Politically Cartoonish: Remember June?

Hello, and welcome to the June edition of Politically Cartoonish. Apologies for the lateness of June’s column. As with the rest of WWAC, the Politically Cartoonish column is working to include analyses of non-U.S. and non-Western issues. Readers are encouraged to send political cartoon suggestions to the author via her Twitter handle @youandyourego.

"The Slavemaster's Son," Sukjong Hong for The NIb
“The Slavemaster’s Son,” Sukjong Hong for “The Nib”

It seems as if everyone had something to say about Alex Tizon’s Atlantic essay on Eudocia Tomas Pulido, a distant relative of his that worked for his family for years without pay, and reporter and artist Sukjong Hong was no different. Hong’s cartoon “The Slavemaster’s Son” for The Nib approached the issue through a mostly American lens (no surprise, as she is Asian-American but not Filipino). It was a mistake for The Nib to have a non-Filipino artist approach a distinctly Filipino issue; as many Filipinos, including Filipino magazine Scout, have stated, American commenters are coming from a place of moral superiority and a fundamental lack of understanding of the cultural and historical complexity of indentured servitude in the Philippines. As an outsider to the issue of indentured servitude in the Philipines, Hong should have included the cultural and historical background and realities of indentured servitude in the Philippines that Scout, Filipino commentators, and even Tizon himself discussed. Instead, Hong focuses on the emotionality of the essay, using only a few colors to illustrate the difference between Pulido and the family that she worked for. Unfortunatelym Hong’s artistic choices also serve to simplify a complicated issue. Hong did, however, ask important questions on how the continuation of indentured servitude in the Philippines should be examined.

Meanwhile R. J. Matson addressed a more official aspect of U.S. relations in his cartoon “Future Site of the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library.” The cartoon references the announcement that the United States would be pulling out of the United Nations Paris Accords under which the U.S. agreed to help combat climate change as well as Mar-a-Lago, the current president’s private resort in the southern state of Florida where he has feted other heads of state while also ordering missile strikes and vacationed far too many times for American citizens, one eye on the U.S. Treasury, to appreciate. Matson chooses Mar-a-Lago, the current president’s favorite vacation spot, to emphasize that the issue of climate change is one that touches all people. In other words, Matson is bringing the issue and impact of climate change right to the President’s (vacation house) front door. Rising sea levels, Matson charges, is one such negative effect of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accords. The title may signal the presence of a presidential library (an honor usually only bestowed after a president leaves office), but the exact date of this future doesn’t matter; we can still sense Matson’s desperation under the surface cheeriness of the cartoon. The bright colors also underline Matson’s point by providing a contrast to this dark future. In choosing to depict the effect of rising sea levels on a presidential library instead of merely Mar-a-Lago the resort, Matson may also be referencing the legendary ruin of the Royal Library of Alexandria, which was also destroyed by a powerful man’s hubris, if by fire instead of water. National policy, economy, foreign relations, past, present, and future is all included in this deceivingly simple image.

"Future Site of Donald J. Trump Presidential Library," R.J. Matson via Cagle.com
“Future Site of Donald J. Trump Presidential Library,” R.J. Matson via Cagle.com

Of course, this being Women Write About Comics (WWAC!) I could hardly pass the opportunity to analyze a Wonder Woman political cartoon. To many of us here at WWAC, Wonder Woman is an inherently political figure, a symbol of intersectional feminism who stands for queer women, sexual liberation, and the fight against bigotry. At the same time, Wonder Woman can also be a polarizing character, somehow an ambassador and author under one writer, yet depicted by another as a murdering man-hater. Enter cartoonist Lucy Bellwood, The Nib story editor Sarah Mirk, and colorist Joey Weiser who sought to answer the question “What Does Wonder Woman Actually Stand For?” in a comic for political cartoon site The Nib.

“What Does Wonder Woman Actually Stand For?” written by Sarah Mirk, illustrated by Lucy Bellwood, and colored by Joey Weiser for “The Nib”

Despite the confusion over Wonder Woman’s identity and values, Bellwood and Mirk do an admirable job covering the many faces of Wonder Woman. Mirk does particularly well covering the history of Wonder Woman from her inception in the 1940s to her role in the 2016 movie Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s a lot of information to take in, but Mirk manages to be succinct yet still informative. The comic especially benefits from Mirk’s inclusion of quotes on Wonder Woman from influential critics and comic book writers from feminist activist Gloria Steinem to the creator of Wonder Woman himself, William Moulton Marston. Meanwhile, Weiser’s coloring choices lend dynamism to the comic while signalling the mood and setting of each panel. Historical flashbacks, for instance, are depicted in faded or yellowing tones, while the 2016 iteration of Wonder Woman is similarly and appropriately bathed in the dull gray-green that permeates many contemporary movies. Otherwise Wonder Woman is depicted in the bright red, blue, and yellow that she is known for, making her image leap off of the page. Bellwood draws Wonder Woman always in motion, throwing her head back in laughter, breaking her chains in righteous fury, brandishing a sword. It brings Wonder Woman to life, engaging the reader and giving Wonder Woman a voice and personality.

The strength of Bellwood’s, Mirk’s, and Weiser’s collaboration on this cartoon is perhaps best displayed in the last few images of the comic when Wonder Woman, at first at a loss among grey comic book panels, asks rhetorically, “So, who am I?” before stepping out of the panel and box that stereotyping audiences might put her in while explaining, “Each generation defines me differently, so what I represent depends on who’s writing. And who’s reading.” Wonder Woman therefore ends the cartoon brilliantly colored and standing outside of the comic book pages, children of different genders, races, and religions at her feet and eagerly reading Wonder Woman comics. The audience understands that these children, symbolizing hope and diversity, are what Wonder Woman now stands for. It’s a subtle but strong illustration and answer to the title question. Sure, there could be darker children included in the group and perhaps it would be clearer for non-comic book readers if Mirk noted that all comic book characters evolve and change from writer to writer, but the cartoon is still more than strong enough to stand on its own.

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Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran

Queer, 20-something intersectional feminist, Vietnamese-American, and born fangirl. Writes about anything geeky and thinks about food too much. You can find Stephanie's Twitter rants at @YouAndYourEgo.

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