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Imperialism in cartoons, caricature, and satirical art

Comic empires is a unique collection of new research exploring the relationship between imperialism and cartoons, caricature, and satirical art. Edited by leading scholars across both fields, the volume provides new perspectives on well-known events, and also illuminates little-known players in the ‘great game’ of empire. It contains contributions from noted as well as emerging experts. Keren Zdafee and Stefanie Wichhart both examine Egypt (in the turbulent 1930s and during the Suez Crisis, respectively); David Olds and Robert Phiddian explore the decolonisation of cartooning in Australia from the 1960s. Fiona Halloran, the foremost expert on Thomas Nast (1840–1902), examines his engagement with US westward expansion. The overseas imperialism of the United States is analysed by Albert D. Pionke and Frederick Whiting, as well as Stephen Tuffnell. Shaoqian Zhang takes a close look at Chinese and Japanese propagandising during the conflict of 1937–1945; and David Lockwood interrogates the attitudes of David Low (1891–1963) towards British India. Some of the finest comic art of the period is deployed as evidence, and examined seriously – in its own right – for the first time. Readers will find cartoons on subjects as diverse as the Pacific, Cuba, and Cyprus, from Punch, Judge, and Puck. Egyptian, German, French, and Australian comic art also enriches this innovative collection. Accessible to students of history at all levels, Comic empires is a major addition to the world-leading ‘Studies in imperialism’ series, while standing alone as an innovative and significant contribution to the ever-growing field of comics studies.

Cartoons and British imperialism during the Attlee Labour government

This chapter examines the often uncertain attitudes of British cartoonists towards imperialism in the post-war, Attlee period (1945–1951). This period is often perceived as one of declining imperial power for Britain, marked by the independence of India and the loss of Palestine. However, the imperial policies of the Attlee Labour government were not simply those of managed decline. In this period the Colonial Office – under Arthur Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary – pursued a series of ambitious projects of growth and development in the empire, from social welfare projects to the notorious ‘Groundnut Scheme’. Far from being ‘anti-imperial’, Labour embraced its new colonial role, rejecting immediate independence for the African colonies in favour of a gradual move towards decolonisation. Cartoon representations of Labour’s imperial policies in this period focus on several key themes. Firstly, the Labour Party’s reputation for anti-imperialism, and the Attlee government’s actual ideological stance towards empire; secondly, the colonial development projects (both successful and unsuccessful) pursued by the Colonial Office; thirdly, decolonisation, independence, and colonial nationalist movements. This chapter explores these three themes, considering how accurately Labour’s imperial policies are depicted, and how prominently colonial concerns feature in cartoon representations of the Labour government in general.

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Linley Sambourne, Punch, and imperial allegory

This chapter details how Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne imagined key colonial encounters (in Africa and Samoa) in gendered terms. Particularly in the case of Samoa, Sambourne used allegories of romantic (and not so romantic) courtship and conquest, drawing on themes found in the novels of H. Rider Haggard, travel memoirs, and the like. The relevance of such imaginings is discerned not only in the context of the largely male-dominated enterprise of High Victorian imperialism, but also the all-male fraternity of the Punch editorial table, and Sambourne’s own personal sexual politics. An amateur photographer, he used the nude frequently in his work, creating ‘mixed mode’ cartoons that blended allegorical figures (e.g. John Bull, the ‘African Venus’) with caricatures of real-world statesmen (e.g. Bismarck, Cecil Rhodes).

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This chapter explores the attitude towards British imperialism in India as expressed by the radical cartoonist David Low, in his work for the Star and the Evening Standard. Holding diametrically opposed views from those of his employer – Lord Beaverbrook – Low took a largely socialist and anti-imperialist line when dealing with India, which nonetheless did not preoccupy him to the same degree as the rise of fascism, Nazism, and Soviet communism. Drawing links between the known attitudes towards imperialism in India among the British middle classes, this chapter draws attention to the probable sympathy held by the Evening Standard’s readers towards Low’s approach. While Low himself believed that he had shaped this middle-class opinion into a broad conformity with his own, it seems more likely that the message of his cartoons against imperialism in India struck a chord with already existing middle-class opinions in the interwar period – this despite the pro-imperialism of the paper’s editor.

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Thomas Nast and the colonisation of the American West

This chapter observes how Thomas Nast – the pre-eminent cartoonist of the Reconstruction period and early ‘Gilded Age’ America – imagined colonisation of the US’ western frontier. Nast recycled racial and religious imagery from his commentary on New York and national politics to imagine the West as a place of diversity and the potential for a more equal citizenry (though this itself was not straightforward or unproblematic). Mormons in particular were a target for Nast’s pen, at the same time as other immigrant settlers, Native Americans, and Chinese railroad workers alike might appear in Nast’s cartoons as members of an American ‘family’. Nast’s images reflected a wide conversation about the broader implications of domestic imperialism; and that views on the significance of the West as a site of colonisation triggered comparative racial histories in many more Americans than just cartoonists.

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This chapter explores how British, French, and Egyptian cartoonists engaged with the Suez Crisis of 1956. It observes how, in pursuing their craft, the likes of Pol Ferjac, Leslie Illingworth, and Zahdi al-’Aduwi dug deep into the rich reservoir of icons from the high age of imperialism (such as Britannia and Marianne, the British lion, historical analogies, and well-known literary references). It also shows how both those celebrating empire, and those critical of its costs, reappropriated and recrafted older imperialist imagery to convey new meanings. In this, they drew on the history of their own publications (appropriating imagery from past iterations of Punch, Le Canard enchaîné, and Ruz al-Yusuf), and the fact that the maudlin humour of such reappropriations helped readers to cope with the changing political realities that in turn impacted on their national and imperial identities.

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The importance of cartoons, caricature, and satirical art in imperial contexts

This introduction makes a case for the importance of cartoons, caricature, and satirical art as sources for the study of imperialism. As well as charting the scholarly development of ‘comics studies’ and its emergence as a respectable undertaking in its own right, the editors of Comic empires examine the thematic linkages between the different chapters of the volume. Victorian-age critics – such as John Ruskin – did much to bestow respectability on the cartoon as a form of art, and pointed to the imperial-themed work of John Leech and Sir John Tenniel at Punch as the epitome of the art. But Punch is only part of a larger movement that took empire and its discontents as the main subject matter for cartoon comment, from the eighteenth century prints of Hogarth, Gillray, and Rowlandson, through to the satirical weeklies of France, the United States, and elsewhere in the nineteenth century, and the mass circulation daily newspapers that appeared the world over in the twentieth century.

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This chapter examines the media war unleashed on the Chinese population by the forces of Japan and China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), which comprised one of the essential steps in Japanese military expansion and imperialist strategy. Comparison and contrast is made of the mass-produced wartime cartoon posters – commissioned by governments and military agencies – which were aimed at the Chinese audience. Drawing on established traditions of ‘New Year Prints’, visual methods of persuasion and indoctrination appealed to both sides in the conflict, because of the low level of literacy in the country and the strong folk-oriented visual tradition of the Chinese people. To mobilise popular support for the respective military governments, political cartoonists relied not only on existing, centuries-old pictorial vocabularies, but created new ones as well. These political images were usually produced in large quantities and distributed among the general population, during a period which featured the emergence of a modern and media-conscious state system.

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A case study in colonial Bildungskarikatur

This chapter offers a case study of political cartoons treating US foreign policy towards Cuba that appeared in Punch between 1840 and 1859. Drawing clear linkages with the development of the novel – and the Bildungsroman form – the chapter observes in Punch’s commentary on American imperialism a complex series of developments. Using the character of ‘Master Jonathan’, British cartoonists personified the United States as a problematic youth whose upstart and mercenary national ambitions threatened both the welfare of the Cuban people and the national interest of his personified parent, Great Britain, in a variety of domains. The case study has much to tell us about both an important episode in nineteenth-century colonial history and the power of literary form, broadly construed, in shaping the political and ideological operations of culture.

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Punch and the Armenian massacres of 1894–1896

‘Outrage and imperialism’ explores the response of Punch to the Armenian massacres of 1894–1896. The high moral position taken against the Ottomans – and the advocacy of British and pan-European intervention to defend the Armenians – is evident in the work of Sir John Tenniel and his junior cartoonist Linley Sambourne. Characterisations of the Sultan or a generic Turkish figure were complemented by depictions of a despicable hyena. A more darkly humorous take on the situation was offered by E. T. Reed. In observing Punch’s reactions, questions are prompted about the ways in which the west has absorbed and reformulated eastern issues for its own purposes. Punch and its readers responded with a mixture of indignation, confusion, anger, and equivocality. In a culture dominated by Orientalist fictions and tropes, Britons’ understanding of the nature of Muslim–Christian relations in the Ottoman Empire was opaque at best. And criticism of Ottoman imperialism was never permitted to interfere with attitudes towards its British counterpoint.

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