I have been thinking about editorial cartoons lately. Why I am doing so is not particularly important, but bear with me. Simply put, I think editorial cartoons are an extremely underrated form of communication and newspapers would do well to pay them plenty of attention.
For starters, in this attention-deficit challenged world, an editorial cartoon is one of the most effective ways of getting a message across. The fact that it is a cartoon should not detract from the insights that it could contain, not to mention the wit.
We need a lot more humor in our lives, and if we can laugh and ponder things at the same time then this is a great medium through which we can do so. The fact that it is a cartoon shouldn’t detract from its validity.
Of course, this brevity has its drawbacks. One could use the same criticism that many employ against Twitter and argue that this trivializes events and is itself a trivial aspect of a very serious medium.
This doesn’t hold water though- after all, a good editorial cartoon is merely a witty but encapsulation of one of the stories of the day. It’s not supposed to be a substitute for actual news. Let’s face it- there is little danger of a newspaper publishing its content solely in that form.
So what makes an effective editorial cartoon? Being genuinely witty is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. You can have an effective one without it, especially if the subject matter is somber. But where humour is acceptable, then it should be employed with ruthlessness.
Newspapers get extra points if they throw in some surrealism- one recent East African editorial cartoon had a Kenyan delegation on the moon soliciting support against the ICC indictments
Editorial cartoons can give great insight even when embracing the absurd. Even this newspaper has occasionally given us some gems. I remember one in particular during a period when there were network problems affecting mobile phones in the Country.
The cartoon depicted a man who had climbed to the top of a telephone pole. “Are you an electrician?” someone asks from below. ‘No, I am just looking for network for my phone” the man replies.
But insight is absolutely crucial here. Humour with no insight in this context will be ineffective, so it is imperative that there is a conscious effort to provide some genuine food for thought to the reader.
The flip side to this is merely describing events exactly as they are, and this is the road to mediocrity and failure, if you are trying to craft a good effort.
Providing genuine insight to the reader involves either putting things in a clearer-albeit more humorous- light or challenging his assumptions.
The reader should be saying things like ‘That’s so true!’ or ‘Hmm, that’s a good point, I hadn’t thought of it like that.’ With admirable economy, the cartoonist has got across a major point.
It helps if this point isn’t about something obscure, but about one of the major stories of the day, but either way the cartoon can also do with a bit of subtlety- it should never be staggeringly obvious.
So, I think publications in Rwanda-and in the region- should take the editorial cartoons more seriously. Using wit and insight, it can prove to be a thought-provoking and a valuable addition to discourse.