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Editorial Cartoons: An Introduction

What is an editorial cartoon?

  • Newspaper editorial cartoons are graphic expressions of their creator’s ideas and opinions. In addition, the editorial cartoon usually, but not always, reflects the publication’s viewpoint.
  • Editorial cartoons are based on current events. That means that they are produced under restricted time conditions in order to meet publication deadlines (often 5 or 6 per week).
  • Editorial cartoons, like written editorials, have an educational purpose. They are intended to make readers think about current political issues.
  • Editorial cartoons must use a visual and verbal vocabulary that is familiar to readers.
  • Editorial cartoons are part of a business, which means that editors and/or managers may have an impact on what is published.
  • Editorial cartoons are published in a mass medium, such as a newspaper, news magazine, or the Web.
  • Editorial cartoons are tied to the technology that produces them, whether it is a printing press or the Internet. For printed cartoons, their size at the time of publication and their placement (on the front page, editorial page, or as the centerfold) affects their impact on readers. The addition of color may also change how readers respond to them.
  • Editorial cartoons differ from comic strips. Editorial cartoons appear on the newspaper’s editorial or front page, not on the comics page. They usually employ a single-panel format and do not feature continuing characters in the way that comic strips do.
  • Editorial cartoons are sometimes referred to as political cartoons, because they often deal with political issues.

What tools does the editorial cartoonist use to communicate ideas and opinions with readers?

  • Caricatures are drawings of public figures in which certain physical features are exaggerated. Caricatures of Richard M. Nixon often show him as needing to shave.
  • Stereotypes are formulaic images used to represent particular groups. A stereotypical cartoon mother might have messy hair, wear an apron, and hold a screaming baby in her arms.
  • Symbols are pictures that represent something else by tradition. A dove is a symbol for peace.
  • Analogies are comparisons that suggest that one thing is similar to something else. The title of a popular song or film might be used by a cartoonist to comment on a current political event.
  • Humor is the power to evoke laughter or to express what is amusing, comical or absurd.

How can an editorial cartoon be evaluated?

  • A good editorial cartoon combines a clear drawing and good writing.
  • A good editorial cartoon expresses a recognizable point-of-view or opinion.
  • In the best instances, the cartoon cannot be read or understood by only looking at the words or only looking at the picture. Both the words and the pictures must be read together in order to understand the cartoonist’s message.
  • Not all editorial cartoons are meant to be funny. Some of the most effective editorial cartoons are not humorous at all. Humor is only one tool available to editorial cartoonists.

Editorial cartoons provide a window into history by showing us what people were thinking and talking about at a given time and place. Today’s editorial cartoons will provide the same record of our own time.