Making the Point Visually
In completing the four-step process of turning opinion into humor, the “exemplification” step is the most crucial for the cartoonist. A good choice here can lead to a dynamite punch line (covered thoroughly in Chapter 19). There are many ways editorial cartoonists commonly arrive at a good visual analogy. It's useful to study a few of them.
Be careful when choosing your analogy. Use analogies that are fresh and bring a different perspective to the subject. Avoid tired references such as drowning in quicksand and swimming with sharks. Try to find imaginative analogies that breathe new life into old subjects.
Using a scene from a recognizable story for an analogy, you can make an unfamiliar concept easier to understand. The plot from the story will be already understood by most of your readers. The issue you're addressing is seen in terms of that story. This is particularly useful for concepts that may be difficult to understand or issues that aren't widely publicized yet.
There are many places to find familiar stories and scenes. Consider some of the following:
Fairy tales, myths, and fables
Choose your story carefully. Remember, the analogy has to fit as completely as possible. You can't shoehorn an issue into the story of David and Goliath if you're missing a player who fits the Goliath role. Also, try not to pick obscure references or ones that could have ambiguous interpretations.
A metaphor is similar to an analogy in that you are making a comparison between two seemingly unrelated entities. But instead of comparing your subject to a recognized story or character, you are putting the subject in a familiar situation. Some common metaphors:
Being stranded on a desert island
Trying to keep from drowning in a large body of water
Holidays and holiday characters
It's essential to know how to draw government buildings such as the White House as well as important chambers inside those buildings, monuments, and important statues. You can find photos, but vacations to Washington, D.C., and your state's capitol are much more effective. Bring a sketchbook and a camera.
Metaphors are best used in editorial cartoons when there is an expected outcome. Not only does this place the issue in a familiar setting, but in reversing the expectations, you can increase the effectiveness of your cartoon. For example, setting up a hunting scene in which the intended prey has the upper hand makes an effective metaphor.
A metaphor can be a characterization of a person, as well. For example, politicians who legislate programs that specifically benefit their local constituents — a practice known as pork barrel politics — are often represented as pigs. A politician who plays up his patriotism might be a metaphorical eagle, and one who has an aggressive personality might be a pit bull.
Metaphors can also be objects. Landmarks, for example, can be used in many ways to represent political entities. Here, the Capitol Dome is used to represent Congress as (from left to right) a chalice, a carousel, and an hourglass.
Clichés have the same impact as familiar stories or analogies in that their familiarity makes them a good tool for communication. But clichés also have the advantage of carrying a very specific meaning. For example, “to kill two birds with one stone” has a very definite meaning — getting two objectives done with one effort.
Consider some of these clichés:
Bull in a china shop
Pearls before swine
Look a gift horse in the mouth
A drop in the bucket
Born with a silver spoon in his mouth
Painting oneself into a corner
You can clearly see the additional benefit of choosing an appropriate cliché: striking imagery. The colorful language used in clichés can be translated to a powerful visual statement. Furthermore, clichés often describe actions — actions that don't need an explanation to be understood.
Much of the jargon used in government can be used, like a cliché, to build a visual statement. These can be words used by government officials in describing bureaucratic processes, such as
Likewise, certain words tend to get incorporated into political discourse. “Watergate” is the prime example, spawning derivatives such as “Nannygate,” “Monicagate,” “Twinkiegate,” and “White Watergate.” These, too, have excellent uses as the basis for an editorial cartoonist's central image.
Political discussion is rife with symbolism. Beyond the obvious Democrat donkey and Republican elephant, there are myriad symbols at your disposal. Some of these can be directly related to the government, such as government buildings and flags. Others can be general, such as the scales of justice. Symbols can be extremely useful when morphed into other analogies. The dome of the Capitol Building is a terrific example of this. It could be a Jell-O mold, a citrus juicer, or a hat, or turned upside down, it could be used as a chalice.
Of course, none of the preceding devices are indispensable in an editorial cartoon. Sometimes a good cartoon can be built around a well-written punch line. In these cases, the image simply serves to provide an appropriate setting for the gag. This is often the case when the irony or shock of the news story is so high that mixing it with imagery would serve only to confuse the matter. Often, this setting involves one or more people either reading a newspaper or watching TV news. This incorporates a convenient way of introducing the topic — it can be described in the headline of the newspaper, for example.
Be careful when introducing a news headline by placing it on a newspaper being read by a character. If the person is facing the left side of your panel, the newspaper will be held in such a way that the back page of the newspaper would be visible. Face these characters to the right.
Use of Labels
Sometimes a visual analogy is perfectly clear. For example, an eagle will symbolize America in virtually every usage. However, for cases in which the analogy may not be so clear, editorial cartoonists use labels.
Labeling is the practice of writing the names of the participants directly on their corresponding characters in an analogy. For example, if you're using a whale about to swallow a boat to represent the effect inflation will have on economic recovery, no one will understand your point without the appropriate labels. However, if you find yourself working with more than two or three labels, take a hard look at which ones might be superfluous. Too many labels can make an analogy trite and pointless.