Cartoonists' symbols illustrate issues and scandals
Thomas Nast's Tammany Tiger from Harper's Weekly, dated Nov. 11, 1871.
In a well-known cartoon, Miss Columbia asks Abraham Lincoln to give back her soldier sons.
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Symbols are some of the strongest weapons that political cartoonists have used over the ages to make a point with important issues or to lampoon politicians or candidates.
Some symbols last only as long as an issue; others have endured for generations.
The camel (no, not of the cigarette brand) is a classic example of the one-issue symbol. During the early 20th century, this desert creature symbolized the Prohibition Party and its push to ban alcohol consumption, said V.C. Rogers, a cartoonist for The Independent Weekly in Durham, N.C.
There was also Mr. Dry, a character created by Rollin Kirby of The New York World newspaper. He appeared on Jan. 17, 1920, the day Prohibition went into effect.
"He was this tall, cadaverous, fun-killing Puritan type. He wanted to stamp out fun, including the fun you could have by having a drink," Mr. Rogers said.
Defeated politicos, of course, looked like sad sacks.
A symbol created in the 19th century and still used in the 20th century was the Tammany Tiger, a creature Thomas Nast created to lampoon the powerful Democratic machine in New York City called Tammany Hall.
A German immigrant, Mr. Nast is considered the father of American political cartooning. His Tammany Tiger first appeared in Harper's Weekly on Nov. 11, 1871, on the eve of municipal elections that swept William M. "Boss" Tweed and his Democrats from power.
Mr. Tweed, foreman of New York's Big Six Fire Company, wore equipment marked with a tiger's head. Elected a senator but later sent to prison for corruption, he wielded plenty of power at Tammany Hall. The powerful Democratic political machine began in the 1790s and lasted through the 1960s.
In a 1974 book written by Nast's grandson, Thomas Nast St. Hill, the author noted, "The symbol followed Tweed to Tammany Hall and became the emblem of that organization during Tweed's reign. Later Thomas Nast adopted the tiger as a symbol of the Ring's voracity."
In the 1950s, when Time magazine published a story about Carmine DeSapio, the head of Tammany Hall, "They used a Thomas Nast Tammany Tiger in the background," Mr. Rogers recalled.
"The tiger symbol lasted as long as the old boss-ridden New York politicians existed," Mr. Rogers said. "When Tammany faded as a force in politics, the symbols faded."
When the Communist witch hunts began during the 1940s and '50s, Walt Kelly, who drew the comic strip Pogo, created a character based on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin legislator who ruined many people's lives by branding them as Communists or Communist sympathizers. The character, Simple J. Malarky, was a pole cat that bore a striking resemblance to Sen. McCarthy.
David Low, the leading British cartoonist of the 20th century famed for his World War II cartoons, rebelled against the symbolism his colleagues used.
He used far fewer symbols and drew more people talking and acting, which is far more common in today's cartoons, Mr. Rogers said.
"In general, cartoons today are much more conversational -- two people talking at a breakfast table," he said.
Some symbols have endured the ages. In addition to creating the modern image of Santa Claus, Mr. Nast created in the 1870s two political symbols most people would recognize today -- the elephant symbolizing the Republican Party and the donkey, the Democratic Party.
First Published March 18, 2008 12:00 am