I will try to answer your Questionnaire as accurately as possible, but I must protest that very few of your questions permit the interpretation of the functions of a cartoonist as far as I have learned to know them after half a century of participation and observation. Looking back over the whole history of picture-making, intended to accomplish any major diversion of the trend of thought of nations or the world in general, I find very few, if any, political or social or religious trends which have been materially affected by the use of cartoons or pictures. I don’t remember any political campaigns which have been either won or lost because of cartoons or cartoonists. In the olden days, when most picture-making dealt with religious subjects, the ardor of conviction may have been a potent agent, through the emotions, generated by the use of heroic picturization, but I know of no General who won a war, no heathen who became a Christian, and no candidate whose success or failure was seriously altered by the use of cartoons. Instead, they have usually been generated by a school of thought and may have added to the ardor of the reader with like beliefs but I don’t think they every moved any mountains, or changed the course of History.
In the days when there was only one cartoonist of note in a generation, he may have added strength to the believers, but even the rabble-rousers among the cartoonists have never achieved great victories.
I will proceed with the answers to your questions, as near as I can come to the answers, as follows:
Prior to 1900 Thomas Nast, in his campaign against Tammany, came nearest to being the No. 1 Cartoonist in the field of Politics.
After 1900 I would place David Low, who by his excellent draftsmanship and his social and political convictions, stands out as probably the best.
My technique in drawing cartoons has certainly changed since my early beginnings. Everyone’s does. Skill with pen and ink, or crayon, naturally increases with experience and one learns, through the years, the kind of picture that is best appreciated by the reader. One learns that a cartoon, in the first place, must be a good picture, and no matter how serious the subject, a little comedy – either in the draftsmanship or in the selection of the allegory which must express an experience which is common to the general public – will help a great deal.
In my own work, I can’t remember that I ever was greatly influenced by any other person’s convictions or criticism. I did learn to avoid, as far as possible, drawing a cartoon on a subject which was not uppermost in the public mind at that particular time. I never was an apprentice, and had no education in Art. If I found among the picture-makers some tricks in caricature or composition, I presume I was affected, to some extent, but not, as I recall, in any particular field.
Public May Not Agree
My favorite cartoons were not the ones which were the most highly praised by the public. I suppose the cartoon made at the time of the death of Theodore Roosevelt, entitled “The Long, Long Trail”, received the most acclaim, but at the time I drew it neither I nor the Editor thought it was as good as it should be.
Long ago, as far back as the campaigns of William Jennings Bryan, I was convinced of the dangers of Inflation and I continued my emphatic expressions of its dangers to the economy of our nation. Serious thinkers gave my expressions some consideration but Inflation has never slowed down.
A second hobby of mine was the conservation of natural resources. Exploitation of our soils, waters, and wildlife has continued, unaffected by anything ever drawn by me or any of the others of a like mind.
A successful cartoonist will, if he is wise, change speed from day to day. The public tires of a steady diet of any one subject. Consequently, national and international subjects have to be interspersed with cartoons of human interest, which play on the foibles and eccentricities of the average citizen. It was my plan to have one out of every three cartoons on human interest subjects, and for beginners there is nothing so profitable as building up a following as cartoons on local subjects. Cartoons should be, now and then, serious, and an attempt to interpret to the reader the meaning of the issues which concern us in our public life and international relations.
No, I have never been sued, although sometimes rebuked for the viewpoints I have expressed, but as long as my conscience was clear I never avoided a subject on which I had a firm conviction, no matter how controversial.
I do not consult my editorial chiefs, and never have. An inexperienced beginner often profits by such consultation but after a cartoonist has achieved a reputation for integrity and accuracy of facts, editors usually leave cartoonists alone, and should. It is a rare thing to find an editor who knows the difference between a good and a poor cartoon, and I will admit that I have never been quite sure myself.
Yours very truly,
Jay N. Darling
P.S. It has always seemed to me that the chief function of the cartoon should be to interpret the meanings of the passing show to the reader, who in the hurly-burly of life has not had the time or the inclination to read extensively or study thoroughly the problems of the day – in other words to explain the meaning of life: political, social and economic. The wiser the cartoonist is, and the better draftsman he can be, the more successful will be his career. It requires all the qualifications of an editorial writer, plus the capacity to express his thoughts in pictures, if the cartoonist is going to be a good one. Every cartoon should contain a little medicine, a little sugar-coating and as much humor as the subject will bear.
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The "P.S." (postscript) recorded below is not in the dictation but was included in a version published by the Darling Foundation in the 1960s. Darling may have added it to a draft transcription. Dictation by Darling on 9 November 1961
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