AMERICAN POLITICAL CARTOONS
The latest manifestation of Stephen Hess’s long love affair with editorial cartooning is entitled American Political Cartoons: the Evolution of a National Identity, 1754-2010 (204 7x9-inch landscape pages, b/w; Transaction paperback, $24.95). The book reprints exactly, page for page, an earlier, 1996 tome, Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons, which, like the present volume, is co-authored by Sandy Northrop. To this new edition, the authors have added a 39-page chapter, covering the years since the previous publication, 1997-2010.
The book may be envisioned as an essay on political cartooning, the profession and its craft, bracketing a history of political cartooning in America. The first chapter, repeating the previous edition verbatim, talks generally about the social and political role of the editorial cartoon; the “conclusion” to this essay comes at the end of the book, on the last couple pages:
American Political Cartoons cover “The political cartoon is the embodiment of the American form of government. Democracy is fed by encouraging a free forum for discussion. Wrote historian Larry Mintz: ‘It takes a confident and aggressive society to consider its most serious problems and reduce them to jokes. It involves a willingness to consider the stupidities and errors of one’s environment as less threatening—as, in fact, survivable.’”
This passage makes explicit the connection between editorial cartooning and the “national identity” of the title; the evolution is implicit in the pages of cartoons, 345 of them, ranging across U.S. history from the time of the Founding Fathers through the election of Barack Obama.
Hess has been surveying this landscape for a long time. Writing in the History News Network (hnn.us), Hess confesses that he fell in love with editorial cartoons in 1959 “by accident.” He went to the Library of Congress to find “filler” for a book about presidential candidates that he was...