Cartoon critics Phil Witte and Rex Hesner look behind gags to debate what makes a cartoon tick. This week our intrepid critics examine cartoons about immigration.
Phil: Immigration is the issue of the day, so let’s jump on that bandwagon.
Rex: As long as it’s not a cartoon caravan.
Phil: Well, our fine cartoonists have sly ways of addressing controversial issues. Besides, this is an old issue mainly told from one side. Let’s consider the other side, when immigration was a trickle.
Rex: These indigenous inhabitants recognized something’s gonna change in James Stevenson’s cartoon of quiet calamity, first published in 1991.
Phil: It’s a wistful caption as these Native Americans contemplate paradise’s end. Note the resigned posture as the listener leans on the tree branch. The body language is not one of panic, just resignation.
Rex: From J.B. Handelsman’s point of view, the Pilgrims were seeking asylum when they showed up—
Phil: —illegally! And they wanted assistance…. Hmmm, sounds like this year’s headlines, even though this cartoon ran more than 20 years ago.
Rex: People came for the opportunity of a better life…
Phil: …no matter who and how they defined it, as illustrated in Bruce Eric Kaplan’s spare composition about foreign rodent yearning.
Rex: In addition to a steadily increasing stream from all over, many came in waves from specific parts of the world. And there’s always been concern over immigrant origins.
Phil: The Statue of Liberty is a simple stand-in for what America represents. Here she is, in another Handelsman cartoon from the 1990s, expressing a more conservative view on immigration.
Rex: We’re often not subtle about divining roots.
Phil: Yes, we wanna know where you’re from—originally—as shown in Liana Finck’s weird drawing.
Rex: Some folks rely on a last name, so that they may adjust their prejudices accordingly, a concept captured in this cartoon by Bob Mankoff.
The Next Wave, and the One After That
Rex: After that first wave of English immigrants came the second wave of Irish and German natives (my ancestors). I still remember family stories about “Irish Need Not Apply”.
Phil: According to this Leo Collum cartoon, the snakes left Ireland before your ancestors.
Rex: Then came the third wave, made up mostly of southern and eastern Europeans, as well as Asians. But the motivations were the same.
Phil: Truly, they hungered for American freedom … also foods high in fat and sodium, as Ben Schwartz recognized in this tender scene.
Rex: The southern U.S. border is in the news now, but entry through our eastern border was the concern back then.
Phil: Some who passed through Ellis Island were great schmoozers, a word that would have baffled the immigration officer in Michael Crawford’s cartoon. This newcomer’s got chutzpah to spare.
The Scarily Funny Present
Phil: At some point, which perhaps coincidentally coincides with the rise of Trumpism, cartoons about immigration became decidedly more political.
Rex: Frank Cotham managed to find humor in the “birther” movement. Very prescient of the cartoonist to include what appears to be a Russian sleeper agent in America’s heartland.
Phil: Which brings us to the current border wall imbroglio. Who can forget the cry at Presidential campaign rallies –
Rex: “Lock her up”?
Phil: No, the other one.
Rex: Ah, well, the wall idea may be shortsighted, as illustrated in this cartoon by Jason Patterson, which surprisingly dates back to 2006.
Phil: And finally, a cartoon by Michael Shaw that brings home a campaign promise.
Rex: Quite a relief, too. I thought there’d be hell to pay, not the other way around.