Today I went to a cartoon museum. It was really for a class, but I love museums. We were asked to look at two pieces in particular, and do a write up about it, but then I thought, if you care enough you can write for much longer on a piece of art. I figured I could write my excess thoughts here.
Billy Ireland was a cartoon maker in the city of Columbus, Ohio. I spent a lot of time looking at all his work. Usually, I am able to admire cartoons, artistry, or books from the past that poke fun at society in a rather disconnected way. I didn’t live during that period or under those circumstances, so it’s hard for me to just burst our laughing or anything because I wouldn’t get it right away. To be fair, I guess that’s why an introduction is written. I should probably try reading it before my next Jane Austen novel.
During the early 20th century, Ireland was the architect of a feature in the Columbus Dispatch called “The Passing Show”–really a page of comics that make fun of everything from happenings of the city, the state, and the country. Since many of his work was published during The Great War, I felt like I understood it more. For whatever reason, I’ve been fascinated by the 2 world wars. I think this is because I really enjoyed history, but I didn’t really understand the concept of war. It seemed like going through the timeline of the world’s history, there was always a lot of war. But it was a word, an event–not something I got the dynamics of. When I began learning about WWI, I finally understood war for what it was: a grotesque display of violence that uses citizens to fight over problems that probably could have been solved earlier and otherwise. It is all consuming and takes away people and turns them into “casualties.” Interestingly, I don’t find many casual things about violent death. The revelation went like this: This shit really happened to actual people, didn’t it? Actual human beings lived through this, didn’t they? This isn’t just some story. This is real life. Later on my views were shaped by writings such as Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. I won’t say I hold any opinion on past wars, because I don’t, and I won’t say I understand war or ever will. Part of the reason for that is because I never lived through it, so I grasp desperately at the artifacts of people who did.
It was probably the comics that satirized things like liberty bonds and seed saving that drew me to Ireland. I found and felt real irony and humor in those comics despite such a desperate time. Sure, I’ve seen other WWI comics, but Ireland’s have something more unique: lengthier captions that narrate what I’m seeing. Often political cartoons were just plain pictures/drawings. Maybe there would be a title underneath it and some word bubbles. At first it seemed like the couple extra lines of text he added made it seem like he was trying harder to explain what he drew, and therefore made it lousy, as a good cartoon could be understood just by looking at it. That’s totally wrong. Each cartoon created a story, surreal conversations that people wanted to have but didn’t out loud. I didn’t have to guess what anything was, he pointed it out. From then on I could enjoy the actual picture. The coolest part was the Ireland was actually in some of his comics, portrayed by a fat old janitor, who would sometimes speak epitaphs. The guy knew where he stood and used his drawings to show that and support good projects while criticizing other ones. “Us, we” were words that were used.
Later on Ireland did get into strip comics. I am interested in strip comics, I am fascinated by political cartoons, and often I think the most fact based information coming from the media comes from comedians. I love comedy, I love joking around, I love making people laugh, and I love making fun of myself. I use humor often to draw problems away from my self or to make what’s going on with me seem less serious. I use humor to extinguish flames of concern and avoid certain confrontations. This is not that great, I suppose, but it’s hard to get it out of me. Now, I have basically established places where I can seriously look at my problems. At the same time, if my therapist were to see me in a classroom, she would probably be shocked by my behavior or outbursts, or by the way I interact with people and make them feel comfortable. But what can I do to rechannel my comedy? I think often about doodle like cartoons, similar to Ireland’s that uses many lines and sketches, and uses text to draw attention to certain aspects or set the scene. I thought before that those things would make me a lousy cartoonist, but now I see how truly effective and funny those cartoons can be. In summary, I see this Billy Ireland guy as a sort of role model I can emulate with my own comics before I discover my own styles. I don’t even really know how to draw caricatures or any of those things. I can draw, but am in no way hugely talented or realistic with my drawings. I guess this is one more way I feel attracted to strip comics.
While in the library, I also got to look at the campaign and propaganda posters of WWI–I’ve always loved these. The artists who design these were ingenious. Paul Stahr is one of my particular favorites of these illustrators of the time. I looked him up and found out he created things for pulp magazines, something pretty obvious by the beautiful looking woman below.
When I saw it in real life, the paper definitely did seem like pulp. It was a large poster–there is no green circle on the left, that’s just the copyright, but this particular image seems to have gotten the colors right.
This image was estimated to have been published around 1918, a year after the US had entered The Great War. A huge theme was saving wheat for the soldiers. Propaganda posters advertised a grule that people should eat instead. The US Food Administration tried to make it sound appetizing and asked that everyone finished their food. None could be spared to be thrown out. Who didn’t want to be patriotic at this point? Japan had pearl harbored us and pushed people in favor of entering the war. Actually, maybe not everyone was in favor, but the people who weren’t were deemed shitty and unpatriotic. Maybe a demonstration of patriotism would the USDA’s pledge.
Here’s the shit I wrote for class about it: Specifically placed text at the bottom in a bright red says “Be Patriotic!” and underneath in blue is the phrase “sign your country’s pledge to save the food.” The US Food Administration is written underneath in smaller letters. Above this caption is an illustration of a woman dressed in a dress that seems to be made from the American flag. She has a matching hat. We only see her top half–above the waste and a bit of her dress. Her eyes are blue, her lips are large and red, her hair has curls, and her skin is pale besides rosy pink cheeks. She looks desperate, and questioning. Her exposed arms reach out to the viewer but not alarmingly. Her gesture is more delicate, beckoning the view forward. Her large eyes stare at the viewer, like a woman calling a man into the bedroom. The illustration seems to have been printed on pulp and is a drawing that was colored in with paints. Personally, I felt compelled to the picture at first because the woman was reaching out to me and staring closely. The red, white, and blue color scheme is something every American is drawn to, and this woman is obviously beautiful. I see this picture as a symbol of persuasion and of the propaganda of the time. This woman needs the viewer, probably a man, to sign the pledge to save food and help the soldiers overseas who are battling–to not do so would be unpatriotic. It reminds me of the desperation of the government during WWI to save wheat and raise money, and the desperation of the people as well to be viewed as supportive to the war effort. I can never imagine what it would be like to live through a war, but this poster at least leads me into the thoughts of those that did.
I’m not done talking about cartoons, though. Ever heard of Puck–what fools thy mortals be! TBC.