A Century of Alberta Political Cartoons

By Dempsey, Hugh A. | Alberta History, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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A Century of Alberta Political Cartoons

Dempsey, Hugh A., Alberta History

Political cartoons have been with us ever since the days of Leonardo de Vinci when an artist named Agostino Carracci made a caricature of one of the Pope's guards. The art developed in England through the captivating cartoons that appeared in Punch, beginning in 1841, and in the American satire magazine Puck that started in 1871.

Historians have expressed the view that cartoons vary with the political system under which they were created. In dictatorships, cartoons praise the system and denounce all enemies while in democracies cartoonists are watchdogs of society, trying to make politicians and businessmen accountable for their actions.

One of the early Canadian cartoonists was Henri Julien, a Montreal newspaper artist who accompanied the North-West Mounted Police on their trek west in 1874. He produced a number of drawings of the March for Canadian Illustrated News, most of which were graphic and serious, but he could not resist including some which were humourous, in the nature of a political cartoon. About the same time, John E. Bengough was gaining the reputation of being the first important political cartoonist of his day, publishing a magazine in Toronto called Grip.

In the West, some of the earliest cartoons appeared in the Manitoba Free Press, starting about 1901, one of the artists being Arch Dale, who later worked for the Grain Growers Guide. His sharp, clear images raised political cartooning to new levels of excellence. Farther west, Bob Edwards' Calgary Eye Opener became the first in Alberta to regularly use cartoons, its reputation spreading all across Canada. Edwards began by drawing his own cartoons in 1902, but in later years Donald McRitchie was cartoonist from 1907 to 1912, and Charles Forrester from 1912 until the newspaper closed in 1922.

During the boom period of 1910 to 1913, some daily newspapers had their own cartoonists. One of the most prolific of these was "Stan," whose work appeared in the Edmonton Journal during 1911 and 1912. Another during the same period was "Buck," cartoonist for the Calgary Herald.

During the 1920s and 1930s, home grown political cartoonists were rare. Instead, many newspapers relied upon syndicated images from eastern Canada, Britain, or the United States. One of the exceptions in the 1930s was the Calgary Herald, which engaged Stewart Cameron whose devastating images of Premier William Aberhart crystalized the animosity that existed between the newspaper and the Social Credit party. His work is best summed up in his book No Matter How Thin You Slice It (Calgary Herald, 1937).

In the post-World War Two era, a number of excellent political cartoonists have appeared in Alberta, primarily with the Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, and Calgary Albertan. These include Ben Wicks, Sid Barron, Tom Innes, Edd Ulushak, Malcolm Mayes, Vance Rodewalt, John Yardley-Jones, and a host of others.

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