What the cartoonists tell us

Monday Books

January 31, 1994|By Neil A. Grauer

THE FINEST INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL CARTOONS OF OUR TIME. Edited by Joe Szabo. Wittyworld Books. 176 pages. $19.95.

ANY anthology that bills itself as "the finest" or "the best" of whatever it represents inevitably sets itself up for a fall. Too many worthy candidates for inclusion are left out; too many examples of dubious superiority are put in.

Thus it is that the second volume of "The Finest International Political Cartoons of Our Time," edited by Joe Szabo, includes two cartoons by The Sun's Kevin Kallaugher (KAL) but none by The Evening Sun's Mike Lane.

KAL indeed is a superb cartoonist. Winner of a number of awards, he is cartoonist for The Sun and Britain's influential magazine, the Economist.

Yet Mike Lane is hardly a slouch at the drawing board. Possessor of a vivid, acerbic style, he also has been honored. Surely the work he does qualifies along with KAL's as among the "finest" editorial cartooning being done today -- and certainly it is better than some of the efforts selected to be preserved within the hard covers of this collection.

Indeed, some of the 220 drawings Mr. Szabo includes among what he calls "the world's most imaginative and best drawn contemporary political cartoons" are pretty weak. Does Napoleon Ham's rather amateurish caricature of the leader of Guatemala, holding a Bible and standing with one foot on that country's constitution, fall into that category? How much imagination was employed by Peter Pismestrovic of Austria when he portrayed the "World" and "Europe" as two ostriches with their heads in the sand as missiles batter Bosnia; or when Serge Duhayon (Serdu) of Belgium did a painfully simple line drawing of a female figure representing the European Union standing atop a teetering pile of logs and platforms at the "European Circus"?

Despite these failings, Mr. Szabo's collection is a volume of interest to any fan of political cartooning, if only because it shows that it is an art that remains vital throughout the world. Forty-four nations are represented in this book, ranging from Australia, Bangladesh and Cyprus to Taiwan, Trinidad, Turkey and Yugoslavia. The United States has the largest contingent -- 33 artists, 14 of whom are Pulitzer Prize-winners.

Among the 38 catch-all categories under which Mr. Szabo has clumped his cartoon selections are the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, as seen by foreign as well as domestic cartoonists; pollution; overpopulation; the Third World; terrorism; "freedom and servitude;" East-West relations; and issues of concern in Canada, China, Cuba, England, France, Germany, Russia, Haiti, India, Italy, South Africa and other countries.

Although many of these cartoonists produce work that seems terribly simplistic, others are impressive. Caricature, given short shift these days by many American cartoonists, is still a fine art elsewhere. Roy Peterson in Canada, Antonio Neri Licon in Mexico, Ferdinand Guiraud in France and Chris Riddle in England are just a few of the fine caricaturists whose editorial cartoons are enhanced by the incisive likenesses they produce.

A few foreign cartoonists also are more likely to resort to humor of questionable taste: One German artist depicts the globe as a huge behind, defecating humans; another German shows Saddam Hussein getting off a globe-shaped toilet, using United Nations resolutions as toilet paper.

Many of today's cartoonists fear for the future of their profession. With newspapers and magazines fighting for survival against the increasingly powerful electronic media, they worry that cartoons may be as endangered as the printed word. Attempts have been made to animate editorial cartoons in order to adapt them to television. But the Washington Post's Herbert L. Block (Herblock), unrepresented in Mr. Szabo's collection but still the wise dean of American political cartoonists, noted in his recent autobiography that cartoons, being a visual medium, can continue to compete with television -- and pack a special punch.

"When you see a good political cartoon in print, it goes bang," he wrote. "I don't know if animation improves on that. And however many millions see it on TV, it cannot receive the accolade and extended immortality of a place on the refrigerator door."

Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore writer and caricaturist.

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