Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooky Toons

Welcome to a special Halloween edition of Spookback Saturday! My cartoon this week was about an actual Halloween costume, but usually, we cartoonists mine this holiday for metaphors we can apply to whatever political story is in the headlines.

And I'm no exception. The charge that one's political opponent was attempting to scare seniors on the issue of social security was ready-made for a Halloween cartoon -- this one featuring the candidates for Wisconsin's 1st congressional seat in 1996 (Republican Mark Neumann and Democrat Lydia Spottswood).

Halloween and elections are made for each other. You can illustrate a charge that Candidate A is a Republican or Democrat in name only, for example, by having a donkey trick-or-treating in an elephant mask or vice versa. Just having kids dressed as political candidates and declaring that to be the scariest costume ever is overdone, I think -- I've seen way too many of such cartoons this season -- so the challenge is to find some way to turn that idea on its head.
I tried doing that in 2006 by portraying right-wingers attempting to be the very opposite of scary as they bemoaned Republicans' dismal chances in off-year elections. Fortunately, they did not succeed in convincing Democrats to stay home on Election Day that year.

Jumping ahead to 2013, these two persistent trick-or-treaters weren't being scary; but they were going to be disappointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the issue of marriage equality.

Another use for Halloween imagery is when there is some issue that "just won't die," as in this 1986 cartoon for the NorthCountry Journal about a dam on the Kickapoo River, started in the 1960's; the Army Corps of Engineers ended up leaving the gates open, however, yielding to environmental concerns. A Democrat running for Wisconsin State Assembly in 1986 wanted the project completed.
This cartoon actually ran in the November issue, so I had to frame it from the vantage point of being after Halloween.

A big problem with Halloween is that it is so prone to cliché. Do you think taxes, prices, or the rent is too damn high? Vampire cartoon! Do you think somebody doesn't realize how hopeless they are? Great Pumpkin cartoon! Do you think Tea Partisans are mindlessly reckless and bent on destruction? Zombie (or Frankenstein) cartoon! Do you hate Hillary Clinton? Witch cartoon!

I can't be sure whether this 1900 R. C. Bowman cartoon was drawn for Halloween, but it illustrates how old these spooky ideas are. There is very little new material without having to dig very deep (oh, about six feet) to find anything original on which to hang a cartoon.

The most famous Halloween editorial cartoon of all time was drawn in 1936 by J. "Ding" Darling, showing Harry Hopkins, James Farley and Franklin Roosevelt running off with a family's outhouse, labeled "Private Rights," with an alarmed John Q. Public peering out from inside. Darling hadn't actually meant the cartoon for publication, and his editor at the Des Moines Register thought it was in bad taste; but the wife of his syndicate publisher reportedly told the New York Herald Tribune editors, "If you don't publish it, I'll put it on the woman's page!"
If you're going to swipe an old cartoon idea from someone else, at least give them the credit for it.

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