Political cartoons from the last century demonstrate how visual metaphors can address such varied themes as World War II, the social impact of urbanization and industrial technology, civil rights, race relations, and civic responsibility.

Questioning the Power of the Press

In this drawing for the leftist journal The Masses, Art Young attacks newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) by casting the capitalist press as a house of prostitution, where “Madam Editor” welcomes the “Advertiser Client.” Among his most famous cartoons, this drawing marks a shift from humor to politics that occurred in this publication where Young served as a founding editor and contributor from 1911–1918. Following study abroad, Young began his career by cartooning for Inter Ocean with Thomas Nast in Chicago. Later, he drew cartoons for Cosmopolitan, Puck, Collier’s, Hearst’s Evening Journal, Saturday Evening Post, and Life.

Art Young (1866–1943). Freedom of the Press, ca. 1912. Published in The Masses, December 1912. India ink over graphite underdrawing. Purchase, 2006–2007. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (005.00.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-19519]

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Urban Anxieties

In these two cityscapes, Winsor McCay, a prolific cartoonist known for his striking graphic style, highlights sources of urban anxiety. The rampant social ills of the 1920s included bootleg liquor, violent crime, drugs, and fraudulent money-making schemes. A decade later, McCay depicts an alarming mechanical beast labeled “technocracy,” a 1930s concept advocating management of society by technical experts. Between 1913 and 1934 McCay drew bold, fine-lined editorial cartoons for leading newspapers including New York American and New York Herald-Tribune.

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  • Winsor McCay (1867–1934). Bootleg Whisky, Crime, Dope, ca. 1920s. Probably published in New York American, ca. 1920s. Ink and blue pencil over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Gift of Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2001. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-cph-3g13031]

  • Winsor McCay. Technocracy, 1933. Published in San Francisco Examiner, April 2, 1933. Ink and blue pencil over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Gift of Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2001. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (007.00.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-31363]

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Image Prefigures a Depression Icon

In his graphical review for Fritz Lang’s modernist film Metropolis, Reginald Marsh depicts lines of automaton-like factory workers in a futuristic dystopia. His drawing poignantly prefigures his later indelible images of Depression-era breadlines. A well known chronicler of the American scene, Marsh began as a freelance illustrator, newspaper artist, and contributor to the New Yorker. He produced lushly drawn cartoons based on observations of urban life for the magazine between 1925 and 1934.

Reginald Marsh (1898–1954). “Metropolis”—at the Rialto, ca. 1920s. Published in the New Yorker as That New German Film at the Rialto, March 26, 1927. Charcoal and ink on paper. Swann Memorial Fund purchase, 2001. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)

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Britain Faces Nazi Threat

Leslie Illingworth pits a small British plane flown by a haloed St. George against a looming, winged Nazi “dragon” who crawls over the orderly English countryside; the dragon’s claw-like arm partly crushing the town below. Illingworth’s detailed depiction of buildings and fleeing figures foreshadows the wartime destruction in soon-to-be bombed Britain. One of Britain’s great twentieth-century cartoonists, Illingworth won acclaim for the artistry of his drawing and produced particularly strong commentary on World War II.

Leslie Illingworth (1902–1979). [The Challenge], 1939. Published in Punch as The Combat, November 6, 1939. Watercolor, ink, charcoal, and graphite on paper. Swann Memorial Fund purchase, 2009. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (009.00.00)

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Attention Voters!

Anne Mergen challenges apathetic voters in this cartoon, in which she portrays a staggering number of people lined up for the circus, the Orange Bowl, and the theater while just two lonely voters appear at voting booths. Between 1933 and 1956, Mergen worked as the editorial cartoonist for the Miami Daily News during an era when few women held such jobs. In addition to foreign and domestic politics, Mergen repeatedly addressed voting and other issues she deemed vital to civic welfare.

Anne Mergen (1906–1994). What’s Wrong with this Picture? between 1940 and 1952. Graphite and ink brush over graphite underdrawing on paper. Gift of Matthew Bernhardt and Christine Hoverman, 2006. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00) [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-22147]

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Youthful Perspective on Brown vs. Board of Education

Three African American boys wryly consider the possibility of attending desegregated schools, the intended result of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on the Brown vs. Board of Education case, which called for integration of public schools. Condemning the decision, governors of Southern states vowed to circumvent the ruling and integration was impeded for years. In his work, African American cartoonist Oliver Harrington sharply criticized the race situation in the United States and displayed notable sensitivity to the plight of young black children.

Oliver Wendell Harrington (1912–1995). Bootsie. “Yeah, but did you guys ever stop to realize if they let us go to their schools we’re liable to wind up just as confused as those governors an’ judges!” Published in the Pittsburgh Courier, September 13, 1958. Crayon and graphite on paper. Art Wood gift/ purchase, 2003. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00) © Harrington Estate [Digital ID # LC-DIG-ppmsca-06448]

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