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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.

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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.

in Comic empires
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).

in Comic empires