In more modern times, political cartoons were accomplished by etching and lithography. When the printing press was invented, these drawings could be mass produced. With the development of direct printing and then the offset press, cartoonist could do their work on paper using a pen and ink and sometimes a black pencil for shading.
In the early 1960‘s, the use of chemical shading was introduced to America by Pat Oliphant, an Australian cartoonist and one of my heroes. Pat completely altered the landscape of editorial cartooning with his skill and technique. In this process, a chemical is printed on the surface of the drawing paper. After the waterproof ink drawing was completed, the cartoonist would then apply a chemical developer to the paper surface and those areas would then darken. Some cartoonists continue to use this paper.
These advances were often met with resistance among some in the cartooning community who feared the ‘purity’ of their craft was being destroyed. There are also some who even complained about the use of cross-hatching to achieve shading and background.
All of these earlier advances pale when the use of the computer arrived and Adobe Photoshop began to be used by cartoonists. A new world of possibilities has opened. It provides the ability to scan an original cartoon, and then electronically add color and shading. What also emerged was the ability Photoshop photographs into a cartoon. These photographs could be logos, type, or objects such as buildings, faces, shirts, or guns.
This is where the resistance of the ‘purists’ become the loudest. They complain that mixing cartoons with photos is ‘heresy’. While some accept the use of adding color to backgrounds, they often reject the use of adding any of the other possibilities. They are coming to be known as the ‘Cartoon Police’ or the ‘Tea Party Cartoonists’ in their narrow-minded zeal to halt these practices and demand others follow only their notions of what constitutes a cartoon. Some are weekly cartoonists who are more like writers and use multi-panels with multi-captions to explain their point of view. A few are vitriolic in their criticism of daily cartoonists who use symbols like the elephant and donkey in a single panel cartoon. I admire all of them for the work they produce but there are many ways to cartoon other than their way.
The cartooning profession is changing dramatically. Several cartoonists have established themselves as virtuoso Photoshoppers. Among my favorites are Clay Bennett, Mike Thompson, and John Sherffius. Notice when you open these links how they have taken photos of objects and incorporated them into their cartoon. You will see how Clay has taken a photograph of a shirt (notice the material of the collar), imposed the skull and cross bones of a photo, and planted it at an angle on some photographic material to a shirt label. It is an example of superb technical skill and it creates a fabulous idea. Mike Thompson creates entire backgrounds with photographs, this one of a UFO, a chain link fence, and a rock ground cover while imposing cartoon characters in the foreground. Mike is singular among cartoonists with this technique.
The use of animation in editorial cartooning is a growing technical and artistic endeavor quite different from all that I have discussed here. As you can see, the boundaries are ever expanding. That is a topic for another time.
It is important for all creative people to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone. It is how one continues to grow. Where this new technology will lead me is uncertain and filled with accidents, as I have learned. Only time will tell as I experiment with these new tools, learn, have successes, make mistakes, and prove I am human.
In addition, the internet and the use of cartoons is changing. Internet users care little for the publishing date of a cartoon, and care only about the message it delivers. With that, the rules of cartooning are changing. What will emerge is anyone’s guess.
One thing is undeniable. Time does not stand still.