Editorial cartooning has a long history here in the United States, going all the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s infamous “Join, or Die” cartoon that was published as a call to action during the French and Indian War. So in preparing my last post about editorial cartoons and graphic journalism, I decided to take a look at the Wikipedia page for some background information and examples. I was greeted by this:
That’s the meat of the article in total. The article is comprised of an introductory sentence, two short paragraphs, two images, and a “See also” list of 10 items. For this old, influential form of communication that, judging from the amount of hits on Google, has a pretty decent presence on the web. And yet, the Wikipedia page (which is third in a search for “editorial cartoon” and fifth for “political cartoon”) is only a paltry 4,247 bytes of data.
On the possibility that a once-long entry might have been cut down by judicious editing or vandalism, a look at the article’s history shows a creation date of April 3, 2003 and since then it has endured about 1000 edits, and for most of its history wavered between 2000 and 5000 bytes.
Wikipedia has been accused of systemic bias and some groups (including Wikipedia itself) have taken action to counter this bias, but subjects like politics (particularly when pertaining to English-speaking nations), comics, and newspapers are not subjects that traditionally suffer from this bias. Yet somehow, editorial cartoons, which lie at the intersection of these, have been left behind.
The Left Forum recently held their annual conference back in March, and as part of their schedule, held a panel called “Political Cartoons: Resistance Through Ridicule.” Tim Kreider sat on the panel and later wrote a piece on The Comics Journal about the experience, describing it as “marginal and loserish and sad” because,
The crowd seemed to consist largely of grizzled, embittered Marxists, and the tenor of questions spanned the range from aggrieved to despairing. Why isn’t the Left availing itself of the power of political cartoons in this post-literate culture? [...] Why is there no market for editorial cartoons anymore? [...] Why are mainstream newspaper editorial cartoons so bland and craven and bad? Why can’t we seem to communicate our message effectively?
He spends the rest of the feature talking about the lack of a future for editorial cartooning as we know it, and what the Internet means for cartooning. The title of the piece cames from another panel he saw on the schedule: “What Is to Be Done?”
Maybe they should update their Wikipedia page, for a start.