Cartoons have been created to make social statements since the Roman era. Archaeologists have found wall graffiti depicting politicians and other public figures in unflattering caricatures. It was a way illiterate people could express their feelings about unfavorable situations and to this day still do.
Roman Grafitti of a nobleman
In the last thousand years this has not changed. The world, sadly, still has illiterate people, but fortunately it still has a population with the talent to communicate their feelings–cartoonists. A cartoonist took down corrupt Civil War-era New York mayor Boss Tweed with an unflattering depiction (pictured above), and a centuries later a Dutch cartoonist’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad ignited an semi-global firestorm among muslim fundamentalists. There is more power in a cartoon than people give the medium credit.
While in the United States, the 1st amendment protects cartoonists from state punishment for depicting public figures in unflattering light, this is not the case in other parts of the world. All around the world cartoonists risk the possibly of torture, arrest and murder by their governments not for depicting their governments in unflattering ways but for simply depicting a hidden truth.
In the US, cartoonists are rarely taken seriously editorialists or film/television satirists as when it comes to being “career people”, but the one thing that reminds me of that misconception is how often we in the US don’t fear for our lives by putting pen to paper. However, the regression of free speech laws has been making it easier to put restrictions on cartoonists by state politicians (especially in the bible belt regions). Now that people can put their work online, it may be long before cartoonists here are arrested for their work, since that is the only last resort a politician with no jurisdiction online has to silence a cartoonist. Knowing that makes me feel powerful in doing what I do and keeps me doing it. We fight the good fight.