Political Cartoonists Now “Warming Up”
Heavy Work Ahead for G.O.P. Elephant and Democratic Donkey Created by Tom Nast as Boon to His Craft — Famed Cartoonists Describe Their Jobs
by John F. Roche (E&P 5/26/1928)
With the approaching conventions of the two leading political parties of the United States not far distant, those well known symbolic beasts, the elephant and the donkey, are being groomed to do battle on the editorial pages of partisan newspapers. Having served faithfully since the day long past, when they were created by Tom Nast, these political beasts are still used to a great extent by editorial cartoonists as a weapon of ridicule.
Rollin Kirby, editorial cartoonist of the New York World and winner of the 1921 and 1924 Pulitzer prizes for cartoons, thinks the animals and all other symbols of editorial page cartooning are vitally necessary in conveying the idea of the cartoon to the public.
“The public recognize the old symbols that have been used in editorial page cartoons for years. The symbols make it easier for them to understand the cartoon. I don’t like to vary from the standardized symbols. See that bomb?” he pointed to the cartoon he had just finished, showing a huge, round bomb exploding, “That’s the ancient, accepted form of a cartoon bomb. No one has thrown a bomb like that at anyone in years, but the public recognize it more quickly than they would a drawing of the new lead pipe bomb.”
Mr. Kirby has been drawing editorial cartoons for 20 years, 15 of them on the World. The other five years were divided between the New York Mail and the Evening Sun. He doesn’t think there’s anything magic about drawing cartoons.
“It’s just a regular job,” he confessed, “It’s the same as being a doctor or a hydraulic engineer, I don’t want to seem upstage, but there really isn’t anything different about cartooning. It’s merely a good manufacturing job.”
He thinks the editorial writer has more leeway than the cartoonist.
“The editorial writer,” he claims, “can do much more with words than we can do with lines and symbols.”
An extremely opposite view of editorial cartooning is held by John Cassel, who draws for McClure Syndicate, although he questions the effect of political cartoons in influencing voters.
“The effect of the political cartoons is more to strengthen the attitude of a person toward his own party,” Mr. Cassel says, “I don’t think it would cause a man to change his party affiliations, unless that man already had a great incentive to do so.”
Mr. Cassels’s method of working differs from most other cartoonists in that he does not depend very much on the usual symbols. He tries to tie his cartoon to some event of everyday life familiar to the great majority of people.
Explaining his working methods, he says, “I skim through the news for an idea, I rarely go through the news thoroughly at first. Fussing around with it confuses me. The first flash of an idea gives me something to start on. Then I try to find a situation of human interest upon which I can build the idea. I try to avoid using symbols whenever possible. After I finish the cartoon I settle down and read the papers through.”
The New York Evening World is the only daily newspaper by which Mr. Cassel has been employed. He drew cartoons for that paper for 12 years, leaving it last year because his political convictions clashed with the World’s policy of supporting Governor Smith of New York for the presidency. He based his action on a contract he had signed with the World two years ago stating that he should be at liberty to sever his
connection with the paper in the event that Smith should become a candidate for the Democratic nomination. When Governor Smith’s hat went in the ring, Mr. Cassel’s convictions were respected and the contract was terminated.
Commenting on his connection with the World, Mr. Cassel said, “I always got along exceptionally well with the editors of the World. They allowed me to work in my own way, and never interfered with me. For 12 years our views were in common, and when they ceased to be in common I didn’t want the job any longer. Sometimes I’m surprised that I lasted 12 years with my strong political convictions.”
Now that he is with a syndicate, Mr. Cassel says he is not called upon so much to draw partisan cartoons, his work must be more generalized.
“I have to handle politics from a news angle, now, when I touch on them at all. Most of my editorial page cartoons now are on general news subjects.”
Discussing the influence of present day political cartoons with those of Thomas Nast, Mr, Cassel said, “The influence of Tom Nast’s cartoons on the public was undoubtedly greater than that of modern cartoons. The political cartoon was new at that time, and people took more interest in it.”
During the photo-engravers strike in 1921 newspapers were left without any means of reproducing photographs or cartoons. It looked as though the Evening World would have to go without a cartoon on its editorial page, until Mr. Cassel conceived the idea of constructing a cartoon from the odds and ends of the type racks. He laid aside his crayon and drawing board and stood in the composing room showing a compositor what symbols to use in making the cartoon. He was not allowed to touch the type himself, but the compositors co-operated with him enthusiastically, and in this way he made five cartoons.
The cartoons that enliven the editorial page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle are drawn by Nelson Harding, winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize, as well as that for 1926. In his studio on top of the Eagle building he surveys a vast expanse of Brooklyn’s downtown business section and strives to draw cartoons from the woman’s point of view.
“Political cartoons are drawn too much from the man’s point of view,” he claims. “Women have the vote now and we should try to make our cartoons interesting to them. I doubt whether they fully understand the cartoons symbols, the elephant , the donkey and the Tammany tiger. If they are interested in politics, they probably get the significance of the cartoons, but if politics don’t mean anything to them I don’t suppose they pay much attention to them.”
Mr. Harding finds the symbols very useful in ridiculing the opposing party, if one works for a partisan paper.
“A cartoon is a great offensive weapon,” he told his interviewer. “If you want to direct some good-natured satire against the opposing political party, the animal symbols come in handy. For instance, in satirizing the Republican party I draw a picture of an elephant in trouble. A worried elephant always appears amusing in a picture.”
Mr. Harding thinks that even partisan political cartoons should never be used in a way that might give offense to anyone. In spite of his feelings on the subject, he says that cartoons are bound to irritate someone if they are even slightly partisan. He often receives letters from individuals and organizations complaining about certain cartoons he has drawn, though they are in strict accord with the policy of the Eagle and are not meant to offend anybody in the least.
About 50 per cent of the value of an editorial page cartoon hangs on the caption, Mr. Harding believes.
“A one-word caption is ideal,” he holds. “The picture should be able to tell the story itself, but the caption should strengthen it so that there isn’t any doubt about its getting across. Familiar titles of books or plays are valuable for use in captions. I build most of my cartoons on a caption.”
In the use of symbols, particularly in originating symbols for one’s own work, Mr. Harding thinks that the symbol should be closely associated to the subject it represents.
“If I were drawing a cartoon about a tariff cut,” he explained, “I should naturally use a cutting implement of some sort as a symbol.”
He is also numbered among those who think that an editorial page cartoon is most effective when it is directed in favor of some campaign with a general appeal. The series of cartoons he drew for the Eagle’s campaign against ambulance chasing in Brooklyn were very successful, he believes.
He has been cartooning for the Eagle for 20 years with, as he says, “no time off for good behavior.” In addition to his daily cartoon he writes a few sticks of editorial comment which appear on the front page of the Eagle every day.
Among those who draw for the syndicates is Quin Hall, whose editorial page cartoon, drawn for King Features, appears in nearly 100 of the smaller American dailies. Partisan political cartoons are out of his field, and he explained the job of drawing syndicate cartoons in this manner.
“Human interest is the big factor in editorial cartoons that must appear in a number of papers. Partisan opinions can’t be expressed. Cartoons of general interest on political subjects can be used of course, but you can’t take sides. It’s a lot like the case of the girl whose mother permitted her to go swimming but told her to hang her clothes on a hickory limb and don’t go near the water.”
Mr. Hall believes in injecting humor into cartoons whenever it is possible to do so. He will use a political situation for a cartoon, if it is possible to make it amusing and create a laugh for the person who sees it.
On the question of partisan cartoons in partisan papers, Mr. Hall agrees with those who say that the cartoon does more to influence a voter in favor of his own party than it does to turn voters to the opposing party.
He also thinks that the animal symbols are very valuable.
“These symbols,” he said, “have been built up through generations and even the youngsters are acquainted with them. They are a godsend to cartoonists. The Republican and Democratic parties will always be identified with the elephant and donkey in cartoons. They can’t break away from it.”
Mr. Hall has been with the King Feature Syndicate three years. Prior to that he was with the Chicago Daily News, Oklahoma City Times and Kansas City Post.