These are those little boxes on the editorial page of your local newspaper where cartoonists try to educate and entertain the masses via their snappy, illustrated political commentary, usually on current events. Done well, a political cartoon will creatively expose the social and political hot buttons of the day; in fact, one of the precursors of the Mexican Revolution was a bunch of perfect political cartoons. Done poorly... well, they're easy to avoid.
The first political cartoons were drawn by William Hogarth in the 1720s, before newspapers as we know them. An early American example was Benjamin Franklin's drawing of a snake divided into 13 parts, which he captioned, Join, or Die. Some famous political cartoonists of the past:
- James Gillray, late 18th and early 19th century cartoonist who is still cruder and more vicious than any of his mainstream successors.
- Thomas Rowlandson, Gillray's versatile contemporary.
- George Cruikshank, otherwise most known as an illustrator for Charles Dickens' novels.
- John Tenniel, who besides illustrating Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, also drew the famous "Dropping the Pilot"◊ cartoon for Punch
- Thomas Nast, who created the Republican elephant and popularized the Democratic donkey◊ (and created the modern image of Santa Claus). Also famous for leading a revolt against the Tweed Ring.
- Louis Raemaekers
- Bill Mauldin, who is remembered more for his wartime strips than for his Pulitzer-winning postwar political cartoons. The most famous is a picture of the Lincoln Memorial sobbing after JFK's assassination.
- Herbert Block ("Herblock")
- Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) made these circa WWII, before moving to kids' books.
- Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón, who in the first years of the 20th century ran the political satire magazine El hijo de El Ahuizote. During Porfirio Díaz's administration, in the middle of a harsh dictatorship, their presses were constantly confiscated, some of its journalists were even murdered, and both were promoted to national heroes for being among the instigators of the Mexican Revolution.
Some modern political cartoonists, such as Mike Peters and Jeff MacNelly, have also drawn daily comic strips.
The Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning is the top prize for these kinds of cartoons in the United States. Although it is mostly awarded to political cartoons, it has also been given to editorial cartoons with no political content, as well as two daily comic strips: Doonesbury in 1975 and Bloom County in 1987, both of which feature topical political humor.
With the age of the internet, political cartoons can be community driven projects such as Polandball
The now-defunct UK magazine Punch was famous for its well-drawn cartoons for a long period, a number of them turning up in school history books.
Most British newspapers still have political cartoonists on the strength. A typical example would be Steve Bell, who draws both editorial cartoons and a long-running daily political strip called If for the Guardian. Cartoonists of other political hues are also available.
- Accentuate the Negative: A left-leaning cartoonist will always conjure up more attacks on the right than praises of the left, and vice versa. Centrists generally portray both sides of the political spectrum negatively, but tend to lean against the party in power and take sides on issues with lopsided public opinion (like that LGBT people pose no threat to society or that climate change is real).
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Democratic Donkey, Republican Elephant, Wall Street Pigs, etc. Also see National Animal Stereotypes below.
- America Saves the Day
- Author Tract: Most political cartoons will make their ideological bias and intended messages very obvious, though it is theoretically possible to make a cartoon about current events from a (relatively) more objective perspective.
- Children Are Innocent: A child is often displayed to be the victim of dangerous political policies.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: An anti-corporate/anti-capitalist cartoon is likely to portray the heads of big businesses as being greedy bastards.
- Corrupt Politician: Any government official or electoral candidate whom the cartoonist dislikes will always be depicted as one of these.
- Depending on the Artist:
- Cartoonists that oppose Donald Trump tend to depict him as very fat with an unrealistically orange face and tiny hands. Pro-Trump cartoonists are more realistic in his portrayal. The most pro-Trump cartoonists will often make him aggressively masculine with a Heroic Build.
- Opposition to Trump is depicted by pro-Trump cartoonists as Democratic donkeys or weird feminine men in pussyhats, or are often a caricature of a specific politician or celebrity. Anti-Trump cartoonists draw the protesters as ordinary people, or as symbolic of America (i.e. the Statue of Liberty) rather than the Democratic Party.
- If the cartoonist supports Joe Biden, they tend to draw him in a more realistic and heroic way. However, for the detractors of Biden, they will draw him as either a manchild, exceptionally ignorant, or a disgrace to American society.
- Cartoons that criticize lenient policies towards Islamic terrorism portray the terrorists as angry Arab men with beards and bombs. Anti-Islamophobia cartoons usually use women and children to represent innocent Muslims; the cartoonists who make the latter usually use the flag of ISIS rather than a caricature of the terrorists to symbolize the group.
- Cartoonists, usually right-wing ones, but sometimes left-wing ones too, will portray women they dislike as old and unattractive. This can get very ridiculous. The same can be said about AOC (Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez).
- Obama is portrayed realistically by left-wing cartoonists. Right-wing cartoonists almost always exaggerate his ears, and may spark Unfortunate Implications by giving him large and purple lips too.
- Depending on the Writer: Harvey Weinstein is portrayed by the left as a symbol of male chauvinism. By the right he is often representative of the problems surrounding the Democratic Party or Hollywood.
- Dirty Communists: Right-wing cartoons will likely portray Democrats as anti-American radical socialists.
- Expo Label: Always make sure your metaphorical images are properly labelled, so Joe Citizen can tell what you are talking about!
- Fox News Liberal, Daily Kos Conservative
- Godwin's Law: It's not uncommon for political cartoons (whether made by the left-wing or right-wing) to portray their opposition as literal Nazis or fascists.
- Hypocritical Humor: A politician accusing the other side of doing something immoral while doing that same thing as well. Or a politician denying a claim about him while demonstrating otherwise.
- The Klan: Left-wing cartoons will likely portray Republicans as KKK sympathizers and white supremacists.
- Memetic Mutation: With the rise of the Internet in the 21st century, it's likely that some political cartoons will reference contemporary memes and jokes, or for people to create and share memes online about politics or the news in general.
- Motivation on a Stick
- National Animal Stereotypes: American Eagle, Russian Bear, British Lion, etc. Also see Anthropomorphic Personification above.
- Never My Fault: Politicians generally blame other people for their misdeeds or the misdeeds of their associates.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Generally the portrayal of the (current) U.S. President will be anything but sympathetic, especially when he is deeply unpopular.
- Patriotic Fervor: Invoking nationalistic sentiments is an easy way to get one's point across.
- Playing the Victim Card: A typical move by a politician, often accusing the victim of hurting the perpetrators feelings.
- Politically Correct History
- Ripped from the Headlines: Virtually every major story is going to be covered, from every political turn in an election, to major legislation passed, to deadly tragedies, to deaths of well-known figures (political or not) to even flash-in-the-pan fads (e.g. there were dozens of Ice Bucket Challenge cartoons when it was popular).
- Straw Character: Regardless of the cartoonist's political bent, the opposition will always be exaggerated into their worst possible stereotypes.
- Straw Feminist: Feminists are often portrayed like this in right-wing cartoons. In left-wing cartoons they are depicted as just ordinary people.
- Straw Misogynist: A common caricature of right-wing politicians.
- Strawman News Media: Right-wing cartoonists always love to go after any news media which are (perceived to be) pro-Democratic. On the other hand Fox News is a popular left-wing target, especially whenever Republicans are in power.
- Strawman U: "Berzerkeley" tends to be more focused on, as it's a far more common theme in right-wing cartoons.
- Very Special Episode: A cartoon about a deadly tragedy or a solemn holiday will usually be completely humorless. Although cartoons surrounding political debate following such tragedies may be more humorous.
- The Voiceless: Heroic figures generally do far less talking in cartoons than villainous ones.