It was Archimides of Syracuse (not N.Y.) who said "Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand and I will move the world". Had he spoken 'USAnian' English he would have rhymed 'lever' with 'ever' rather than with 'beaver' contrary to the usage of well-spoken Canadians. On the other hand, the verb 'lever' in our other national language does have an initial short 'e'. So, let's leave the vagaries of our spelling and pronunciation, both of them issues that divide Anglophonia, to another day.
If levers have the potential power to move worlds, cartoons have proven their ability to raise anger and trigger violent emotions. Danish authorities recently arrested three men who are accused of planning the assassination of a man who drew one of the 12 cartoons that were published in the newspaper 'Jyllands- Posten' in 2005 and that sparked riots in Muslim countries. The advocates of armed jihad, sequestered in radical mosques even here in Canada, found new grounds for gunpowder, treason and plot.
The Columbia, South Carolina, Daily Tribune ran a delightful editorial page cartoon in response. Half a dozen bearded and turbaned protesters carried signs demanding "Death to America", "Death to Europe", "Death to the West", "Death to cartoonists" and "Death to everyone who offends us". One placard said "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark". His neighbour shouted at its holder, "Akbar, is that the best you could do?".
As in this newspaper, political cartoons give effective visual expression to editorial opinion. They either mock or censure conventional wisdom, particularly that of politicians. They reveal and ridicule character weaknesses that elected persons would prefer to have unnoticed. They are the visual expression of free speech.
They can also make use of one time in history to criticise the present. I had been watching David Starkey recounting the troubles of King Charles I in the BBC series "Monarchy" when I came across a cartoon showing three crowned figures en route to Bethlehem. One says "Apart from the divine right of kings, I'm not much into theology". The idea that rulers are "ordained by God" meant little to Oliver Cromwell, "the king killer". His interpretation of Scripture lay in other directions.
A similar comment on established authority appeared in the Globe and Mail last July. Pope Benedict XVI had said that week in a controversial statement that non-Roman rite bodies were not churches "in the proper sense". Brian Gable produced an editorial page drawing in which a mitred figure in white stands in a basilican setting decorated with banners proclaiming "One True Church. Accept no Substitutes" and "The Pope. He's the Real Thing". A diffident cardinal approaches with a petition from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He says, "They're wondering if you could tone it down a little".
The Canadian Encyclopedia has instructive articles on "Cartoons, Humorous" and "Cartoons, Political" that are available on-line. The first credits comic strips from the U.S.A. with the early growth of the Toronto Star. .The other says that the first controversial cartoonist in Canada was Brigadier-General Charles Townshend who served with General Wolfe, whom he heartily disliked, at Québec in 1759. Already a published cartoonist in England, he lampooned Wolfe's arrogance, his lank physique and long nose. Wolfe threatened revenge but died on the Plains of Abraham. His second in- command, Robert Monckton, was seriously wounded. So it was Townshend who accepted the surrender of the fortress of Québec.
The late Duncan Macpherson whose sister, Fiona Williams, lives in Bolton was reputed to be Canada's greatest editorial page cartoonist. He had the freedom of a columnist at the Toronto Star. He was not limited to illustrating the paper's editorials. His caricatures of Prime Minister Diefenbaker as Louis XIV, of Robert Stanfield munching a banana and of a floppy eared 'Joe Who?' on a skate board are classics. The Montreal Gazette's Terry Mosher ('Aislin') gained similar fame.
Andy Donato of the Sun Media used to appear in these pages. His cartoons that achieved a national reputation appeared first in the old Toronto Telegram forty years ago. It was he who made Brian Mulroney's chin as long as Pinocchio's nose. Patrick La Montagne whose work appears currently on our editorial page syndicates his drawings from Canmore AB. The images are on the border between cartoons and caricatures.
A caricature, properly speaking, is an exaggeration of the features of a public figure whereas a cartoon is either an imaginary person or the characterisation of an institution or nation. England portrayed as John Bull or the United States as Uncle Sam are examples. One never now sees the U.S.A. pictured as the 19th Century Brother (or Cousin) Jonathan who was something of a bumpkin. It is now universally the top-hatted, pin-striped rich uncle, the lanky Colossus who bestrides the world until his mounting debts overtake his still considerable resources. .
Canada needs a new cartoon image. She was once portrayed as an innocent maiden ogled by lecherous old Uncle Sam. Since then, although in the French version of the national anthem her brow is still crowned with a flowery wreath, the older image has given away to that of a lumberjack in a tartan shirt, a red-coated Mountie or even a toothy version of Paddy the Beaver. The agency that sponsors a contest for the creation of a new personification of Canada will do the country a service. The creator of the image will go down in national history.
Cartooning is gaining academic respect in a growing number of schools. The Savannah, Georgia, College of Art now has 300 undergraduates pursuing bachelor's and 50 doing master's degrees in 'sequential art'. That includes, it seems, both comic book story frames and animation. New York's School of Visual Arts has in the past five years doubled its enrolment in such courses. Some may call it 'para-art' but did not Bosch, Hogarth and Daumier give it legitimacy long ago?
Is there a local artist who could create a new cartoon image for Canada? Could the art departments of local schools produce one? Maybe Maclean's or Chatelaine should do it. We got the flag in 1965. Could we have the cartoon by 2015?