The Oasis Reporters
July 1, 2019
This is delving into a subject matter we all in the communication business are yet to fully integrate into our corpus of education and focus. Today our emphasis is to underscore the fact that cartoons, comics and animations are but pluri-artistic forms that serve not just the electronic medium in terms of entertainment, but are forms of artistic expressions that serve book illustrators, advertisers, newspaper publishers and are thus employment outlets for budding artists. But more importantly in the season of political campaigns, cartoons, comics and animations come in extremely handy and are most skillful in political communication.And as I would soon discuss, these plural art forms are essential in developing a democracy and entrenching a democratic culture.
For a start, what is the essence of these art forms on our radar: the three art forms that I would like to refer to as pluri-systems calligraphy?
They are in strict sense, instruments of communication which have been popular in the western world since the age of Romanticism but are as yet to find deeper roots in our cultural lives. The three art forms extend deep into the socio-political contexts of seeing, hearing and knowledge. They are mediated forms of communication.
Let us think science for a second or two. Microscopes, telescopes and x-ray imaging belong to a long history of perception enhancing technologies which embody scientific observation. And in a similar way, cartoons, comics and animation belong to such communication enhancing specialization that can enhance our perception of realities in such ways as to reveal human characters and foibles in ways that increase reflections, make the seemingly powerful and rich in society to look comical and sometimes foolish and help to improve meanings of situations, events and personalities in the hands of very skillful artists. And hence these art forms are ready tools in today’s communication outlets. This becomes more obvious when I say, a single pictorial, a cartoon, an animated cartoon strip or a comic stroke in a newspaper column is much more than a thousand words. And hence in a way the pluri-systems calligraphy become part of our technologically mediated experience.
At this stage of our national development, what can improve collective consciousness and mass awareness is the use of cartoons, comics and animations which serve to communicate faster and more penetratingly.
Given the low level of, and interest in reading verbiage perhaps from newspapers for example, the incongruities in our political revolving swing doors, failed governments, failed and vacuous policies can best easily be understood in form of pictorials, animations and cartoons by the less literate and rural folks, thereby enhancing public participation on issues of governance.
This naturally takes me down to issues of democracy and accountability. They remain words and semantics, if their practices are not so manifest before the people. In the western world, their media lampoons politicians and failed public and indecent behavior utilizing imagery, metaphors and cartoons to convey a message. And making someone a butt of public joke does have an effect on behaviours.
Happily in our case, from Femi Adesina, the Media Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, we read that the first column Buhari reads in a newspaper is the cartoon section.
How come journalists who may know have not used that as a tool to communicate to him the effect of his 4 years in governance, the excruciating pangs of unemployment and widespread hunger and the corruption within his anti-corruption strategies ? The pluri-systems tools were ready available ever since.
And therefore, the cultural strategy is to re-cast political communication in material-visual terms of conceived causes and effects that are at least transparent to a larger public. This will holistically constitute the modern democratic conception of accountability. In advanced democracies, the very same tools we talk about have helped in the construction of its particular system of political accountability.
I have thus far seemingly sidetracked the direct meanings of our subject of discourse. Instead, I have dwelt on the philosophical essence of the three art forms of visual communication, presuming thereby that we all understand and are conversant fully with the said art forms and the interchangeability of usage. In conclusion then, let me put the lecture in a personal perspective.
For most of the history of cartoons, researchers have considered them unworthy of serious attention. Few academic programs or private art schools offer courses in the production or theory of cartoon art. Comic strips, comic looks, and animated movies are considered by many to be junk for children and therefore unworthy of serious attention.
But with the rise in the use of visual messages in all media, this pictorial art form has gained new converts, with serious studies begun by social and artistic scholars. Although often misleadingly simple in their artistic execution, cartoons reveal complex attitudes of certain people at a particular time through the use of complex visual and verbal symbolism. Stories in books, magazines, and newspapers may concentrate on opinions of the elite in a culture, but cartoons are the best indicators of the concerns of average citizens.
As John Geipel in his book, The Cartoons has stated, cartoons “are a potent weapon of ridicule, ideal for deflating the pompous and overbearing, exposing injustice and deriding hypocrisy”. Cartoons tell as much about the audience, as they do about the artist.
The study of cartoons is complex because the art form has several variations. Cartoons may be divided into two major groups: single-and multi-framed images. Single-framed cartoons include caricatures, editorial cartoons and humorous cartoons with their messages inside a separate, usually framed, area. Multi-framed cartoons are comic strips, comic books, and animated motion pictures that have two or more frames.
Caricatures, the oldest form of cartoons, are exaggerated portraits usually of well known figures for the purpose of (almost always) eliciting a humorous response from the viewer. The purpose of a caricature, however, may be anything but humorous, as satire usually is the motive for these unflattering pictures. An editorial cartoon is a political commentary in the form of a drawing and almost always is reserved for the editorial or opinion page of a newspaper.
Editorial cartoons satirize current political issues, events, and figures. Many of the most memorable editorial cartoons are devastatingly serious in their approach and intent. They often help bring current events into sharp yet distorted focus, depending on the artistic style and political leanings of the cartoonist.
Humorous (also called gag) cartoons almost always satirize popular culture, poking fun at commonly accepted social conventions. The humorous cartoons published in The New Yorker magazine are excellent examples of this genre.
Multi-framed cartoons are more complex, combining the narrative structure of the short story with the visual elements of the motion picture. In fact, many filmmakers have been inspired and have learned their craft by studying the artistic techniques utilized by multi-framed cartoon artists. Comic strips, also known as the funnies, almost always are printed together in a special section of a newspaper. Comic strips feature continuing characters in multiple frames that show action and often are published as a serial. Humorous comic strips seldom show situations that extend beyond the daily joke.
Adventure and soap opera strips, however, feature situations that may run serially for months or even years. Comic books are a form of the comic strip in which the entire story is printed in a single issue of a magazine. Comic books almost always are action- oriented narratives, although they may also be humorous and educational.
Comic books brought to life through motion picture technology are called animated films. They are the most complex form of cartoon art, combining the elements of motion and sound with symbolic visual messages. From simple black and white line drawings to complex computer-generated digital images, animated motion pictures are a popular and vital form of communicated in film, television, and intenet media.
Single-framed cartoons rarely have continuing characters, whereas readers of multi-framed cartoons almost always come to know the continuing characters invented by the cartoonist. Another distinguishing feature of the two groups is that single-framed cartoons almost contain the dialogue for the characters under the drawing as cut lines. Multi-framed, print cartoons usually have a character’s dialogue draw above the figure within encircled spaces called balloons.
I hope I have engaged your minds and enlisted your interest to go further in deeper utilization of cartoons, comics and animations in your day to day media engagements.
Written by Tony Abolo.
Former BBC London correspondent in Brussels, one time University lecturer, media management consultant and public relations practitioner.
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4.Yaron Ezrahi (1995) Technology and the Civil Epistemology of Democracy in Media Theories: The Politics of Seeing in Technology and the Politics of Knowledge, Indiana University Press, p 160.