Saturday, February 25, 2012

THE CARTOONIST'S REVENGE

Everyone knows what it takes to have a successful career.  A college education is essential.  A graduate degree is even better (preferably in a field such as technology, business or finance).   You have to dress for success, build a network of important contacts, and cultivate the  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Language proficiency in Chinese wouldn't hurt.

But on the other hand, if you have none of these you might try sitting alone in a ratty T shirt and drawing doodles.  When you lack the necessary credentials, or even basic literacy, a simple line can still be The Great Equalizer.


Cartoonist Thomas Nast could scarcely read or write but he had a greater impact than all the lawyers, accountants,  famous writers and powerful government officials combined in bringing down the corrupt politicians who controlled New York.  Nast's drawings resonated with the public and knocked the Tweed politicians off their throne.  He also created many popular symbols, such as the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey, and influenced presidential elections.  (Nast's wife Sarah corrected the spelling in his captions).  Nast became so wealthy from his drawings that he was able to hire scholars to read to him from Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain as he worked. 

David Low: the Nazis shovel more troops into Stalingrad

David Low was born in a small remote town in New Zealand.  He had little money, no contacts and left school at a young age.  Yet, the lines he drew had an impact on international relations.  Hitler was enraged by Low's biting drawings, and the Nazi government formally protested to the British government.  After the war, Winston Churchill protested that Low's cartoons about a politically sensitive situation should be censored for the sake of "western democracy." 

Albert Dorne, from the Famous Artists School materials

Albert Dorne never made it past 7th grade.  A sickly child, born in the most brutal poverty and squalor, he leveraged a knack for drawing into great wealth, prestige and influence.  Dorne went on to fill many roles, as the head of a multinational corporation, a lecturer, author and instructor.  He consorted with movie stars and senators.  But each step of the way it was his drawing that made everything possible.

The great Jeff MacNelly captures President Carter's dilemma

Jeff MacNelly dropped out of college but his brilliant drawings gave him influence with a huge audience that was the envy of career politicians and policy experts. When he won his first Pulitzer prize at age 25, MacNelly said he was hanging the certificate high on his wall to fool visitors into thinking it was a college degree.


In the last few years there have been several incidents where drawings of the prophet Muhammad have upset the balance of international relations, inspiring wild mobs to riot, kill, invade and burn down embassies.

 Cartoonists may not be paid the way investment bankers are paid.  They don't get preferential treatment in fancy restaurants the way movie stars do, or command armies the way political leaders do.  They mostly dress like slobs.   But in their ability to make a line on paper, they still have the means to shake up the world.

28 Comments:

Blogger Kay said...

wonderful post!!!!

2/25/2012 11:27 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

An excellent reminder. On a different subject does anyone else get pissed off every time they read about the Islamic riots over those cartoons? I understand being angry but those rioters are fucking animals.

2/25/2012 11:52 PM  
Blogger ROBERTO said...

Great post! This is a kick in the butt for me that my art matters, thank you.

2/26/2012 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"those rioters are fucking animals"

The USA has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and is scheming to kill even more. This is a much bigger problem.

2/26/2012 2:18 PM  
Anonymous INFIDEL KILLER said...

Anonymous, GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES RIGHT NOW AND PRAY TO ALLAH OR I WILL SLIT YOUR THROAT.

2/26/2012 3:06 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Kliban thought he was kidding, but had he lived to see some comics superstars strutting around modern day comic conventions with their groupies and handlers, he'd see his prediction wasn't far off.

Another of good story of Nast-like influence is the wartime experience of Jean Bellus. According to a biographical essay:

"He was in the French Army in 1940 and was captured by the Germans. In captivity, he spent four years resisting German offers of freedom. The offers had only one catch to them -- he would have to do cartoons for the collaborationist press in Paris."

What I love about the story is that Bellus's stuff is not what anyone would call political -- just lots of domestic scenes and cute girls, a la Dan DeCarlo. But the Germans knew the power of such drawings to assure the masses that "all is well."

2/26/2012 6:04 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Penn Judge: Muslims Allowed to Attack People for Insulting Mohammad

2/26/2012 6:16 PM  
Blogger Donald Pittenger said...

Glenn Reynolds (AKA Instapundit) has been banging away about a developing higher education bubble that could burst, as have so many other bubbles. I generally agree, though mitigating factors are: (1) Parents wanting the "best" for their kids will jump through all sorts of hoops to make sure the youngsters get that sheepskin. (2) Credentialism, which structures many fields so that a certain level of education becomes the threshold for entry.

A message I get from the post is that cartooning and commercial art were free of credentialism. So ... I wonder what things would be like if credentialism prevailed in the world of art.

(Actually, an MFA seems to be useful for academic career-builders. Will that disease spread or is ability and its manifestations continue to prevail?)

2/26/2012 8:00 PM  
Blogger Dimitra said...

great post! glad to have read this :)

2/27/2012 4:04 AM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

"The USA has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East."

Were any of them killed because we didn't like their drawings? Thank God our troops protect me from people who cut your throat if they don't like your drawing or murder you on the street if they don't like your movie. If people in the Middle East don't like getting killed they should out those animals rather than protecting them.

2/27/2012 8:20 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kay-- Many thanks.

MORAN, Anonymous and Infidel Killer-- while your thread is a little off subject, it did cause me to reflect that when cartoonists have antagonized powerful interests in the past they have reacted differently. When Hitler was mad at David Low, he lodged diplomatic objections and complained to the newspaper. When Churchill thought that Low's cartoons were going to upset relations with Greece at a delicate moment when the country was flirting with communism, he asked the newspaper to exercise restraint. When the Tweed cabal wanted to silence Nast, they went to him and offered him a $100,000+ bribe to stop. (He refused and blew the whistle on them). It's difficult to think of another group that advocates murder for a drawing, but I suspect such things did occur long ago in more primitive, fundamentalist times.

Roberto-- yes, depending what you do with it, it can matter very much.

2/27/2012 11:02 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm-- Thanks, I was unfamiliar with Bellus's work. That's a good story.

Etc, etc-- Thanks for the link. I thought the case was so interesting I followed up by reviewing the judge's actual holding. (The "holding" in a case is the actual legal basis for the outcome, as opposed to the "dicta" which is all the background information and side comments.) It turns out that the holding of this case is not what is being portrayed in the link. The judge's dicta contains a lot of foolish rambling which misconstrues the First Amendment, but the actual holding has nothing to do with the First Amendment and seems pretty unassailable: The judge ruled that there were two different versions of the facts, that there were no third party witnesses, that the government has the burden of proof to show its version of the facts is true "by a preponderance of the evidence" and it failed to satisfy that burden in this case (where it is just one person's word against another). I'd be surprised if this decision is overturned, or if anyone would want it overturned on that basis.

Donald Pittenger-- An interesting question. In each of these examples, the artist passed a market test with a broader audience. They did not have to satisfy some individual in charge of hiring, or some whiffy country club admissions committee (which is where credentialism often creeps in to protect the decision maker from being second guessed). In some cases, these artists were a pain in the neck and violated the editorial policies of their bosses, but the artist couldn't be fired because they were too popular.

2/27/2012 12:04 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
You totally stuck a pin in that balloon. You lawyers sure are concise when there's no money on the line. ;)

2/27/2012 2:11 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Larry Roibal of the well known Drawing on Observations blog wrote to remind me of how Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat succeeded in antagonizing the thuggish regime in Syria, which sent a couple of goons to beat him and break his hands last year. Larry posted an extremely nice drawing of Ferzat as a tribute on his blog. There's one more artist whose work was so influential that the monsters in charge concluded he was a threat to the realm.

2/27/2012 8:33 PM  
Anonymous AJA said...

David, I really love your blog. I've been reading it for the past few months(archives too) and it consistently gives me hope that great art is not dead.

Thanks for that and thanks for the massive amount of new artists that you recommend.

2/28/2012 2:18 AM  
Anonymous asiabet99.net said...

Great post! This is a kick in the butt for me that my art matters, thank you.

2/28/2012 5:27 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- You sound like someone who has dealt with a lawyer or two in his day.

AJA-- What a nice comment! I get much pleasure from sharing with and learning from people with eyes to see.

2/28/2012 2:28 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

From the finest of the fine dictionary "Webster's New International Dictionary" that belonged to my grandad when he was at Harvard Law, pub. 1920:
penetralia-1.)The innermost or most private parts of any thing or place, esp of a temple or palace 2.)Hidden things or secrets; privacy; sanctuary; as, the sacred pentralia of the home

So, David, what were YOU thinking of?

RE; "But in their ability to make a line on paper, they still have the means to shake up the world." Where are those cartoonists now, when we need them....to help change course...

Now Now Infidel Killer, no need to be agressive here at our most favorite blog. It accomplishes nothing but disdain for your notions.

2/29/2012 12:09 PM  
Blogger Robert Cook said...

Unfortunately, the days when cartoonists or illustrators could capture the attention and applause of the world, and rake in piles of dough while influencing public affairs are gone, Gone, GONE.

2/29/2012 9:26 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

StimmeDesHerzens-- Being a guy, it would be pointless to deny that I was thinking about what all guys think about all the time, but I hasten to assure you that there were plenty of other things mixed in there too.

Robert Cook-- Yes, it seems than still capture the attention of the world, but rather than "rake in piles of dough" their reward is more likely to be broken hands or a fatwah against them.

3/01/2012 5:19 PM  
Blogger Regina said...

"If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease, and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by and will win for themselves the domination of the world."
-Theodore Roosevelt,1899.

3/05/2012 9:47 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Regina-- "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yeats

3/06/2012 4:17 AM  
Blogger Regina said...

"Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves."
-D.H.Lawrence

3/07/2012 2:48 PM  
Blogger Regina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/07/2012 2:49 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Just advertising my Robert Fawcett "week"… & some Gabor.

3/07/2012 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In before groveling over Moebius.

3/10/2012 2:38 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Marcus Raucher said...

Nast had a huge impact in his day. A, great post.

Benjamin Raucher

3/12/2012 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Selma - juegos de vestir said...

cool.. theese ilustration are awesome..

4/10/2012 10:40 PM  

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