Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

A reader reminded me of this piece from March, 2012. Unfortunately, it seem to be relevant today.

I grew up informed and amused by Vancouver’s great editorial cartoonists Len Norris and Roy Peterson. At home, there is an original Norris on the wall, purchased at a 1981 elementary school fundraiser that benefited from the artist’s generosity during another time of restraint in public education.

Browsing through works at The Simon Fraser University Library Editorial Cartoons Collection is a favourite pastime. This irreplaceable library contains over 9300 original drawings published in Canadian newspapers between 1952 and the present. Beyond Norris and Peterson, you will find other great Canadian artists, including Bierman, Harrop, Krieger, Murphy, Olson, Raeside and others.

To prove the title of this blog post, I offer one of Len Norris’ cartoons from March 1954:

“… lately there’s been some criticism of frills in schools, and I understand Grade II keeps a goldfish and a pair of rabbits …” 

Political cartoons can be timeless. Ethan Georges Rabidoux in The power of political cartoons, published in the Toronto Star, provides evidence of their potential clout.

“Stop them damn pictures! I don’t care so much what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures.”

William Magear Tweed understood the power of a cartoonist’s pen. Tweed was a wealthy New York politician during the 1870s and a character in the 2002 movie Gangs of New York. He was also the target of vociferous attacks by Bavarian-born cartoonist Thomas Nast when he made this statement.

Tweed and his acolytes at Tammany Hall stole between 40 million and 200 million tax dollars in their day (between $1.5 billion and $8 billion today when adjusted for inflation). The New York Times ran a story detailing their graft. The public never caught on until Nast’s political cartoons brought the information to the commoners in a language they understood. Tweed was convicted of larceny and spent the rest of his days in prison. It could not have been done without Nast’s work. The powerful were brought to their knees when their corruption was exposed through cartoons.

Thomas Nast, Who Stole the People’s Money? Cartoon showing
William TweedPeter SweeneyRichard Connolly and Oakley
Hall that appeared in 
Harper’s Weekly (19th August, 1871)


Categories: Education

7 replies »

  1. Agreed.

    I believe the Gerry Hummel Campbell/Pinochio cartoons hastened Campbell's exit.

    However the problem with Harper and Clark and all of their crazies is that they are ridiculous cartoons in real life.

    It would take an artist with the mind of a Matt Groening to rout the present day strips of comic book characters that pass for politicians.


  2. Thank you for publishing the Len Norris cartoon.

    Back in the day, the Vancouver Sun would publish Norris's cartoons in a book every yr. I purchased some of them at the time. Whenever I go through them, it is surprizing how much things have remained the same.

    It would be wonderfull if they republished a book with Norris's cartoons. They were great.


  3. Hello Norm,
    Thank you for the “shout out”. At the SFU Library, we continue to digitize cartoons from our ever growing editorial cartoons collection. If you're ever at the SFU Burnaby campus, please drop in to see the other 3,000 cartoons in our archives that haven't made it onto the web just yet.
    Nina Saklikar, SFU Library


  4. For those who would like to find original Len Norris editorial cartoons books try thrift shops. When they come in it is usually in bunches and prices are reasonable. When writing a book on kite construction and kite flying Len Norris graciously gave me permission to use his Abbotsford Airshow cartoon of boys wanting to fly their kites at the airshow. There is an editorial cartoon for every occasion and yes they never grow out of date or stale. We really need another Len Norris badly. He just might have saved the BCRail (PGE) from being sold off to private interests. His prints of the trains hurtling through West Vancouver were a riot.



  5. I'm so glad to have stumbled on your site, Norm! Thanks very much for sharing these artists' links and referring to the SFU archives. I'm feeling renewed inspiration in my fight for government accountability, especially in regards to #BCed…


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