Pensacola News Journal

Cartoons are essential to free debate

J. Earle Bowden CST January 11, 2015


Gosh, gunfire, cold-blooded death for caricaturists for splashing a valid, wicked inked expression of freedom. This cleansing freedom of The Word, Opinion and humorous exaggerations within cartoons should be enduring. Liked or disliked, firing up left and right, this essence of free debate and civil argument derives its foundational strength from Thomas Jefferson’s brilliant scripture written for the world in America’s Declaration of Independence.

The political covenant inspires the French to find power for the people in a bloody Revolution. Take away the First Amendment for free press, religion and right of assembly and walls crumble in anarchy. Now over the troubled world we have Islamic radicals loading weapons with fear and bullets.

Even same national leaders deny reality: cultic killers and be-headers enslaving women and killing Christians, When you try to kill an idea, you give it a larger life. As a newspaper editor who has drawn his own cartoons since 1964, I never fear for my life while drawing into the night at Louise’s English antique dining table. She often complains of India ink flavoring her cornbread and gourmet dishes.

Young Andy Marlette brilliantly enlivens the editorial pages with strong contemporary themes and shows a delightful positive attitude about critics seeking his scalp. My cartoons reflect editorial dreams: Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola historical preservation, Pensacola bayfront and downtown redevelopment, Scenic Highway preservation, University of West Florida, quality education, cultural arts and many emotion-charged battles to reform Escambia County government.

Even critics blistering my backside ask for the original cartoon. One of the most honest officeholders in Escambia County, Kenneth Kelson, raged that „Mr. Bowden thinks those cartoons are funny!“ When I dubbed pothole county commissioner Grady Albritton „King of the County“ driving a mule-drawn chariot he was proud of his royal title.

English artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), considered the first cartoonist in Western history drew humorous scenes, biting satire as political persuasion spread throughout Europe; in Spain, painter Goya’s (1746-1828) cartoons enraged monarch Fernando VII. In France, caricaturist Honore Daumier (1808-1879) landed in prison. He drew King Louis-Phillippe as a bloated monster. After one prison sentence, Daumier ran into trouble again, attacking the French legislature.

Today, Daumier is recognized as „the patron saint“ of political cartooning.

In colonial America, many anti-British cartoons were drawn by artists who –perhaps wisely – remained anonymous. But Benjamin Franklin’s „Join or Die“ cartoon in 1754 is often reproduced as the first American political cartoon. Thomas Nast (1840-1902) hacked away at Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, setting a standard of bludgeoning political enemies.

Romanticized as a powerful art form capable of exposing corruption, toppling governments, the cartoon rarely achieves such altruistic triumphs. The caricature does not have to be an offensive weapon, like the cowardly Paris killers, even though the likenesses should be rife with aesthetic appeal, not teardrops in bloody India ink.