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Cartoons not just for laughs

Being someone who is captivated by storytelling — this being a big reason why I sought a career in journalism in the first place — it has always sort of frustrated me to hear that a picture is worth a thousand words.

But it is impossible to dismiss the impact of a visual presentation. Photography and graphic design have become ingrained into our society and certainly in newspapers.

So, then how many words does a political cartoon represent? 100? 500? 1,000? 5,000?

It likely depends on the cartoon and the situation, but the power is indisputable.

Illustrations have been a fundamental part of newspaper opinion pages for hundreds of years. The exact purpose of political cartoons can be debated but the impact cannot.

Dr. Paul Parker, a political scientist from Truman State University, sums it up well in the article, “American Political Cartoons: An Introduction.”

“Relying on symbolism and caricature, experimenting in fresh imagery, political cartoons help people think about politics,” he wrote. “Whether their purpose is to promote the status quo, raise social concerns, or to spur people to fight hard for change, political cartoons have changed the face of history.”

Often even more so than editorials that outline The Tribune’s position on key issues, good political cartoons really effect readers.

But, ultimately, that is the point!

Why even run a political cartoon if it doesn’t elicit an emotion or reaction of some sort? That response might be anger. It might be humor. It might be happiness. It might be curiosity. Or anything in between.

Most important, political cartoons should simply make readers think.

By design, these cartoons are often over-the-top caricatures of important issues and current events. How boring would it be if we agreed with every view or idea presented?

I can unequivocally say that I put cartoons and commentary that I disagree with on the opinion page almost daily. But these cause me to challenge my own ideas and beliefs by thinking about other viewpoints.

And it is OK if a cartoon creates strong feelings. Remember, unlike the Sunday funnies, these cartoons are intended for more than just laughs.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.