The Power of the Political Cartoon

Political Cartooning: Drawing lines of opposition to corruption across the centuries.

“The smallest evil, if neglected, will reach the greatest proportions.”

– Street graffiti from ancient Pompeii

From the beginning of written language and experiments with imagery, humans have been doing political art. Wall graffiti from ancient Pompeii included verbal and graphic complaints and caricatures of local politicians, crooked merchants and the inequities of daily life. From a fire blackened stick, to brush, to pencil and pen, to spray paint and now iPad, humans have wielded whatever tools of self-expression were at hand to challenge corrupt autocracy, official pretension, ridicule political pomposity and raise a ruckus.

While empires come and go and leaders dominate headlines only to disappear a day after their obituary, the themes of discontent are consistent across the bumpy, twisting arc of humanity. Given that power corrupts, it is also safe to say political cartoonists, humorists and satirists will always have work to do as politicians serve up platters of material daily.

You can check out some other background I have posted on American political cartooning on the “Inky Trail” page.

I began my political cartooning career at The Walworth Times (WI) weekly newspaper. I was hired to paste up ads and news copy and process film in the dark room in the pre-computer scissors-and-glue-pot days of newspaper layout. The editor, Fred Noer Sr., knew I was interested in cartooning and generously offered me $10 for a weekly cartoon on pretty much any subject I wanted to address, which gave me material for the beginning of an essential portfolio of published work.

Every three or four months I would take my recent work to Bill Sanders, the long-time cartoonist at the old (generally progressive) Milwaukee Journal for a critique. Tom Curtis, the cartoonist at the (generally conservative) Milwaukee Sentinel, would join us in Bill’s office and the two of them would give me a no-holds-barred critique. While no gentle experience, it was just what I needed. After a year of this, Bill one day positioned a half-dozen small cartoons I had done for a recent freelance project in the middle of his drawing table and announced: “Those are your first professional cartoons.”

A Nobel Prize couldn’t feel better than what Bill gave me that day.

Rise and bruising fall

One day Fred Noer called me out of the ad layout room into his office to say he had the editor of The Albuquerque Tribune on the phone who wanted to know if I was interested in a full-time cartooning gig at a daily newspaper. Within a couple months I was relocated to New Mexico and publishing six editorial page cartoons a week and other illustration work. My work had some small syndication and I would do occasional freelance work, including for the National Wildlife Federation and Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen. (Ralph once told a group we were with that I was, “The best pro bono cartoonist in America!” Still can’t figure out if that was a compliment or not!)

My cartooning career came to a bruising end when the work I was doing on Ronald Reagan’s Central American dirty wars began to be rejected. After a half-dozen years of success and good relations with my editors, cartoon after cartoon on all topics were rejected – often brutally.

M. Taylor, The Albuquerque Tribune, 1983

Cartooning legend Bill Maudlin had grown up in New Mexico and recently returned to semi-retirement in Santa Fe. I called him up one day to share my tale. He said he had been following my work. “I’ve been waiting for you to call,” he said, and invited me to his home for a little feedback … and reality check.

He wasn’t surprised I was on the outs with the editor and publisher. I learned from him that there were some powerful old Hispanic families in New Mexico with dusty family and business ties to Central American oligarchs and, no doubt, my spilling so much ink on Reagan and U.S. crimes in Central America had pissed off a few influential people.

I was exiled from the editorial page soon after and shifted my journalistic focus to outdoor and environmental reporting. While I did occasional illustration work, my efforts turned to writing and photography. In 1994 I left journalism for a new career without a glance back.

Some of my work from those days can be found in the “Lines of Resistance” gallery on this website for free use. Sadly, many are as topical now as they were in the 80s and 90s.

Thank you, Scott Walker

The one direct benefit I received from Koch brothers-suckled Republican Gov. Scott “Bucky Weasel” Walker is he got me cartooning again. As with the long ago greedy plutocrats and self-absorbed sociopaths of ancient Pompeii with whom Walker and the Koch brothers share moral genetics, cartoon material churned with every news cycle. There were always more ideas than time to draw.

Illustration by Mark Taylor, The Commoner Call, 2017

For about six years I did the Daily Call progressive news site, featuring original cartoon and illustration work. Eventually, that effort became the thrice-weekly Commoner Call, which ran until October 2021.

Walker’s brand of vile Koch-infested corporate politics have now oozed across the nation under the banner of Trump’s MAGA cult, burping up a rapidly evolving American fascist movement. Given the festering threat, I felt the need for a new response of website, Substack and social media: cartoons, illustrations, photos and short commentary are tools for activists. Progressive groups are free to pass along and post them in newsletters, flyers, posters, websites or in any way they can be used to promote humane, democratic progressive values. Here is a cartoon done for the Wisconsin peace group NukeWatch in recognition of a brave personal act of resistance to war.

Several years ago a colleague forwarded an Associated Press photo of an image from one of my old Commoner Call cartoons that had been adapted to a street protest sign in Paris. That’s just the kind of service they are provided for.

The one request I have is that the cartoons not be altered, relabeled or edited without permission. If in doubt, contact me and we can probably work something out.

I am also building an archive of progressive themed photographs that are, likewise, available for free use. Please attribute any material used to with a link to the website and/or Substack site.

Feel free to put my work to work in your community efforts.

In solidarity!

Mark Taylor
DeMOCKracy Substak address

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