To Know & Be Known #3: Cartoon Collection

IMG_1131The third part of this series is concerned with a way of knowing me that, compared to my commonplace book and personal library, may seem rather off-beat. I have collected editorial cartoons, cartoon strips and cartoons for years. At this point I reckon the binders pictured above contain close to a thousand or more of them.

Editorial cartoons are illustrations containing a commentary that usually relates to current events or personalities. They began to appear in England near the end of the Eighteenth Century, becoming a regular feature of daily newspapers. With the accelerating extinction of dailies in recent times, editorial cartoons may be headed for the ash heap of history. I enjoy editorial ‘toons because of their ability to visually condense complex issues, whether political or social, into a single panel. This isn’t as easy as it may sound, for expressing their subjects requires of the illustrator an economy of words and images.

Cartoon strips are defined as “a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons or captions.” Around since the late Nineteenth Century, strips are usually traced to Richard Outcault’s The Yellow Kid (1895-98). Cartoon strip subject matter spans from outright belly laughs to pointed satire. Among my favorites have been Adam (family humor), Glen Baxter’s rather dark work, Bloom County (social commentary), Dilbert (workplace humor), Doonesbury (often political) and The Far Side (general mayhem).

As you can see, the majority of my cartoon collection comes from THE NEW YORKER. What interests me in particular about the cartoons from this magazine’s pages is the lesson they’ve reinforced in me: what one person finds funny leaves another cold. (Earthshaking, eh?) No doubt scientists, psychologists and the like have conducted extensive studies that plumb the depths of what constitutes humor. If I had to use a single word to describe the condition that makes me appreciate a cartoon, it would be irony, a state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result. I suppose that’s why I appreciate incisive humor more than the knee-slapping variety!


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