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The first political cartoon I ever created – and, arguably, the best one – had figures positioned symbolically on abstract block shapes. In the years since, I’ve returned to that trope a few times, but not often, even though I like it a lot. This is the sort of direct visual symbolism that’s honestly less in my usual ballpark than dialog-based humor.
The cartoon says “fifty years ago” – but even in the 1970s, there were already white men saying “we’re the oppressed ones now!” It seems to be an eternal complaint. (Maybe in another fifty years?)
This time around, the main storytelling problem for me, as a cartoonist, was how to make clear a relatively subtle difference in the height of the tallest pillar between two panels. I came up with having it tall enough so the top of his head is cut off in panel one – hopefully that’ll be enough to make readers catch the pillar having gotten marginally lower in panel two.
I think it would work for me, if I were the reader. A lot of comics storytelling, for me, is doing a sort of role-playing exercise: “If I didn’t know anything about this cartoon, how would I read it?” I ask that question and – if I’m being good at my job – I identify parts of the cartoon that are unclear and find ways to fix those parts.
I think that I’m usually pretty good at that – but trying to make the storytelling clearer is a bit of a neverending task. But it’s enjoyable – like doing a puzzle.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has two panels. Each panel features a variety of people on abstract pillars of various heights – a Black woman, an Asian person in a wheelchair, a Latina woman, a gay male couple, and a couple more in the background who we can’t make out in any detail. On top of the central pillar, wearing a suit, is a prosperous-looking white man in a suit and tie. The well-off white guy’s pillar is significantly taller than any of the others.
A large caption at the top of the panel says “Fifty Years Ago.”
The white man’s pillar is so tall that the top of his head is actually out of the panel. He’s cheerfully/aggressively talking down to all the others, who variously look annoyed at him or are ignoring him.
WHITE MAN: I don’t see what you’re all whining about.
A large caption at the top of the panel says “Today.”
It’s the same scene, but now the wealthy white man’s pillar is shorter than it was in panel 1 – but still taller than anyone else’s pillar. The white man, now sad-looking, is weeping and screaming. The others look up at him with annoyance, except that one of the gay men is pointing and laughing at him.
WHITE MAN: Look how I’ve fallen! Now I’M the oppressed one!