Humor's Edge Pulitzer Prize-winning Cartoons by Ann Telnaes

Although Telnaes has spent most of her life in the United States, she was born in Sweden. Her experience of living and working abroad, she says, has made her keenly aware of how other countries view the United States and has led her to consider foreign affairs issues from other nations' perspectives. A member of the Cartoonists Rights Network since 2002, Telnaes has stated unequivocally how grateful she is for the freedom of expression that she exercises as a cartoonist in the U.S.

In her cartoons on foreign affairs, Telnaes brings attention to the ongoing denial of women's basic civil and human rights in Africa and the Middle East, the lack of separation between religion and government in some nations, media coverage of recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and efforts to link patriotism to increased surveillance. In addition to U.S. leaders, she has also lampooned world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Yassir Arafat, Ariel Sharon, and Queen Elizabeth II. She notes that she bases her caricatures less on physical features than on her own observations of each person's words and actions over time.

Taliban's Treatment of Women

On September 27, 1996, radical Islamic rebels ousted the existing Afghan government. This Taliban regime immediately banned women and girls from work and school. Required to be accompanied by a male relative in public, women were also compelled to wear the burka—a garment that concealed them completely, shielding even their eyes with cloth mesh. “This was the first cartoon I ever did about the Taliban and their treatment of women,” Telnaes recalls. “I didn't even know they were Taliban—I just put 'Afghan Radicals,' a nice, all-purpose term. I thought, 'Let's have them pulling a roller over a face, so the woman disappears'.”

Afghan Radicals, September 10, 1996. Brush and ink, opaque white, and paste on over violet and blue pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04674; LC-USZ62-134277. © Ann Telnaes (7)

The President's View of the World

On June 11, 2001, President George W. Bush embarked on his first notable international tour, hoping to improve public perceptions of himself at home and abroad. Criticism of his administration was widespread because of its seemingly indifferent, domineering, or arrogant attitude on a variety of foreign policy issues, including missile defense and the environment. Other countries viewed Bush as putting the United States at the center of the world. “I think this cartoon says pretty much what I still believe,” observes Telnaes.

The World According to W, June 14, 2001. Brush and ink over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04696; LC-USZ62-134250. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (21)

Women of Afghanistan

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Telnaes asked Americans not to overlook the suffering of women in Afghanistan, who had endured severe restrictions since the Taliban took control of their country in 1996. In this cartoon she contrasts a famous World War II poster of Rosy the Riveter, which encouraged U.S. women's contributions to the war effort, with the Taliban's efforts to make their women invisible members of society.

We Can Do It, September 25, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04686; LC-USZ62-134249. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (22)

Plea to Avoid the Innocent

When this cartoon was drawn, U.S. forces were preparing to attack Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Telnaes's cartoon addresses the particular vulnerability of Afghan women, whose movement and ability to be informed were severely limited. Telnaes comments, “At the time I was thinking, just be careful where you're aiming those bombs.”

“Aim Carefully Please,” October 2, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-01970. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (24)

Effects of the U.S.A. Patriot Act

On October 26, 2001, the U.S.A. Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush, giving the federal government a wide range of new powers—among them, increased wiretapping and electronic surveillance capabilities, greater access to previously private records, and the ability to detain immigrants without legal charges. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the driving force behind the act, claimed that it was necessary to combat terrorism. Others, however, argued that it threatened civil liberties. Telnaes's cartoon is a take-off on James Montgomery Flagg's famous World War I recruiting poster of Uncle Sam and plays off the strict Puritan culture of New England.

I Want Your Civil Liberties, December 18, 2001, for The American Prospect. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink and blue pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04718; LC-USZ62-134251. © Ann Telnaes (27)

Hear, See and Do No Evil

The government of Saudi Arabia cut ties with the Taliban after the September 11th attacks on the United States. However, the Saudi regime came under fire for not doing more to prevent international terrorism because Saudi nationals were among those responsible for several acts of recent terrorism. As the U.S. focused attention on Afghanistan and Iraq, some raised questions about Saudi Arabia's hands-off approach and its role in terrorism. Critics claimed that the Saudi government had looked the other way as its citizens joined militant Islamic organizations in other countries and had ignored the financing of terrorism by private parties. “I thought, shouldn't this be something that should be looked at,” says Telnaes, “rather than stopping every single Pakistani and African person who comes through our airports?”

Saudi Response To Islamic Radicalism, December 27, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04698; LC-USZ62-134279. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (28)

Ariel Sharon

Sparked by the March 27, 2002, Palestinian suicide bombing that claimed twenty-six Israeli civilians, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon authorized military occupation of several Palestinian cities. Violence erupted, with Israeli troops imposing detentions and curfews in the West Bank, as well as trapping Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat inside his compound and threatening him with exile. On April 7, President Bush urged Sharon to withdraw his forces “without delay.” Over a week later, however, Israeli troops still had not withdrawn, and on April 18, Bush reneged on his firm stance, calling Sharon “a man of peace.”

Man of a missing piece, April 20, 2002. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink and blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04720; LC-USZ62-134281. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (30)

Reproductive Rights and AIDS

“One of my recurring themes is the issue about reproductive rights and the spread of AIDS in Africa,” says Telnaes, “but institutions like the Vatican don't condone condom use.” The Catholic Church insists that only abstinence will provide protection against HIV and AIDS and that the distribution of condoms encourages promiscuity. Although ample scientific evidence shows that correct use of condoms reduces one's risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, the church continues to oppose their use. “I'm not talking about Catholicism, I'm talking about policies,” Telnaes explains. “There's a difference between religion, and religion and politics together.”

“Good—I see you're not using condoms,” July 5, 2002. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue and pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04699; LC-USZ62-134282. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (32)

Yassir Arafat Blamed for Tactics of Hamas

The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility for suicide bombings on August 4, 2002, that killed eighteen people in the Israel-Palestine area. Dozens more were wounded. The Israeli government blamed Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat for the violence, faulting him for allowing Hamas to get out of control. Some claimed that Arafat tolerated the tactics of Hamas because acts of violence brought attention to the Palestinian cause, even though the violent and strongly religious group is Arafat's rival for power.

[Arafat in hangman's noose yoked with Hamas], August 4, 2002. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04692; LC-USZ62-134283. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (33)

Sex-Abuse Scandal and Gay Marriage

The Vatican released a document in July 2003 denouncing same-sex marriages. Telnaes viewed the announcement in light of the church's recent sex-abuse scandal, which forced the resignations or dismissals of around 325 U.S. priests. When in October 2002 the Vatican rejected the U.S. Catholic Church's new zero-tolerance sexual abuse policy, many people saw it as a decision to protect priests rather than their victims. “It's a bit of a stretch to put gay marriage and sexual abuse together,” Telnaes says, “but I think it's legitimate. I don't choose a brutal idea just to be brutal, to shock. There was a lot of covering up going on regarding the behavior of priests, which I think is inexcusable.”

“We reject legalizing same sex unions—,” July 30, 2003. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil on bristol board Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04784; LC-USZ62-134248. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (77)

Miss World Beauty Pageant

The 52nd Miss World beauty pageant, set to be hosted by Nigeria on December 7, 2002, aroused immediate disapproval from conservative Muslims, who claimed that the contest promoted immorality. Several beauty pageant contestants also boycotted the event, protesting the harsh form of sharia law practiced in parts of Nigeria. Recent sharia court sentences included amputations of limbs as punishment for theft, and stoning of women who bore children outside marriage. A November 16 newspaper article about the competition sparked riots injuring more than 500 people and killing more than 100, and the pageant was moved to London. Telnaes captures the intensity of cultural tensions at play in this cartoon of international beauty contestants, all drawn as elegant, long limbed, and perfectly proportioned figures—with one shocking exception.

Color print from digital scan

Miss Sharia, November 11, 2002. Ink brush over blue pencil and graphite underdrawing with opaque white. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04701; LC-USZ62-134284. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (71)

The Energy Policy Task Force

In 2001,Vice President Cheney led an energy task force to determine the Bush administration's national energy policy. Its conclusions were called into question after the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Enron—an energy broker that had held several meetings with Cheney and members of his staff. Cheney refused to release details of the meetings or the names of those involved. He argued that the administration had a constitutional right to keep those records secret because the meetings were instrumental in developing national policy. A federal judge agreed with Cheney in December 2002, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on appeal.

I Don't Kiss and I Don't Tell, February 11, 2002, for The American Prospect. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04719; LC-USZ62-134285. © Ann Telnaes (36)

Which Dictator Has WMD?

President Bush accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in his 2003 State of the Union address. Saddam was painted as a dangerous dictator whose “sanity and restraint” could not be trusted. In the same speech, the behavior of Kim Jong II of North Korea was brushed over. Jong had controlled a Stalinist regime since 1994 and announced in October 2002 that his country was developing a nuclear arms program. In December 2002 United Nations inspectors were dismissed from the country, and withdrew North Korea from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The North Korean leader appears persistently in the background of Telnaes's cartoon as Bush accuses Saddam—with less evidence—of similar actions.

“He is a brutal dictator,” February 3, 2003. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04702; LC-USZ62-134286. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (37)

Television Networks' Conformity in Coverage of the War

Telnaes's cartoon criticizes televison network coverage during the war in Iraq. “All the major television media outlets—Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS—didn't do a lot of questioning about why we were really going to war,” she says. “They are now, some of them, but they should have done it before the fact. They have a responsibility to the American public. If you're a sheep, you just follow the herd without thinking.”

Color print from digital scan

Network sheep and war, February 14, 2003. Ink brush over pink pencil and graphite underdrawing with opaque white. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04703; LC-USZ62-134287. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (72)

Slanted Television Coverage of War in Iraq

“I felt, as many American felt, that television coverage about Iraq was very slanted toward being pro-war,” asserts Telnaes. “There were a lot of stories that kind of glamorized going to war, the machismo of it. I drew the large microphone to show that television coverage here was very macho, which might reflect the fact that mostly men are in charge of that medium. I didn't see many stories about Iraqi families who were on the receiving end of all this. They could have at least shown the effects our actions were having.”

U.S. War Coverage, April 1, 2003. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04704; LC-USZ62-134288. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (40)

An Army of Liberation or Occupation?

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” commenced on March 20, 2003. At home, the Bush administration presented the war as promoting liberty and democracy, and in Iraq distributed propaganda portraying Americans as liberators—not as an army of occupation. International debate raged about the difference between liberation and occupation and left Defense Secretary Rumsfeld having to defend his strategy. In an April 1 speech, Bush stated: “We are coming with a mighty force to end the reign of your oppressors,” but not all Iraqis welcomed their “liberators,” as American troops faced unexpectedly bitter resistance.

Rumsfeld, Needing a Cultural Interpreter, April 3, 2003. Ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04705; LC-USZ62134289. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (51)

Threats Posed by Iraq

President George W. Bush persuaded many Americans of the need to go to war with Iraq by repeating that Iraq had ties to Al Qaida and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). In May 2003, the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 41 percent of Americans polled believed that the U.S. had found WMDs, or were unsure if they had; 31 percent believed that Iraq had used chemical or biological weapons during the war, or were unsure; 60 percent considered the weapons the main reason to invade. As this exhibition was being mounted, no weapons of mass destruction had been found.

Color print from digital scan

1 of 2

Flag Day, Post-September 11

Telnaes drew this cartoon on the eve of Flag Day, a traditional celebration in the United States. In the post-September 11 United States, Telnaes's flag is surrounded by cameras, whose presence indicates the Bush Administration's preoccupation with surveillance, a practice being defended as patriotic even when it infringes on civil liberties.

Color print from digital scan

Patriotic surveillance, June 13, 2003.. Ink brush over pink pencil and graphite underdrawing with opaque white. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04707; LC-USZ62-134291. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (73)

2003 State of the Union Address

A key piece of information used in Bush's 2003 State of the Union address to support the U.S. attack on Iraq—that Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium from Africa—was proved to be based on forged documents. The Bush administration was accused of distorting facts to convince Americans to go to war. On July 11, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice defended the president, insisting that “the CIA cleared the speech in its entirety.” Later that day, CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility for the intelligence. In this cartoon Rice presents his head on a platter, as did Salome with the head of John the Baptist.

“The CIA Had Cleared The President's Speech In Its Entirety,” July 11, 2003. Ink and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04709; LC-USZ62-134292. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (54)

The Human Costs of the Global War on Terrorism

In this cartoon U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, President Bush, and Attorney General John Ashcroft appear patriotically swathed in the American flag. The Bush administration had publicly extolled the success of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, but Rumsfeld revealed more realistic sentiments in an October 16 memo leaked to USA Today in which he asked, “Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror?” Because of this memo and a policy that strictly banned media coverage of dead American soldiers returning to the U.S., the administration was suspected of manipulating public opinion. Nearly 350 military personnel had died in the Iraq conflict by October 23, 2003.

Color print from digital scan

1 of 2

Russia's Leader

After his first meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, on June 16, 2001, President Bush declared, “I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” A friendship between the two men persisted, even when their opinions diverged on serious policy issues. During his tenure, Putin has imprisoned and removed from office a number of political opponents, including his own chief of staff and Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, a powerful oil company executive. In November, Grigory Yavlinsky, head of a liberal opposition party, recollected Putin's 2000 pledge to “eradicate oligarchs as a class,” and labeled Russia's current government as “capitalism with a Stalinist face”—reflected here by the distinctive sickle-and-hammer gleam in Putin's eye.

Putin's Soul, November 11, 2003. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04794; LC-USZ62-134295. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (57)

President Bush's Visit to England

President Bush and his wife, Laura, arrived in England on November 18, 2003, as official guests of Queen Elizabeth II. Their visit was filled with ceremonial occasions, including an opulent royal banquet at Buckingham Palace on November 19. During the trip Bush defended his anti-terrorism policies, including his highly controversial invasion of Iraq. Many British citizens objected to Bush's presence and his apparent closeness with the royal family and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Demonstrations against his military policies drew between 100,000 and 200,000 protestors in Trafalgar Square on November 20. Popular opposition to his commitment to war in Iraq is symbolized by the missile in the crown Bush wears in this cartoon.

Queen Elizabeth and King George, November 19, 2003. Brush and ink over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04795; LC-USZ62-134296. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (58)

Back to top