Daily Archives: November 15, 2012

Know Thy History: Puck

The modern political cartoon has its roots in two realms: ugliness and illiteracy. The “ugliness” comes from the caricature portion. The one and only Leonardo Da Vinci, star to Assassins Creed and legendary Ninja Turtle, is credited with the earliest known use of caricatures. The great artist and inventor would often hire models with deformities to study, exactly, what the difference was between that and beauty.

The other major pioneer behind political cartoons is famed Reformer Martin Luther. There were two factors in his use of cartoons: first, that people of his time couldn’t really read, and second, that the printing press (and, especially, woodcuts) made it much easier to communicate ideas to the people at large. So when Luther wanted to expose the evils behind indulgences, he drew a cartoon where Jesus was driving out moneychangers, while the next panel showed the Pope acting as a moneychanger. You didn’t have to be a Rhodes scholar — or even a graduate of the First Grade — to get to the meat and potatoes of what Luther was trying to say here.

The tradition of political cartoons continued proudly in the United States. Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating the first American cartoon, with his infamous “Join, or Die” showing a cut up snake, each segment representing a different state (or group of states). The cartoon would become one of the major propaganda pieces used by the Revolutionaries to turn public sentiments towards independence.

The apex of American political cartoons, though, would arrive more than a hundred years later. The famed Thomas Nast would start the ball rolling. His are large footsteps to follow, considering he took on Tammany Hall, popularized the elephant and the jackass as symbols of the two political parties, and invented the modern conception of Santa.

However, there were men willing to step in in shoes. AMong them was Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, founder of the the magazine Puck.

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