Saturday, October 31, 2015

AK Constitution 'Toons

While wandering around the UAF campus, an exhibit currently displayed in the main hallway of the Eielson Building caught my eye. It’s part of “Creating Alaska: the Origins of the 49th State” project, and its assumable the installation is culled from the extensive archives and resources housed in the Alaska & Polar Regions Collections in the Rasmuson Library. 2006 was the commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of our joining the union, and it’s always great to see excerpted highlights from the voluminous collections stored on campus put up anywhere, much less such a nice display for the general public to peruse in passing. (More after the jump)

It’s always interesting to note what, if any, changes have occurred to the political landscape over the ensuing decades. One sign of a good cartoon, and a challenge given the temporal nature of the topics, is when it transcends regional concerns and taps into something more elemental amongst people everywhere. Which translates usually into depictions of fear, anger, cynicism, derision and mockery. In other words, humor.

Needless to say what got my attention were the cartoons of course: editorial panels are an omnipresent element in many, if not most historical overviews. They often accomplish with a single visual what often takes reams of accompanying text to elucidate, encapsulating issues with a graphic narrative instead. Here are a handful of snapshots, which are admittedly low-quality (just from the iPhone), but hopefully you’ll be inspired to check them out in person.

Caption for the panel reads: “J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim Brothers were portrayed as a ravenous beast devouring Alaska’s resources, while a feeble Uncle Sam (lower right hand corner) eats gum drops.” (Ice Bound Empire, Elizabeth Tower). This same image popped up on a cursory Google search for the Wikipedia entry for the Alaska Syndicate, a good, short read on the efforts of Judge Wickersham against the monopolists and on behalf of the territory’s struggle for inclusion in statehood.
When evaluating a cartoon, ask yourself these questions:
1. Does a cartoon add to my existing knowledge base and help crystallize my thinking about the issue depicted?
2. Does the cartoonist have any obvious biases that distort reality?
3. Is the cartoonist reflecting prevailing public opinion or trying to shape it?

The answers will help determine the effectiveness of the cartoonist's message. (Daily Kos diary)

The caption for this piece reads: “On The Lighter Side: Alaskans despised the fish trap because they believed it “skimmed the cream” off the salmon runs and destroyed any chance of building a prosperous local economy.” (Liberate Alaska from the Fish Trap, Ketchikan and Cordova Fishermen, January 1949). Leaving alone the latent racism inherent in targeting sustainable subsistence usage, here we can see the spawning struggle over natural resource management which hasn’t changed a bit, save perhaps the comparative diminishment in numbers of the animals themselves.
    * Appears on editorial page
    * Simple in design
    * Shows high technical quality
    * Centered on one topic
    * Timely
    * Subject familiar to reader in his everyday life
    * Displays artistic talent
    * Message succinctly stated

Category 22: COMIC STRIP
    * Entertaining
    * Simple in design
    * Shows high technical quality
    * Centered on one topic
    * Timely
    * Subject familiar to reader in his everyday life
    * Displays artistic talent
    * Message succinctly stated
(Criteria for judging cartoons from MIPA)

This is one of only two panels in the display where the artist who created the piece is readily  identifiable, as in many cases signatures are undecipherable or omitted entirely. And this particular one (backstory here) was immediately recognizable as the work of one of the most significant cartoonists of all time, Thomas Nast.
Editorial cartooning (criteria for Canada's National Newspaper Awards)
Editorial cartoons shoot straight to the heart of an issue. Sought here is originality, bite, humor and impact as well as quality of drawing. In this category entrants may enter one editorial cartoon or select three cartoons to represent a body of work. That means you can award top honors to one highly original, witty, cartoon or reward a cartoonist for the body of work submitted. To determine excellence in Editorial cartooning you might consider the following.

    * Is sustained wit evident in all of the work?
    * Is humor clever and biting? If satire is a factor, is it used effectively?
    * Is the work original in both its message and style?
    * Is a clear message conveyed?
    * Is work outrageous (and is that justified)
    * Is the cartoonist’s line and style consistent, distinctive?
    * Are caricatures of personalities recognizable and effective?
    * Does this work inform the reader, entertain the reader and achieve its purpose?

Above is a panel by Ernest Jessen (Ernest Jessen Cartoons, 2001-0139-00010. Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks), and this last one appears also on the Alaska Independence Party page in a ”Factual Primer” by Joe Vogler.

“Sometimes I dip my pen and find the bottle full of fire,
The salamanders flying forth I cannot but admire…
O sad deceiving ink,
As bad as liquor in its way”
- Vachel Lindsay “Apology for the Bottle Volcanic”

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