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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: politico

Specifically wordless political cartoons, since all my examples are from Politico, which I read daily (and not in a good way since it has questionable results for my mental health). I’ve written elsewhere about the various relationships possible between words and images in what are appropriately termed image-texts, including (many but not all) political cartoons — but my favorite relationship is no relationship because the image stands alone.

Here are five:

By representing the stripes as dripping blood and the stars as bullet holes, the image conveys the visual metaphor that the U.S. flag stands for gun deaths.

By arranging a set of coffins in the shape of an assault rifle, the image conveys a visual metaphor comparing guns and funerals (though I’m not sure which direction the metaphor flows, since the rifle could be “like” funerals or funerals could be “like” the rifle).

Moving on to Trump’s legal woes…

Remember the jokes back in 2016 about Trump’s small hands? Even if you don’t, the visual metaphor is clear: the legal system (as represented by handcuffs) can’t hold him.

This one stands out because it relies on an unstated verbal phrase: “The chickens have come home to roost.” If you don’t know the old saying, the image can only be understood literally and so nonsensically.

Similarly, the unwritten word “crooked” is implied, but with two meanings: the visual and so literal crookedness of Justice Thomas’ figure and gavel communicates the sense of his also being dishonest.

Other cartoons use minimal words, while still relying on images to do the primary work:

Personally, I think “US Schools” is redundant (crayons are enough to suggest children and so elementary school too), but the visual placement of a bullet in the crayon box is what matters.

Like the chickens image requires a viewer to have cultural knowledge of an old saying, this cartoon requires some visual cultural literacy: the viewer needs to recognize the statue as a (very common) representation of justice to understand that “justice” has been (literally and, more importantly, figuratively) replaced by MAGA.

I admire this one because it operates on a pun — and the coincidence that Stormy Daniels’ first name happens to be an adjective with an unrelated meaning, one that the image makes literal. Also, “2024” is an effectively minimal way to evoke the next presidential race.

While the phrase “separation of church of state” is well known, it is only sometimes called a “wall,” making the words on the literalized wall useful. Still though, I think the religious clothes on the figures (especially combined with the labels “Treasury,” “Public Schools,” “Tax $$$,” and “Religious Schools”) makes the label on the wall unnecessary.

Here’s my revised version:

Here’s an example of just one unnecessary word:

While the docket/pocket rhyme is nice, it would be even more fun if the rhyme happened in a viewer’s head after recognizing that Justice Thomas is literally in the billionaire’s pocket.

Like this:

Political cartoonists also fish from the same cultural barrel, producing some of the same visual metaphors.

Again, I appreciate the minimal use of words in the first two (only labeling individuals or groups), but the third cartoonist seems anxious that viewers won’t recognize the visual reference to “fishing expedition” and so throws it into a speech bubble.

Here’s my revision:

I apparently am not a fan of dialogue in political cartoons — or at least unnecessary dialogue.

Here’s another:

I’d still say the cartoon is effective because it doesn’t use words to explain its main point: by throwing out two state legislatures, the GOP majority made them “bigger” (again the visual metaphor literalizes the figurative meaning). But notice how the two speech bubbles don’t add any meaning not already expressed through the figure’s gestures and expressions?

Here’s my revision:

I realize my revisions could be cheats since you are seeing the original versions first and so already have their verbal content in mind. So let me reverse the process

Here are two revised cartoons:

And here are the two originals:

Are any of the words I removed necessary or helpful? In my opinion, no. I also think they reduce the effectiveness of the cartoons by preventing the images from their doing their job visually.

But unless I seem entirely anti-word, I also appreciate cartoons that use words as objects — that is, rather than as dialogue or captions, as physical letters that exist as part of the represented content of the image.

Here are three:

I wouldn’t revise any of those words. Coincidentally, all three cartoons use their words as representing revisions.

[Few things age more quickly than political cartoons, but I looked at related effects last August and September too.]

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