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Drawn and Quartered

A little blood always gets spilled when political cartoonists skewer public figures. Here, the New York Times senior art director tells us what makes caricature flourish, picks his 20 favorite examples of recent years, and reveals the stories behind the art.


Steve Pietzch, "Ronald Reagan as Alfred E. Neuman"

The political moment needs to be right for political caricature to thrive. Whether it's the corruption of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall or the turmoil of the Great Depression and the World Wars, social upheaval has always provided the ink for the political cartoonist's pen.

 

Robbie Conal, "Newtwit"

The second half of the 20th century started slow. With the notable exception of Robert Osborn's unforgiving portraits in The New Republic and Herblock's stinging commentaries in the Washington Post, political caricature was pretty lackluster during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. It wasn't until Lyndon Johnson expanded the Vietnam War that a new sense of indignation emerged and a new generation of independent visual commentators revived the moribund medium. The leaders of this generation -- David Levine, Edward Sorel, and Robert Grossman -- first apprenticed in small satiric journals such as Monocle, which prepared them for their later success in The New York Review of Books, New York, Esquire, and such '60s-era magazines as Ramparts and Evergreen Review. Along with Jules Feiffer (who is not strictly a caricaturist, but uses caricature in his comic strips for the Village Voice) and Esquire cover art director George Lois, these distinctly individual artists sparked a renaissance of political satire that had far-reaching effects. From England, Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe further honed a visual language that supplemented other protest media. Together, all of these artists created the most vital period of caricature of the 20th century.

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Robert Grossman, "Ronald Rodent"

During the late '60s and early '70s, the critical mass of Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and Watergate (as well as youth culture, feminism, and civil rights) gave artists a limitless number of issues and individuals to attack. There was not only Nixon, but Kissinger, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, et al. One prolific cartoonist described his work as shooting fish in a barrel.

 

Stephen Kroniger, "Uncle George Wants You"

But then came Nixon's downfall. His resignation in 1974 resulted in a serious drought in political cartooning and caricature that lasted into the early '80s. Without Tricky Dick to kick around anymore, accomplished cartoonists and caricaturists lost the best satiric target since Honoré Daumier lampooned the pear-shaped King Louis Philippe in the 1830s.

 

Philip Burke, "The Presidents"

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