The trouble with most analytical books about cartoons is that they’re not very funny. Intelligent, perceptive — very possibly. But one of the first ambitions of cartoons is to make us laugh, and the audience drawn to a book about them is reasonably in the market for a massage of the funnybone.
Victor S. Navasky, the former editor and publisher of The Nation and founder of the fondly remembered quarterly of political satire Monocle, knows this as well as anyone, and he approaches the subject with a disarming breeziness in The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power. “I am not an art scholar or historian,” he protests, and he adds “as far as I can see, those who are can’t seem to agree with each other on much of anything.” But he admires the talent and the courage of the great political cartoonists, not to mention their impact. So he’s undertaken a job with a low probability of success in tickling the reader, but he gets high points for focusing honor upon the prophets of an often underrated art.
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