The Greatest Political Cartoon of All Time? Tim Benson, Founder of the Political Cartoon Society, Introduces His Ten Favourite Cartoons Published in Britain and We Invite Readers to Vote for the Best of the Lot

By Benson, Tim | History Today, March 2005 | Go to article overview

The Greatest Political Cartoon of All Time? Tim Benson, Founder of the Political Cartoon Society, Introduces His Ten Favourite Cartoons Published in Britain and We Invite Readers to Vote for the Best of the Lot


Benson, Tim, History Today


OVER THE PAST FEW HUNDRED YEARS, cartoonists in Britain have, on occasions, produced drawings that have not only encapsulated significant historical events but have over time become iconic. No other medium, written or visual, comes close to capturing moments in history more than the great political cartoon. This is all the more impressive, when you consider that cartoonists have to interpret events as they are happening, without the benefit of hindsight or the time for in-depth research. Anyone who has studied history at secondary school level must have noticed the many outstanding cartoons in history textbooks and journals such as History Today over the past fifty years. As a consequence, if you ask anyone with an interest in history or politics to name one of these famous cartoons, they will most likely mention several. Although they may not be able to name the cartoonist, the cartoon's caption or where it was originally published, they will be able to describe it. The imagery and composition of Gillray's 'Plum Pudding', Zec's 'Here you are! Don't lose it again!' or Low's 'Rendezvous' have become over the years, part of our common consciousness. Nowhere else in the world does the cartoon have such an impact: it is far easier to list the ten greatest cartoons published in Britain than to name ten equivalent great ones from anywhere else in the world. In America, besides the Thomas Nast cartoon of 'Boss Tweed', the vast majority of American historians would smuggle to name another, even from the twentieth century. The quality and depth of political caricature in Britain has a unique heritage which remains to this day far superior to that of the rest of the world.

What makes a great cartoon? I would say it is where the cartoonist has combined outstanding draftsmanship with an ability to comment on an event or situation in a vivid, perceptive and imaginative way. This can be done either satirically or, for dramatic effect, poignantly. The composition is also essential for ease of interpretation and appreciation. The dynamics of composition can also help heighten the cartoon's impact. With each of my top ten cartoons, complex events have been transformed into simple patterns of black and white. Each cartoon, like the picture, as the old adage goes, paints a thousand words.

Through the years British political cartoonists themselves, have facilitated the memory of the great cartoon by their tradition of alluding to previous 'classics'. Sir John Tenniel's 'Dropping the Pilot' cartoon for Punch (1890) was the first example of a cartoon to be alluded to by other cartoonists. Most of my top ten have since been regularly alluded to by cartoonists. Today, allusions are still popular, especially with the likes of Nick Garland of the Daily Telegraph, Steve Bell of the Guardian and Dave Brown of the Independent. The use of allusion by the cartoonist and of the words 'with apologies to ...' helps keep classic cartoons in the reader's mind and recognizes the original cartoon's greatness, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. This is in no sense copying, for the modern cartoonist is producing an updated version of a memorable image, and one that makes a similar point as the original but refers to a contemporary issue. The composition remains roughly the same but the characters or the captions are brought up to date. For example, Nick Garland's homage to David Low's 'Rendezvous' (which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on March 2nd, 1983) has not Stalin and Hitler greeting each other over the body of a dead Polish soldier, but Thatcher and Foot meeting over the body of the dead SDE Les Gibbard's homage to Zec's famous 'Price of Petrol' was published in the Guardian on May 6th, 1982. It is identical to Zec's original, but Gibbard had slightly changed the title to make a point on the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War. This cartoon almost caused as much stir as the original: the next day Gibbard was labelled a traitor in the Sun's leader column.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Greatest Political Cartoon of All Time? Tim Benson, Founder of the Political Cartoon Society, Introduces His Ten Favourite Cartoons Published in Britain and We Invite Readers to Vote for the Best of the Lot
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.