Hogarth, Töpffer, and Political Cartoonists: They’re Not So Different

In our last class we began talking about the history of comics. I found the diverse examples of possible origins of comics very interesting, and particularly, I was intrigued by William Hogarth’s, A Harlot’s Progress. It occurred to me that comics have an immense capacity to go far beyond the realm of “funny” or just simple entertainment. Comics have the ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia, cheerfulness and humour, but they also have the potential to elicit feelings of disagreement, anger, and even hatred toward the artist who drew the comic.

Comics have long been used to express opinions or perspectives on particular topics. Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress addresses topics such as witchcraft and the Moll’s fate through symbols while depicting a dark and cynical vision of 18th century London.

Fast-forward to the late 1800s where Impressionism is on the rise, and people are criticizing the art of Renoir, Manet, and Monet through the medium of comics. Seeing comics as a way to get your point across very clearly and even with a jab of humour is still prevalent today.

"The Impressionist Landscape" 1897

“The Impressionist Landscape” 1897

In class we talked about how powerful the art of cartooning is, with the example of Rudolphe Töpffer’s The Nose Defines the Man. I was fascinated by the idea that something as seemingly insignificant as a character’s nose shape can sway the reader’s opinion on that character. You can cut straight to the core of a character and depict them as upper class, lower class, smart, stupid, cruel, kind, or selfish with the use of something as surface-level as eyes, nose, or jaw shape.

So, with the knowledge that cartooning is a podium where one can use devices (such as nose shape and symbols) to convey their worldview or opinion, the artist has a tremendous amount of power to make statements. These concepts are what make political cartoons so effective. The artist has something to say, and knows how to manipulate the image, so it helps to reinforce their statement.

The Palin supporter behind Obama is made to look even more irrational and uneducated by the way he is illustrated

The Palin supporter behind Obama is made to look even more irrational and uneducated by the way he is illustrated

– Mackenzie Strang





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6 Responses to Hogarth, Töpffer, and Political Cartoonists: They’re Not So Different

  1. trinachan says:

    You have some great ideas there Mackenzie! I just wanted to elaborate a bit more on your last topic about using cartoons as a device for conveying world opinion. Comics have become a great medium to bring awareness to current events in the world. They use a combination of satire and wit to bring attention to very serious issues occurring in our society, and are used with the intent to shame individuals or society itself, in hopes of bringing about change in these issues. Comics not only provide entertainment for people, but they become a tool for personal opinion and expression about issues that occur in our daily lives. I find that the satirical comics posted in the newspaper always revolve around current world events, and this real-time factor influences how effective the comic is in conveying the issue to the reader. The success of satirical political comics also requires the readers to have background knowledge about the current events in society. Without this knowledge, the comic cannot fully convey its message, nor does it have the same comedic or witty effect on the subject matter itself.

  2. leejnelson says:

    The class discussion in question and your article posted reminded me of a book I picked up last year, Comics Art Propaganda. You can find it here>>>>http://www.amazon.ca/Comic-Art-Propaganda-Graphic-History/dp/0312596790
    Fascinating book and a great addition to any coffee table! This book goes through different eras and examines how comics were employed to convey political and social messages to the readers.

    I found one of the most interesting sections of the book to focus on the comic art that was employed as propaganda during the Holocaust, something that might pique the interests of readers of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Personally, I have always enjoyed reading political cartoons as I have often felt that they made some of the subject matter more easily discussed and approachable.

    Thanks for your post and I hope you check out my suggested reading!

  3. nadim says:

    the thing i love about political comics is how the author can create very one sided arguments with their comics. Simple designs can make anyone who doesn’t necessarily agree with the authors political opinion look ridiculous, simply based on simple design choices as to how the nose is shaped.

  4. Andrew Yu says:

    It seems like artists of the times, like Hogarth, seem to reflect the acceptable cultural norms of their eras. One artist that comes to mind is a early Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. He was a Dutch painter who tried to sell paintings in Canada but was not very successful at first. But he used lithography to mass produce his paintings to make profit and became quite successful, so instead of selling individual paintings for much higher prices, he sold many copies at much lower prices, very much like how comics are sold. His paintings reflected early Canadian life and have become quite famous in Canada today. His depictions of French Canadians shows the catholic religion and stereotypes, and his paintings of English Canada was quite different than the French ones.

  5. mackenziestrang says:

    @trinachan: Yes, that definitely builds on the idea that comics are more than purely entertaining. The fact that they can be used as a driving force to make changes in the world proves that. It’s interesting that you pointed out that without background knowledge, the satirical political comic loses its effectiveness. This makes me think that the comic’s success depends just as much on the reader as it does the author. In some ways, this rule applies to many types of comics. Different comics will speak to different people in different ways.

  6. mackenziestrang says:

    @leejnelson: Interesting! That fits in perfectly with this topic. Thanks for the suggestion. I love the connection you made between the use of propaganda and Spiegelman’s Maus.

    @Andrew Yu: Fascinating. In that way, art is a vessel that holds the past; because it depicts what was socially acceptable and the norm of the time, there is no censorship on beliefs or perspectives. That’s neat how you related Krieghoff’s method for selling his art to the way that comics are sold.

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