Saturday, February 24, 2018

Laughter's Grim Echo

Let's start this Sententiousback Saturday with a couple examples of the dry, preachy editorial cartoons that make up the greater part of American cartoonists' output during World War I.

"The Sword Must Be Broken" by Charles R. McAuley in New York World by February 19, 1918
Charles R. McAuley's cartoon might have been more effective if the Kaiser's sword, labeled "Autocracy," were more prominent than the one held by Ms. Justice. McAuley, who got his start at magazines such as Judge and Puck, specialized in this sort of dreary, bombastic cartoon, but won the Pulitzer prize for editorial cartooning in 1930 anyway.

"Hohenzollern, the High Toll-Taker" by Charles R. McAuley in New York World by February 27, 1918
Or perhaps as a result.

One reason for the preponderance of pedagogy is that the Committee on Public Information, created by executive order within days of the U.S. declaration of war, included a Bureau of Cartoons which would suggest ideas that they wanted cartoonists to draw in support of the war effort. These ideas were coming from ideologues and propagandists, not wits and bons vivants.

Another reason is that publishers, then as now, understand cartoons in which a brooding Teuton with a sword labeled "criminal autocracy" sits on a sack of cash with his boot resting on a slain maiden. There is no joke in such a drawing that has to be explained to them. And it's as serious as the rest of the page.

Not that cartoonists wouldn't try to slip a little levity in when they could.
"Those German 'Piece' Terms" by Magnus Kettner for Western Newspaper Union, by February 22, 1918
In case it's difficult to read the grocery list in Magnus Kettner's cartoon, little Wilhelm Hohenzollern's Piece Terms are: "Piece of Russia, Piece of France, Piece of Poland, Piece of Belgium, Piece of Roumania..." There have been cleverer puns in the history of the English language, but it was good enough to make Mr. Globe-head's day.

"It's Filling" by Harry Keys in Columbus Citizen by February 25, 1918
Harry Keys tended to have a generally whimsical approach to cartooning. His take on German diplomatic success in its peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk with Russia and with Ukraine isn't necessarily side-splitting — unless you're Kaiser Wilhelm or Graf Von Hindenburg.

"Ding" Darling adds a judicious level of levity on the same topic. (Clearly, American cartoonists still had no idea what Vladimir Lenin looked like; but that's a decent caricature of Wisconsin Senator Bob LaFollette peering over the fence.)

"And Yet There Are Those..." by John "Ding" Darling, by February 21, 1918
Of course, war is serious business after all. Russia's withdrawal from the war was a significant setback for its allies. As far as some American cartoonists were concerned, that was nothing short of outright betrayal.
"The Quitter" by John H. Cassel in New York Evening World, January, 1918
"Deserter?" by Nelson Harding in Brooklyn Eagle, January, 1918
In particular, Russia's withdrawal left Romania surrounded by hostile powers on all other sides. Romania was forced to negotiate an armistice with the Central Powers in December of 1917; King Ferdinand named a pro-German Prime Minister in March, 1918 as his last gambit to negotiate peace terms Romania could live with.

William Hanny affords the Balkan country a more sympathetic treatment than John Cassel or Nelson Harding had given its neighbor to the east.
"You Did the Best You Could, Anyway" by William Hanny in St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, March 2, 1918
Here Italian-born cartoonist Maurice Ketten (né Prosper Fiorini) sets his sense of humor aside to draw in service of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, one Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Help Catch 'Em!" by Maurice Ketten (Prosper Fiorini) in New York Evening World, by February 20, 1918
Although his work appeared on the editorial page, Ketten's cartoons tended to be droll observations on the state of contemporary fashion in art, clothing, music, and the like. You might compare his work to "Berry's World" or "Dunagin's People" if you're old enough to remember those editorial page panels. Ketten's cartoons rarely ventured into politics; he was not the sort to draw, say, ogre-ish depictions of Kaiser Wilhelm slaughtering Ms. Europa.

I'm quite certain that Ketten's call for field glasses was on the level, not some attempt to satirize a lack of military preparedness. The U.S. was kind of new to the business of equipping our fighting men to fight overseas, so a certain degree of deficiency in supplies was to be expected. But we're old pros at that stuff now, so you'd think we wouldn't need citizens to chip in to keep our soldiers in Iraq supplied with helmets.

That's all for this week's installment of World War I cartoons. And if you thought these were funny, next week's look at what cartoonists abroad were drawing will have you rolling on the floor with laughter.

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