Pictures of World War I

Each Worth 1000 Words…

Punches & Punchlines: Cartoons and Satire of World War 1

World War 1 Satire

The Germans had Kladderadatsch and Simplicissimus. The British had Punch and The Wipers (the name itself a pun on Ypres). The Americans had Tatler and the New Yorker; the French Le Figaro and the Canadians Grip – and so on. The magazines of the day were numerous. They were full of satire, irony and ridicule used to expose folly and evil in a humourous way. Comedy was used as a psychological mechanism for coping with what the audience feared. The object of satire is to present social criticism using wit as a weapon.

Newspapers were available to everyone on a daily basis. If you did not have the Daily Mail delivered then you certainly ate your fish and chips from it (literally, as this was the manner that early ‘fast food’ was served in). The printed word could be read by the masses. Visually stimulating, a simple picture or line drawing conveyed more information, particularly with a line of dialogue or a ‘balloon’ of speech added, than any essay. This was how the cartoon was presented.

Cartoons of World War I

A cartoon is “the satirical illustration of an idea.” A caricature is “the satirical illustration of a person or thing.” For caricature artists the Kaiser and to some lesser extent the Emperor of Austria-Hungary were favorite models in the early 20th century. The world leaders physiognomy and stance enabled easy exaggeration of their personal features.

The subtlety of cartoon drawing evolved around the artistic freedom that had developed prior to the onset of WW1. Censorship placed limitations on what the press was allowed to publish and in times of social tension political cartoonists were among the first victims of the censor; that is unless they used clever disguise.

Photomechanical reproduction not only allowed greater graphic freedom for comic artists, it allowed the easy printing of the daily newspaper cartoon. This naturally morphed into the syndicated editorial cartoon. Then it was time for the comic strip, a series of panel drawings used to tell a story.

Postcards, which could be posted, were sent by “post” extensively throughout the war time in Europe. They were available, cheap and inexpensive to mail. They were a major means of communication. The cards could be creative, humorous, abusive and emotional or the message might just have been —–“wish you were here”.

Postcards, “mail with a message”, were versatile and are now a century later, important cultural and historical artifacts as well as sought after collector items.

The Artists of The First World War

The National Portrait Gallery, in London, contains a large number of portraits by and of cartoonists – including more than 450 works by David Low one of the most famous of the World War 1 era. Another renowned artist, a Dutchman, Louis Raemaekers was the author of a ‘killing field’ cartoon. In the cartoon the artist writes: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few”: here is portrayed only one, but he is quite sufficient for he is—”the reaper whose name is Death.” This is a wonderful satirical commentary on the fact that Germany alone lost over a million men killed in battlefields in the first 17 months of the war.

After The Great War

The cartoon was such a successful propaganda medium that in the USA the Bureau of Cartoons was established, George Creel was the chairman and In 1918 Bulletin No: 16 was issued. It was addressed to: “the cartoonists of America”. And within the bulletin was included the following: “There are few means of publicity that can equal cartoons in effectiveness in bringing home to every American his obligation to buy Liberty Bonds. When you sit down to draw a Liberty Loan cartoon your problem is just this: What can I draw that will most effectively make my readers buy bonds?

Nowadays cartoons are an enormously popular form of communication used throughout the mass media industry. Technology has enabled their use on the internet, in films and in the news press of today. In the United States (since 1922) being awarded a Pulitzer prize for Editorial Cartooning is no easy achievement.

World War I Cartoons and Satire