But I did go over to Borders and pick up a paper copy of the magazine, which was worth doing not so much because it reprints the notorious Muhammad cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, but because of the luscious reprints of some cartoons from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These old cartoons are brilliantly drawn and politically vicious. What is the point of beginning the article with these images? Spiegelman writes:
Cartoon language is mostly limited to deploying a handful of recognizable visual symbols and clichés. It makes use of the discredited pseudoscientific principles of physiognomy to portray character through a few physical attributes and facial expressions. It takes skill to use such clichés in ways that expand or subvert this impoverished vocabulary. Cartoonists like Honoré Daumier, Art Young, and George Grosz were masters of insult and were rewarded for their transgressions: Daumier was imprisoned for ridiculing Louis-Phillippe; Art Young, the Socialist editor of The Masses, was tried for treason as a result of his anti-World War I cartoons; and George Grosz was tried variously for slander, blasphemy, and obscenity before fleeing Germany as the Nazis rose to power.Spiegelman goes on to criticize the Muhammad cartoons: most of them are not well drawn, they lack a discernable message, and -- in his view -- they fail to "speak truth to power." Cartoons are important: why aren't they better? Quite aside from the issue of stirring up religious fundamentalists by depicting Muhammad, there's the problem of decline in cartooning, an argument you pick up almost instantly upon looking at the old cartoons Spiegelman has chosen.
Hard-hitting cartoons have mostly been replaced by topical laffs in gag-cartoon format or by decorative "Op-Ed" style illustrations whose meanings are often drowned in ambiguous surrealism."Rancorous visual satire" is in short supply these days. Spiegelman wants more of it. I agree.