From Donald Duck to Biting Commentary, Cartoons in America
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. This week: how cartoons can tell a story or send a message. Or both.
The new family movie “Ice Age: The Meltdown” is written for laughs. But some people might also see it as a serious message about the dangers of climate warming.
The film brings back the animated animals from the two thousand two hit movie "Ice Age." The main characters are a wooly mammoth named Manny, a sloth named Sid and a saber-toothed tiger named Diego.
In the first movie, Manny, Sid and Diego faced the dangers of the coming prehistoric freeze. This time they are threatened by floods from the melting of the Ice Age.
At first, the animals love the water. Later, when they discover the threat, they must warn everyone else and find a way to save their valley.
MOVIE SOUND: "It's all part of my 'Accu-weather' forecast. The five-day outlook is calling for intense flooding followed by ... THE END OF THE WORLD!"
The world of cartooning has changed a lot since the days when Walt Disney drew his characters by hand. Animated cartoons are especially labor-intensive. Animators create a sense of movement through a progression of many images. Each image is a little different than the one before it. Today many animators, including the ones who made the "Ice Age" movies, get help from computers.
But Walt Disney's work still influences modern cartooning. He started his company in nineteen twenty-three. He had his first big success five years later. He combined animation with sound in the nineteen twenty-eight film “Steamboat Willie.”
"Steamboat Willie" was the first movie to star Mickey Mouse. Later came other famous Disney characters, including Donald Duck.
Donald Duck is over seventy years old now, but you could never tell by looking at him. To animate something means to give it life. Animated characters can live forever -- or at least as long as they stay popular.
Another form of cartooning is the comic strip. Comic strips are a drawing or a series of drawings that present a situation or tell a little story. Comic strips are usually good for a laugh or at least a smile.
American newspapers commonly publish a page or more of them each day. These are usually black-and-white drawings. Sunday funnies are often published in color.
Readers of all ages enjoy the comics in the newspaper.
On television, cartoons used to be thought of as mainly for children. But times have changed. For example, Cartoon Network says one-third of the people who watch its programs are over the age of eighteen. So it offers special late-night programming called "Adult Swim." These cartoons are meant to appeal to what it calls "a grown-up sense of humor and other adult sensibilities."
One of the shows, "The Boondocks," is based on a newspaper comic strip.
"The Boondocks" is the story of Huey and Riley, two young African-American boys. They come from a rough part of Chicago, Illinois. Now they live with their grandfather in a mainly white community. The characters are known for their sharp observations about life there, and life in general. Huey speaks his mind like a revolutionary.
"The Boondocks" often deals with issues of race and social justice. The strip is more political than most comic strip readers are used to. Some think it is great; others think it goes too far.
"The Boondocks" appears in about three hundred fifty newspapers. Aaron McGruder is the cartoonist who created it. He has been taking a break from the print version since March, and does not plan to have new ones until October. "Every well needs refreshing," he says.
“Peanuts” is an example of a more traditional comic strip. Charles Schulz is the artist who created Charlie Brown and Snoopy the dog and all their friends. Charles Schulz died in two thousand. But the cartoons he drew are still being repeated. The humor is timeless.
Many readers also enjoy comics like “Garfield and Friends." Garfield is a fat cat who likes thinking of food and making fun of his owner.
And some readers never miss “Dennis the Menace.” This single-drawing cartoon is about a five-year-old boy. Dennis is always causing trouble for his parents and a retired neighbor, Mr. Wilson. But to his fans since the nineteen fifties, Dennis is always likeable.
Another form of cartooning is the editorial cartoon. These express the opinion of the artist or the artist’s publication.
Nineteenth century cartoonist Thomas Nast drew for Harper’s Weekly and the humor magazine Puck. In his political cartoons he drew an elephant to represent Republicans and a donkey for Democrats. Today these animals are still used to represent the two major parties in America.
In the twentieth century, cartoonists like Peter Arno, James Thurber and Charles Addams drew for the New Yorker magazine. The New Yorker has a tradition of publishing cartoons as social commentary.
Peter Arno liked to make fun of people of wealth and social position and self-importance. He drew his subjects with heavy lines.
James Thurber's cartoons pointed out human weaknesses. He drew his subjects with a light touch.
James Thurber also wrote many humor books. He created the character of Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty is a mild little man who daydreams of doing exciting things.
Cartoonist Charles Addams created the Addams Family. They looked like a scary family out of a horror movie. But Addams made funny situations from these strange characters. Somehow his artistry made normal people seem strange.
Today, New Yorker cartoons are still known for their sharp humor. For example, a lawyer advises a man that the best defense in his situation is to lie.
New Yorker cartoonists can find humor in almost any situation. A well-known cartoon that appeared in nineteen ninety-three was drawn by Peter Steiner. Two dogs are at a computer. One says to the other, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
One of America’s most influential political cartoonists worked at the Washington Post for fifty-five years. His name was Herbert Block. But readers knew him better as Herblock, the name he used to sign his work.
During the nineteen fifties, Herblock was known for his cartoons against Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy accused many people of being communists. Finally, the Senate condemned McCarthy for his actions.
Over the years, Herblock won three Pulitzer prizes and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He continued drawing until shortly before his death in two thousand one, at the age of ninety-one.
Cartoons can make powerful statements about events. In nineteen sixty-three, President John F. Kennedy was shot. That led cartoonist Bill Mauldin to draw another president who died that way. He drew the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington. In the cartoon, President Lincoln is crying.
Almost forty years later, in two thousand one, cartoonists drew the Statue of Liberty crying in New York Harbor. That was after the September eleventh attack on the nearby World Trade Center.
Cartoons can make people sad. They can also make them angry. Last September a newspaper in Denmark published cartoons that insulted Muslims. Other newspapers later republished these cartoons. Protests and deadly riots took place in a number of countries earlier this year. The cartoons and the reaction led to international debate about responsibility and freedom of speech.
Cartoons can make us think, they can make us laugh, they can make us cry. Cartoons can make a difference in how we look at life.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. You can read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. And listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.