Political Cartoons


Deborah Solomon reviews Victor S. Navasky ‘The Art of Controversy,’ in The New York Times:

It has been eight years since a set of Danish cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad incited rioting in much of the Muslim world. In the eyes of many Americans, the protests were incomprehensible, a collective temper tantrum spawned by dopey sketches. Muslims were accused, among much else, of lacking a sense of humor. But what if the outcry reflected less on Islamic culture than on cartoon culture, which has its own history of flare-ups and meltdowns? The question goes to the heart of Victor S. Navasky’s thoughtful and deftly illustrated book, “The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power.”

Navasky, a former editor of The Nation and the founding editor of the defunct humor magazine Monocle, has been described as a “word man,” but here he is eager to dwell among image people. He situates the Danish cartoons in exalted company, rubbing them up against the work of canonical masters of graphic satire like William Hogarth in 18th-century England and Honoré Daumier in 19th-­century France. In America, by contrast, political cartoonists are less recognized, perhaps because nothing grows stale faster than fresh newsprint, or perhaps because of the modernist bias that defines art as an elite affair from which any artist with a large following and a regular paycheck is disqualified.