow and Substance”. After the series ended, the word “cartoon” unrelenting to be used for the magazine’s main weekly full-page topical drawing. Later, however, it became more widely used to describe humorous or satirical drawings in general and that sense has lingered to this day.

The Late 19th Century

The second half of the 19th century saw a pinnacle of first-class talent in cartoons and caricatures. In France—appearing in Le Rire (1894), Le Journal Amusant, and other pamphlets—were Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaspard-Félix Tournachoy (under the pseudonym Nadar), André Gill (under the pseudonym Louis Gosset de Guines), Gustave Doré, and the Russian-born master of the caption-less drawing, Caran D’Ache (Emmanuel Poiré).

Due something in style to the German painter and poet Wilhelm Busch and others, the work of Caran D’Ache had considerable impact on the more open, less cross-hatched style of drawing that would come to characterize 20th-century cartoons, comic strips, and animation. A typical example of his histoires sans paroles (stories without words) is “The Cow and the Train”. This comprises seven almost matching full-face images of a cow standing in a field, seen, as it were, from the viewpoint of an invisible passenger in a train. Over the seven frames the cow’s eyes move from left to right as the train passes by and in the eighth frame it lowers its head and resumes browsing.

Elsewhere on the Continent, Virginio headed Il Fischietto in Italy and in Germany—working for such new magazines as Fliegende Blätter (1845), Kladderadatsch (1848), and Simplicissimus (1896)—were such talented artists as Eduard Thöny, Thomas Theodor Heine, Olaf Gulbransson, George Grosz, Karl Arnold, and Busch.

Britain, meanwhile, could boast, among others, John Leech, cover-designer of Punch, Richard Doyle, Linley Sambourne, and John Tenniel. Tenniel is perhaps best known for his pictures to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, but he also drew over 2,000 cartoons for Punch, including the famous and much-parodied caption-less cartoon “Dropping the Pilot” that mocks the sacking by Kaiser Wilhelm of his greatly respected chancellor Bismarck, who is portrayed as a harbour pilot leaving the ship of state captained by Wilhelm. Another memorable cartoon of this period (and one that has given a phrase to the English language) is “The Curate’s Egg” by George Du Maurier. Here a curate dines with his bishop, who comments: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr Jones.” The curate meekly replies: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”.

Many new magazines also appeared in Britain at this time, among them Strand Magazine, Fun, Judy, Pick-Me-Up (edited by the cartoonist Leonard Raven-Hill), Tomahawk, and Lika Joko. This latter was founded by Harry Furniss, who created the famous Pear’s Soap cartoon advertisement in which a bedraggled hobo seated at a desk is writing a shrine for the product: “I used your soap two years ago; since then I have used no other”.

Vanity Fair (1868) quickly became famous for its full-page, full-colour chromolithographic cartoon strips of celebrities by Ape (Carlo Pellegrini), Spy (Leslie Ward), Max Beerbohm, and others. In 1888 Francis Carruthers Gould joined the staff of the Pall Mall Gazette as the world’s first daily newspaper cartoonist.

In the United States as well there were now imperative artists and magazines. The forerunner of them all, and perhaps the first truly American political cartoon, was “Join or Die” (Pennsylvania Gazette, 1754) by Benjamin Franklin.

In this a snake is shown cut into eight sections, each one marked with the initials of one of the eight American colonies that Franklin felt should unite in their struggle against attacks by French settlers and Native Americans and later against British rule itself (see American War of Independence).

The year 1812 saw the publication in the Boston Weekly Messenger of “The Gerry-Mander” by Elkanah Tisdale—a cartoon salamander made by combining map outlines of assembled voting districts in Massachusetts and attacking the Republican governor Gerry Elbridge.

A number of political cartoons later appeared in earnest during the administration’s (1828-1836) of President Andrew Jackson. However, it was with Harper’s Weekly (1857) and later with the American Vanity Fair (1859) that political cartooning really began to take root in the United States.

The foremost example at this time—who was also the inventor of the symbol of the Democrats (a donkey) and of the Republicans (an elephant)—was the German-born Thomas Nast. Nast is perhaps best known for bringing to book the corrupt New York politician William Tweed, a leader of the Tammany Society, by featuring him and his cronies in biting caricature-filled cartoons such as “A Group of Vultures Waiting for the Storm to ‘Blow Over’—’Let Us Prey’” and “The Tammany Tiger Let Loose—What Are You Going to Do About It?”. The Austrian-born Joseph Keppler, another major figure in this period, founded the leading humor magazine Puck (1876). However, the United States’ first native-born cartoonist was James Albert Wales, who founded Judge in 1881.

The 20th Century

The invention of photography at the end of the 19th century and, from it, the development of process printing gave still more flexibility to the humorous artist. Also noticeable was a loosening up of style. Long explanatory captions became progressively shorter and the drawings themselves—especially those of Phil May and others—became more dynamic and far less labored.

At the beginning of the 20th century Punch was still the rather genteel, middle-class magazine that it had become in the previous few decades. Outside Britain, however, cartoonists were less timid, as the work of the Frenchman Charles Léandre, in the newly formed L’Assiette au Beurre (1902), bore eyewitness.

During World War I satire became even sharper as artists such as the Dutchman Louis Raemaekers, the Briton Edmund Sullivan, and the Australian Will Dyson drew shocking pictures of the Kaiser and his victims. Nevertheless, there were still many cartoonists who looked on the bright side. Bruce Bairnsfather created the pipe-smoking, walrus-moustached Cockney character Old Bill; the archetypical aged “Tommy”, or private soldier; and the “Fragments from France” series of trench-warfare cartoons in the Bystander in 1915.

His best-known drawing shows two British soldiers marooned in a shell-hole under heavy bombardment, with the caption “If you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it”. In Weekly Dispatch (1914) Bert Thomas famously represented a Tommy saying “Arf a Mo’, Kaiser” as he lights his pipe before engaging the enemy. W. Heath Robinson produced fantastical drawings of war machines, and the Australian-born H. M. Bateman (whose “The Man Who …” series began in the Tatler in 1912) dreamt up bizarre situations in delightfully funny cartoons. One of the most familiar images of this time—if only because of its widespread use as a recruiting poster—was Alfred Leete’s cover photograph for London Opinion (1914), showing a pointing Lord Kitchener with the slogan “Your Country Needs You” (a design later adapted by James Montgomery Flagg in the United States, featuring Uncle Sam).

New satirical magazines continued to appear in the early decades of the century. The French cartoonist Paul Gassier founded Le Canard Enchainé in 1915, Bertoldo was launched in Italy, and Krokodil began publication in Russia in 1925. Others, however, were less winning and often short-lived. In America Puck eventually folded in 1918, despite the fact that Louis Raemaekers had been a major donor in its final year, but as one era drew to a close another was about to begin.

The New Yorker and the Development of the Cartoon in the United States

Charles Dana Gibson had made his standing drawing the “Gibson Girls” in Life magazine (founded in 1883) and in 1902 Clifford Berryman, commenting on a bear hunt by President Theodore Roosevelt, had created the “Teddy Bear” in the Washington Post. In 1915 Al Hirschfeld also in print his first stylish caricatures for the New York Times.

With the launch of the New Yorker in 1925, however, the American cartoon began to take a new direction. This developed into a unique style of irreverent humour combined with a slick and sophisticated drawing procedure that was to have considerable manipulate worldwide in the years to pursue.

The magazine’s approach was in direct dissimilarity to that of the staid, rather refined humorous magazines that Punch and its like had by this time become. With its stable of droll writers like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, the New Yorker also introduced a whole new breed of cartoon artists.

Pre-eminent among these was Peter Arno (Curtis Arnoux Peters), who consciously deceased from the long explanatory captions of Victorian times and the “He-and-she” two-liners of the 1900s and popularized a much simpler form of cartoon joke: the illustrated single remark. As Robert Benchley admitted: “Peter Arno may not have been the first to make use of the overheard aside as a basis for a drawing, but he has made himself the High Priest of the school.”

Among other artists enlisted by the New Yorker were Ralph Barton, whose drawing style, united with the use of solid blacks seen in the work of Aubrey Beardsley, directly influenced the Briton Nicolas Bentley (who even dropped the “h” from his Christian name so that his signature could be symmetrically laid out in two lines of capitals like Barton’s); the half-blind James Thurber, whose idiosyncratic sense of humor more than made up for his lack of skill as a draughtsman; and Charles Addams, master of black and macabre wit and best known for his “Addams Family” of cartoon ghouls. Mary Petty, Alfred Frueh, Gluyas Williams, and Rea Irvin also helped shape the magazine.

During the 1930s and the war years, many cartoonists who had left your country from strife-torn Europe, such as the Romanian Saul Steinberg, became regular contributors.


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