Author Archive: larrybush2013

Edwina Dumm: The First Woman Daily Political Cartoonist

Edwina Dumm was the first female to draw political cartoons regularly for a daily newspaper in America.  She was born in 1893 in Ohio.  Her father was an entertainer who got into the newspaper business.  Edwina, fascinated by publishing and having a penchant for drawing, took a correspondence course in art and eventually landed a position with the Columbus Daily Monitor in Ohio.  To be clear, Ms Dumm was not the first female to publish political cartoons in the United States, just the first one to publish cartoons on a daily basis for a newspaper.  There are many examples of other women publishing political cartoons in journals, especially suffrage journals, before Dumm.

The Columbus Daily Monitor only ran from July 10, 1916 to July 5, 1917, but Dumm’s contribution to the newspaper is its most enduring aspect.  In the early 20th century, women did not get many opportunities to express themselves politically, and a neophyte newspaper would be the ideal place for a woman to exploit for that purpose.  She was talented and motivated, and in the culture of separate spheres, demanded less money than the men.  What more could a newspaper want?

Shown below, “Lost Argument” is, perhaps Dumm’s best known cartoon.  In it she suggests that women should be recruited for World War I and that they have many of the necessary skills.  However, true to the chivalry of the times and from the look of the commanding officer reviewing the recruits, it ain’t gonna happen.




In her book, Cartooning for Suffrage, Alice Sheppard cites several examples of women’s rights and suffrage cartoons by Dumm, including the one above.  However, the following Dumm cartoon shows how scathing her criticism of the American suffrage imbalance could be.  When Russia gave women the right to vote in 1917, she suggests that if a politically unstable country can grant the vote to women, surely an established country like the United States can as well.


Pulitzer Prize editorial cartoonist, Signe Wilkinson says of women political cartoonists in the early 20th century, “After the suffrage campaign succeeded, these cartoons vanished from the printed page, leaving rare, brittle clippings and the 19th Amendment as the only traces of their public lives.”[1]  And while that happened to most women cartoonists, Dumm’s career ended because the Daily Monitor went out of business two years before the passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

Of political cartooning for a newspaper, Dumm said the only discrimination she experienced was that she was not invited to socialize with the other political cartoonists drawing for various newspapers in Columbus at the time.  However, she did have to contend with at least one condescending tribute to her efforts.  An article in a 1917 issue of the magazine Cartoons begins, “She is a ‘regular’ cartoonist and has her workshop in a real newspaper office amid the click of telegraph instruments and typewriters.”   When the Monitor went belly-up, no other newspaper in Columbus would hire her; however, she was able to land on her feet.  She moved to New York City and achieved her more notable cartooning legacy.  She created a cartoon strip called “Capp Stubbs and Tippie” (shown below) that was syndicated nationally.



She also worked on other comic strips and illustrated children’s books until she retired in 1966.  Her retirement included painting watercolors of people in the New York Subways (below).



[1] Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 92.

An Exceptional War Cartoon

An Exceptional War Cartoon

Over the last fourteen years I have seen hundreds of war cartoons depicting the various situations that reflect America’s involvement in international conflict.  After a while, it seems like I am seeing the same satire reflected in nearly the same way but with a different picture.  However, now and then I get a pleasant surprise.  Someone publishes a cartoon that suggests a different angle of a conflict.  The following cartoon does just that.

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

Tom Toles, “You’re Here to Help, Right?” Washington Post, 4 September 2016.

Vultures circling or, as they are doing in this drawing, assembled in a tree is as common a theme in cartoons about death as the Grim Reaper.  However, the way the vultures are used, representing more than the idea that something is dead or dying, but representing the victim’s potential rescuers, is a trope that is not often used.

Toles suggests that Syria’s neighbors are merely waiting for Syria, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, to kill itself so that neighboring countries can take over what is left.  The vultures are the nations surrounding Syria.  The Islamic State, Bashar al-Assad, and The Syrian National Coalition are not among the vultures, they could be best described as the cancers within that are slowly causing Syria’s demise.  However, the estate of the cancer victim is up for grabs when Syria becomes a corpse.  That is what the vultures are after.

Syria’s neighboring countries have done nearly nothing to help end the war in Syria (and it is no coincidence that there are five vultures in the tree).  Iraq has its own problems.  Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon have had a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil policy toward al-Assad and his nation (if he, indeed, has a nation).  Taking sides will rankle someone and those three nations do not want any more enemies than they have now.  Turkey has had to defend itself from the confrontations between the three cancers in Syria in order to prevent itself from getting infected.  Turkey is doing nothing to help the victim, but is doing its best not to harm the victim either.  Those are the vultures in the neighborhood tree.

Russia and the United States are also principals in the Syrian conflict.  Their interests are merely implied in this cartoon.  The United States would like al-Assad to abdicate.  Russia would like for him to remain in power.  What’s the reward, for any of this?  Even though Syria is the 68th largest oil producing nation in the world, they both want the oil.  Now that the price of oil is under $50.00 per barrel, why should anyone care about Syria’s oil.  The conflict began when the price of oil was much higher and, historically, once a country is in a conflict, it is difficult to get out without paying a high price.  And while energy is always an issue with Russia and the U. S, there is also a matter of reputation at stake.  As it was during the cold war, neither Russia nor America will back down.

Tom Toles uses an embedded panel to make a secondary comment in his own cartoon.  In the lower right corner, Toles depicts himself at his drawing board watching the scene in front of him.  The practice is similar to Pat Oliphant’s Punk the Penguin who gets the final say in his drawings.  Toles says of the vultures, “They know how to pick their friends.”  He is suggesting that when Syria finally dies, and the cancers (combatants) die with it, the surrounding nations will get their slice of Syria.  Let’s hope that when the time comes there is something worth taking because few people believe that there is anything of Syrian leadership that is worth saving.

This cartoon is among the few that cannot be copied in a few decades, change the labels, and have a cartoon that reflects the times.  This cartoon stands out as one that depicts the uniqueness of the Syrian conflict and only the Syrian conflict.



Positive Trump Cartoons


Donald Trump is a gift to political cartoonists and satirists in general.  His policy positions are extreme, though some are extreme left while others are extreme right.  His public statements are the definition of “gaffe.”  It would seem Trump is a godsend for political cartoonists.  While that may have been true during the beginning of the election cycle, that may no longer be the case.

How many times can a satirist lampoon, once again, Trump’s misogynistic rantings?  How many different ways can a satirist expand on Trump’s xenophobia?  How many times of pointing out Trump’s misuse of statistics to the point of outright lies finally becomes tiresome?  Because of these limitations, cartoonists ignore his missteps and look for other issues on which to direct their invective, and other ways to caricature Trump.

With few exceptions, satirists do not want to get the reputation of repeating themselves to the extent that readers expect a “Trumpism du jour.”  That gets as tiresome as the candidate himself.  Cartoonists attempt to push beyond the cliché.  In fact, after one of the most catastrophic events in American history, the attack on the World Trade Center, Ann Telnaes excoriated her peers for being overly and overtly patriotic, “We shouldn’t be flag-wavers.  You can do that on your personal time. — I flew a flag — but not in your cartoons. We’re supposed to be a voice of other possibilities.”[i]  That principle is not only applicable after tragedies, but it applies to overused punch lines in cartoons as well.

Therefore, even those satirists who are most adamantly opposed to the possible election of Donald Trump must reach beyond Trump’s daily inappropriateness to the reality of Trump’s attractiveness to a large portion of the electorate and examine why that is happening.  That gives rise to a class of cartoons that portray Trump in a positive light.  True to the vast majority of American cartoons, however, is that if Trump is depicted positively, something or someone else is the foil.

This analysis comes with a disclaimer that since the subject is pictorial humor, there may be some difference of opinion among readers as to whether the artist’s primary target was Trump or the alleged foil.  These cartoons were chosen because the author’s first impression was that Trump was not the primary target of the humor.  With that in mind and the distinct possibility that there will be differing opinions, here are cartoons that contain Trump, but make Bernie Sanders the foil.

Published on May 19, 2016, Robert Ariail depicts a boxing match between Trump and the Republican Party symbolized by the elephant.  The fight is disrupted by a riot between various Democrats, symbolized by the donkeys at ringside.  While there is one donkey with a Hillary sign, the most vicious of the asses are depicted as Sanders partisans.  The reason why this is pro-Trump is that despite the “Stop Trump” movement and various powerful Republicans (including the entire Bush family) refusing to endorse Trump, the Democrats are depicted as more combative than the Republicans.

Positive Trump Ariail 5-19-16

Robert Ariail, 19 May 2016.

Jack Ohman depicts Bernie Sanders handing the presidency to Donald Trump on a silver platter.  This cartoon, published on May 20, 2016, also depicts Hillary Clinton at a nearby table with a goblet in front of her and shrouded in gossamer. Despite Trump’s beatific yet condescending expression, the cartoonist is decrying Sander’s poor judgment in harshly criticizing Clinton for her vote to invade Iraq and pandering to Wall Street types.  The artist suggests that Sanders is handing the presidency to Trump, a person within the wealthy class that Sanders had been stridently campaigning against.

Positive Trump Ohman 5-20-16

Jack Ohman, 20 May 2016.

The following cartoon is a direct comparison between the careless statements of Donald Trump toward various immigrants and the carelessness of Clinton in her handling of State Department emails.  While Bernie Sanders may have been sick of hearing about those “damned emails,” Republicans can’t hear about them enough.  On June 23, 2016, Lisa Benson filled that void by comparing Clinton’s criticisms of Donald Trump to her own mistakes of using a personal computer to email classified information.  In the background, is that the silhouette of a foreign spy who is reading the contents of Clinton’s brief case?  Maybe it is an FBI detective who will later regard her handling of the emails as “extremely careless” but not criminal.

Positive Trump 6-23-16

Lisa Benson, 23 June 2016.

Finally, the most common foil for the positive Trump cartoons are the ones that depict the Republican Party in disarray following the successful campaign by Trump to win more primary delegates than any of the Republican candidates for President in the 2016 race.  In those cases, the whole of the GOP is depicted as an elephant.  And, true to the nature of political cartooning, the beast is put into the most precarious of situations.

International cartoonists also get into the act of satirizing American politics.  After all, if the winner of the U.S. presidency is considered the “leader of the free world,” American politics is fair game overseas.  Heng Kim Song of the Straits Times (Singapore) depicts Donald Trump dragging a reluctant bride to the marriage altar.  The reluctant bride’s fingernails are gouging the carpet to the amazement of spectators.  Contrary to physics and American satire, however, the dress is still maintaining the dignity of the bride.  This illustrates the uncomfortable position that the Republicans find themselves after having allowed a radical to infiltrate their party and win.  Clearly, in this depiction and in electoral politics, Trump has defeated the stalwarts of the GOP.

Positive Trump Heng 5-30-16

Heng Kim Song, 30 May 2016.

One of the oldest and clearest depictions of a political election is as a race.  It is easy to depict and there is little confusion that when one candidate crosses the finish line and the others have not, a winner can be declared.  The race as a metaphor can also obscure clarity of a contest.  Take the following cartoon of May 31, 2016 by Clay Bennett as an example.  Donald Trump is depicted crossing the finish line.  The cartoonist depicts the tape not having been broken and the two GOP members who were holding the tape refuse to let go. Has Trump won the race or not?   We will find out at the convention.

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, 31 May 2016.

In political cartoon culture, cartoonists are given one opportunity to state the obvious on an issue.  After that, they are challenged to look beyond the obvious and examine underlying realities.  Cartoonists are expected to push the boundaries of convention and cause the public to consider ideas that are neither readily apparent nor popular.  Ranan Lurie called the editorial cartoon “the most extreme form of expression that a society will accept or tolerate.”[ii]  In this case, readers are asked to consider that there are some entities worse than Donald Trump.

I will leave readers to mull that one over.


[i] Dave Astor, “Editorial Cartooning Post 9-11,”  Editor and Publisher 4 February 2002. Internet:

[ii] Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons, New York, Columbia University Press, 2004. 22.


As a blogger for American Humor Studies, I run an occasional series that explains the etymology of words that derive from humorous sources–particularly cartoons.  It is fascinating how the words transition from neologisms that perform a particular task for the cartoonist, but are eventually adopted by the public, sometimes for a short period (as the following word was) and sometimes for hundreds of years (as “gerrymander” has been).

The last time I saw “milquetoast” or any form of the word was back in the 1970s.  A coworker of mine mocked up a nameplate for one of our bosses that said “Casper Milktoast” and had put it on his desk.  After asking him how he had come up with the name, he told me it was a term that his grandfather had used.  It was later that I encountered it in a book of H. T. Webster cartoons.

“Milquetoast”  is a derisive term for a timid, unassertive person.  It comes from a Webster cartoon character named Caspar Milquetoast.  Although the word is spelled “milque,” it undoubtedly refers to “milk” and the effect that milk and other liquids have on bread when it is dipped in them.  The bread, or toast, becomes soggy and malleable, and Webster named his soggy, malleable character for that phenomenon.

“The Timid Soul” pen and ink cartoon by Harold Tucker Webster in The Best of H. T. Webster by Robert E. Sherwood and Philo Calhoun.  New York: Simon and Schuster 1953.

Why milk?  Why not water?  Milk is white, and men who have a white complexion are considered less rugged than those who have darker, tanned complexions.  Combine that whiteness with sogginess and the term is less than flattering for a man.  The interwar period was a time of racism in the United States with many symbols that represented perceived characteristics of blacks and whites.  The symbol of paleness as representative of non-assertiveness supports the concept that blacks were rugged laborers and whites were among the leisure classes, but too much leisure and time out of the sun was perceived as unmanly.  It is no surprise that cartoonists often exploit stereotypes to reinforce the hidden suggestions within the text and images.

Caspar Milquetoast first appeared in Webster’s cartoons in 1924, but it was not until 1935 that it became a noun describing a timid soul.  It may have derived from the term “milksop,” which originated in the 14th century and is also defined as a man who is unassertive.  The name Casper was appropriated in 1939 by a new cartoon character called Casper (McFadden) the Friendly Ghost.  With only the difference of the single vowel, both Casp(a)ers were blanched and timid.  The word Casp(a)er derives from an Indo-European word for “treasurer” and is formerly related to gold.  However, because of the friendly ghost and milquetoast, Casp(a)er is now associated with paleness and the eschewing of the rough and tumble world of the outdoors.  As a possible result, neither form of the word “Casp(a)er” has been on the list of the top 1,000 baby names in many years.

Colonel Blimp

Colonel Blimp is a pompous character created by British cartoonist David Low.  Entering the English language in 1937, by definition, a “Colonel Blimp” or just “Blimp” is an ultra-conservative, pompous individual.  It can also be used as an adjective to describe what someone has said as in, “I can’t believe he made that Colonel Blimp statement.”

Colonel Blimp is a bald, red-faced, mustachioed, man with considerable girth.  In fact, his surname is derived from the shape of his body.  And, like the dirigible, both the blimp and Colonel Blimp are full of hot air.

The word “blimp” first came into existence when dirigible airships were first produced.  The word is onomatopoetic in that it is the sound that is made when the gasbag is thumped with the thumb; no word on whether the same can be said for thumping the colonel.  In literature, if “blimp” is spelled in the lower case, it refers to the airship; if it is capitalized, it refers to the colonel.

Colonel Blimp

Typically, Colonel Blimp is depicted in a spa or gym as the character is a part of the leisure class in Britain.   Thus, it is assumed that when he makes pronouncements about how aggressive the British military should be, readers know that neither he nor his offspring will have to fight those battles.  He is also depicted as nearly naked which coincides with the uninhibited nature of his wisdom.  And, like his physique, his viewpoints can be ugly.

Colonel Blimps have existed as long as humanity.  That may be why the term has at least 44 synonyms.  In the United States we are dealing with our own 21st century Colonel Blimp as we watch our electoral catastrophe spiral out of control.  And while our Colonel Blimp makes for great sound bites and outstanding political cartoons, it would probably be better for our country if the politicians were more responsible, and the cartoonists had to look elsewhere for fodder.

Trump 2016

This cartoon by Bill Bramhall suggests that after 80 years, nothing really changes.

I Wish I Was Wise

Scott Stantis reflected on the recent violence in Paris, France with an uncharacteristically long political cartoon on November 20, 2015.  What is normally a single tableau, Stantis made the effort to write a more detailed account of his feelings toward terrorism in thirteen panels.  This is not a rant about how awful the Muslim jihadists are or a cheerleader cartoon about how the United States will crush ISIS, it is an introspective look into the futility of using words and pictures to demonstrate that words and pictures are inadequate to describe the helplessness that many of us feel about the violent world situation.

Stantis I Wish I Was Wise

This medium that normally works like a rebus puzzle to amuse news junkies takes on a more somber tone and is no longer enigmatic, in order to cut to the heart of civilized thought.  People are taught by the founders of all major religions that it is better to talk through differences than to fight over them, but both words and pictures have failed.  In his cartoon, Stantis says, “We’re angry.  We want to bomb them.  Bomb them all.”  When we do, we are disgusted with ourselves for taking out innocent children and civilian bystanders.  The military calls those deaths “collateral damage,” a term that appalls us even more for its thoughtlessness.

There are candidates for President who are trying to encapsulate the answer to Stantis’s concerns in a fifteen-second sound bite.  They will deprive peace-seeking refugees of relative safety in order to prevent an attacker from harming an American.  How many Muslim lives is equal to one American life?

It is fairly shocking to open one’s newspaper to the editorial page and expect a chuckle at the expense of bloviating politicians but receive a philosophical eye-opener.  However, the eye-opener puts all of the bloviating in perspective.  The politicians don’t have the answer and the cartoonists don’t have the answer.  But the difference is that this cartoonist admits that he does not have the answer.  We appreciate political analysts who don’t have all the answers; maybe we ought to elect politicians who know they don’t have all the answers instead of those who think they do.

The Etymology of “Google” is a Comedy of Errors

“Google” has an interesting etymology. By definition, “googol” is 1 followed by 100 zeroes. The name was chosen by a nine-year old boy by the name of Milton Sirotta. Milton’s uncle, Edward Kasner was a mathematician who had a need for a number of that magnitude, and when he asked his nephew what he should call the number, his nephew replied, “Google,” probably from one of his favorite cartoon strips, Barney Google. According to Sol Steinmetz, author of There’s a Word for It, the naming of the googol, was pretty simple:

“When [Kasner] asked his young nephew to think up a name for a very big number, a number with a hundred zeroes after it, Milton, after a moment’s thought, answered ‘a googol!’ Though probably influenced by the name of the then very popular comic-strip character Barney Google, Milton’s coinage became important in advanced mathematics” (italics in the original) (Steinmetz 86).

The history of the word is unclear as to whether the mathematician accidentally misspelled “Google” or spelled it differently in order to make it a unique term. However, Kasner took the googol, an already immense number, and raised it to the googolth power and called it a googolplex. It was, at the time the largest number with a name and clear definition.

Barney Google was a popular cartoon strip that began in 1919 and was drawn by Billy DeBeck. It was among the most popular strips of the 1920s prompting two hit songs, “Barney Google (with the Goo-goo Googly Eyes)” and “Come on, Spark Plug.” Spark Plug was the name of Barney Google’s horse, and it became the nickname of the then, future cartoonist Charles Schulz, who was given the moniker as a child and was known by friends and family throughout his life as “Sparky Schulz.” Many of the Barney Google serialized storylines were followed by so many readers that they became media sensations. Therefore, when Milton Sirotta named the googol in the late 1930s, he was drawing from an influential force in American culture.

barney google

Barney Google and his mighty thoroughbred.

In addition, the word “goggle-eyed,” describing someone with bulging or rolling eyes, has been around since 1711, but due to the comic strip and the song, the word googly-eyed temporarily supplanted “goggle-eyed” in the American lexicon in 1924. Now, either term is used to describe that facial characteristic.

So, in 1919, the word “google” was born as the name of a cartoon character. In 1940, the term was altered to “googol” to describe a number with 1 followed by 100 zeros. In 1997, the term took on a new meaning when Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Sean Anderson were brainstorming a name for their new search engine that had been called “BackRub” during the development process. According to New World, New Words: On Language Change and Word Formation in Internet English and Romanian, Otilia Pacea states:

“Sean verbally suggested the googolplex, and Larry responded verbally with a shortened form, googol. Sean executed a search of the internet domain name registry database to see if the newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean was not an infallible speller, and he made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as, which he found to be available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering the name for himself and Sergey” (italics in the original) (Pacea 94).

Thus, the word “google” went from the original spelling to, perhaps by mistake, an alternate spelling, and then, by mistake, it reverted back to its original spelling. Google, Incorporated has its headquarters in Mountain View, California, and, in homage to Sirotta and Kasner, they call the campus on which the company is headquartered by the pun “Googleplex.”


Googleplexing in style.

Postscript: The Barney Google comic strip is still in existence but under a different name. In the comic story, Barney Google was a city-slicker who gambled on the horses and got himself into trouble with his wife and other gamblers. Eventually, he ventured to western North Carolina where he met and hid out with a family led by Snuffy and Louise (Loweezy) Smith. Google stayed there through the 1940s and into 1950 before he returned to the city and was written out of the strip except for infrequent cameos.  That cartoon strip is now called “Snuffy Smith.”

Barney Google with Snuffy

Barney and Snuffy collaborate on a moonshine operation.

Who Invented the Rube Goldberg Invention?

Who Invented The Rube Goldberg Invention?

The Rube Goldberg invention is a complex device that achieves a simple objective. Entering the American lexicon in 1931, it defines the adjective “Rube Goldberg,” a staple of most American English dictionaries. “Rube Goldberg,” of course, is only the adjective, but it is followed by “invention,” “contraption,” “device,” or a plethora of other synonyms of those words that “Rube Goldberg” modifies. But who is Rube Goldberg and where does the convention of the Rube Goldberg invention come from?

Ruben Lucius Goldberg was born in San Francisco, California on July 4, 1883. He received a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley in 1904, but in 1907 he moved to New York City and became a cartoonist for the New York Evening Mail. He was very popular, and by the time America entered World War I, Goldberg was nationally syndicated and, true to the journalistic standards of the time, William Randolph Hearst had already begun a bidding war to lure Goldberg from the Evening Mail to the New York Journal. The Evening Mail was able to keep Goldberg until 1934, at which time he continued syndicating cartoons until his death in 1970.

According to Charles Keller in his book, The Best of Rube Goldberg, Goldberg began drawing the iconic inventions in 1915 and they became a weekly institution in American journalism. In fact, there are innumerable imitations of the motif in various aspects of popular culture including television (especially animated features), movies, and games. His name is also given to the cartoonist of the year award (Ruben Award), by the National Cartoonists Society. There are even Rube Goldberg Machine Contests for high school and college students around the United States. The idea of creating fanciful machines to complete simple tasks taps into human imagination and foolish inefficiency at the same time.

Rube Goldberg Putter

Above: Rube Goldberg improves the game of golf.

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) also drew complex machines that completed tasks in Britain at about the same time as Goldberg. Robinson began his art career by illustrating books. He did several of them from 1897 to 1916. In the 19-teens, Robinson began drawing cartoons satirizing World War I for British media specializing in drawing impossible secret weapons that the enemy might use. This morphed into drawing the complex machines, and by 1917, the Oxford English Dictionary listed “Heath Robinson contraption” as a noun.

Robinson began drawing the absurd devices in children’s book illustrations and continued in several media until he died in 1944. During his lifetime he, as did Goldberg, published several books of cartoons including the machines. Both of their legacies have continued. For Robinson, it is an improvised device that was engineered by the British Air Force for its chaff dispensing mechanism called a Heath Robinson Chaff Modification.

So, who invented the Rube Goldberg Invention? As Robinson, being 11 years older than Goldberg got started drawing his machines first, there is a good chance that he was the first of the two to do it, but because those contraptions got their start in children’s books, it is unlikely that Goldberg saw them and was inspired. Goldberg’s methodology for drawing his inventions includes a step-by-step instruction of how the thing works. Those steps often utilize an item in the news at the time, a difference between him and Robinson.

Eventually, of course, both cartoonists became aware of the other’s work, but there was a big world full of many new products that were ripe for satire during the industrial age. Between the two of them they had enough material to keep themselves and scores of other cartoonists busy on a daily basis. Not only that, there was a big ocean between them, and American media did not print the Robinson cartoons any more than the British media ran the Goldberg variations on the Robinson theme.

Heath Robinson Atom Splitting

Above: Heath Robinson simplifies atomic fission.

The Phenomenon of Fictional Place Names

Lower Slobbovia is a fictional manifestation of Al Capp in his” Li’l Abner” cartoon strip.  According to a description in one of his strips, it is in the arctic regions so the average temperatures are well below zero.  Also, according to the illustration below, it is below sea level; however, the humans have no problem breathing.  It is telling that the woman in the third panel is up to her knees in snow, but she is not dressed for sub-zero weather.  Apparently, all of the residents of Lower Slobbovia are acclimated to the weather, and/or since Al Capp prided himself on his ability to draw attractive women, he was bound and determined to under-dress his hotties as often as possible.

Somehow or another, after years of periodically leaving Dogpatch, USA and the trials and tribulations of Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae, Al Capp’s cartoon strip ventured to the icy realm of Slobbovia—either Upper or Lower, or both (as with this episode), the term “Lower Slobbovia” made its way into some dictionaries.  As cartoon readers know, anything can happen in the comics, so the need for gaseous oxygen is suspended, and gravity transitions from being a law to a suggestion. defines “Lower Slobbovia” as “Any place considered to be remote, poor, or unenlightened.”  The definition makes no comment on how enlightened the creator of the cartoon was.

Lower Slobbovia

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The 1884 Cartoon Campaign of Walt McDougall

The cartoon campaign that made Thomas Nast the most recognizable cartoonist in the nation during the late nineteenth century was his campaign in Harper’s Weekly that brought down William Tweed and Tammany Hall in 1871. In it, Nast drew cartoons critical of the kleptocracy that was running (and ruining) New York City. Because Tammany Hall was a political machine bent on keeping itself in power and enriching its supporters, there were many people and institutions that were supposed to keep that power in check but did not because they were caught up in the racket like most of the power structure in the city.

That campaign is well-documented. It reaches its climax with the famous Tammany Tiger mauling Columbia. What made it famous is the fact that it worked. Harper Brothers, the publishing house that produced Harper’s Weekly in the 1870s, was more national than local so did not have to kowtow to the Hall and bend to its will. Although Harper Brothers was threatened by the machine,it did not stop the campaign. Other cartoon campaigns have earned success as well, but they are less well-known. One such campaign was waged by Joseph Pulitzer, the new owner of a newspaper called The New York World. Pulitzer bought the struggling publication in 1883 and by 1884 went on a journalistic warpath to defeat James Blaine in the presidential election. The cartoonist Pulitzer employed to illustrate the campaign was Walt McDougall. According to Sidney Kobre, author of The Yellow Press and Gilded Age of Journalism (Florida State University), because Blaine lost the electors in New York, he lost the election and it was largely because of the Pulitzer/McDougall/ World campaign.

The effort to defeat Blaine (notice that I do not use the more positive reference that the effort was to help Grover Cleveland win—that is because it really did not matter who the Democrat was in the race, the objective was to defeat the Republican) began in June soon after the Republican Convention ended. By September the illustrations were in full attack mode. Not only that, they were published on page 1, above the fold and centered under the masthead. Readers who were choosing a newspaper at newsstands in New York were attracted to the cartoons, and because of them, the struggling World became the highest circulation newspaper in New York—on the days that it ran a cartoon (mainly Saturdays and Sundays). As with most negative campaigns, The World began with a lingering scandal from 1876 in which Blaine was accused of taking a bribe in the form of selling bonds to the Union Pacific Railroad for the Little Rock and Ft. Smith Railroad at a price greater than their value. He was the Speaker of the House at the time. The following cartoon from September 14, 1884 depicts Blaine hooking a Little Rock bass and being “pulled in” by the fish while Union Pacific executives rescue him. Blaine Little Rock Bass I

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