O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
The Great Anti-War Cartoons
Edited by Craig Yoe
Fantagraphics, 192 pages, $24.99
The title says it all really. It’s a collection of editorial cartoons and the occasional gag cartoon with a specific focus on the futility of war. The book is subdivided into sections like “The Brass” and “Famine” to perhaps give the book a bit of structure. While there is the occasional modern contribution or art from before 1850, most of the work in the book seems to focus on the late 19th to mid-20th century, with a decided emphasis on the World War I era, which makes sense given the stunning horror of that war and the prominence of newspapers and other print media at the time.
By and large, the cartoons collected here offer little in the way of visual surprise — skeletons, fat cats with diamond pins and the Roman god Mars abound. Only occasionally do you really come across a really shocking image, like Louis Raemaekers’ “Barbed Wire” or John Sloane’s “The History of Ignorance Obeying Orders.” Most of the cartoons offer the same simplistic truisms about how bad and evil war is without really doing more than scratching the surface. Only humorists like George Booth and Gerald Scarfe seem to offer anything beyond the basic “war is hell” trope.
What the book does offer, however, is a feast of great early 20th century illustration. There are a few recognizable names here, like Winsor McCay and Art Young, but a number of great discoveries as well, like Daniel Fitzpatrick and Luther Bradley. While their ideas may involve resurrecting the same tired metaphors again and again, their craftsmanship, linework and sense of design and composition is often striking, and the best reason I can think of for buying this book.