News of Yore: Goldberg on Editorial Cartooning

Seriously Speaking of Comic Artists
By R. L. (Rube) Goldberg (Circulation, April 1923)

Why have the present day comics superseded the old-fashioned political cartoons in public favor? By political cartoonists I mean the artists before the day of the inspired pens of Winsor McCay, Tom Powers, Opper, Harry Mayshy, Williams and the like.

I’m not sure that I know the answer, so I’ll tell you all about it.

It was not an unusual thing, when I started in the newspaper game, for a kind friend to ask me with a look of pity in his eye and a sympathetic tremble in his voice, “Do you expect to go in for something serious and big and really worthwhile like political cartooning some day?” I was just an insignificant lowbrow drawing idi­otic beings with putty noses and lumpy heads. The famous men of the day were dealing with national subjects in their car­toons. No newspaper cartoon was consid­ered great unless it included one or all of the following symbols: the Republican elephant; the Democratic mule; Uncle Sam; the goddess of Justice; the earth; Father Time; George Washington; Abra­ham Lincoln; and the Dawn of a new Era.

The few comic artists whose daily car­toons were being published at that time were looked upon as youthful freaks who appealed to a low order of intelligence with their odd creations. The work seemed to have no definite purpose other than to give the heavy thinker a little relaxation by let­ting him see the results of the workings of a disordered brain. The comics were not believed to have any relation to human life as it really exists.

The comic artist was supposed to be de­veloping himself with his pen so that some day he could draw a picture of the White House or something else that had a little sense to it. All his preparatory work in the comic line was a total loss.

Of course, there were great political car­toonists in those days. And there are a few today. But people were inclined to gauge the bigness of a man’s work by the greatness of the symbols he employed rath­er than by the work itself and the idea in back of it all. A cartoonist could draw a picture of the President of the United States looking at Niagara Falls and call it “Why Not?” and people would say it’s big stuff because he handled great subjects. A man who drew pictures of United States Senators was a greater cartoonist than a man who drew pictures of police judges.

As for the comic artist who drew pic­tures of people and things that had no fancy titles at all, he was just a plain nut.

If anyone tells you that the world hasn’t gone ahead a little at least, just tell him he’s talking through his brown fedora.

People have learned that the comic art­ist is not shooting at the moon. He is try­ing to hit something that is very near you — in fact somewhere inside of you near the heart. The seemingly small things that he centers his drawings around are really much bigger than the Republican elephant and the Democratic mule. They are as big as life itself. And they are much closer to the average man than any composite pic­ture of the whole universe.

The newspaper readers seem to have got­ten wise to some of the political bunk at least. They won’t bother about a political cartoon now unless they know there is a good idea in back of it. You can show them a whole row of Uncle Sams and in­stead of saying, ” Isn’t it wonderful!” they will ask, “How do you play it?”

The comic man is out of the nut class because people now know that the symbols he uses are really the symbols of human nature. They are very definite and they strike home. They are the smallest and at the same time the biggest things we know. Why, once in a while, they even ask us to come to dinners and meetings and say something!

Don’t think for a minute I’m trying to convey the idea that a comic artist is a man with a message. Heaven forbid! We’ll leave that distinction to visiting statesmen from Europe.

But the home folks know what we are getting at and no one ever asks any more when we expect to branch out into something big like political cartooning.

I met three political cartoonists yester­day who were trying to get into the comic game.

[of course it turns out that Rube was making jokes on himself in this article since he eventually decided that he wanted to be an editorial cartoonist and forsook the comic strippers’ fraternity]

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