The longtime editor and publisher of The Nation offers a highly personalized inquiry into the history and nature of political cartoons, and how they serve as a powerful tool of social criticism. Navasky (Naming Names) begins with an anecdote about a 1984 staff revolt at The Nation over a David Levine caricature of Henry Kissinger that staff perceived as sexist, then introduces three explanatory models vis-à-vis the apparent potency of such pictures: content theory, image theory, and neuroscience theory. Each is briefly sketched and fairly superficial, and the author combines all three theories in analyzing a variety of artists and past controversies, including the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi publication Der Stürmer, and the 2005 protests over a Danish paper’s depictions of the prophet Muhammad. The bulk of the book is devoted to a “gallery” of cartoons by giants like Honoré Daumier, Thomas Nast, and Ralph Steadman, followed by a timeline of flashpoints from 1831 to 2012. Sometimes perfunctory, sometimes rich in detail, these entries—and the brilliant illustrations accompanying them—help make the book a valuable reference on the subject. Readers searching out a serious analysis of the social, political, and psychological sources and implications of the cartoon or caricature, however, will find this lively but capricious study less then satisfying. But the book succeeds as an introduction to the subject by a consummate insider. 76 b/w illus, 4 pages of color illus. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Apr.)
“Thoughtful and deftly illustrated…an engaging meditation on cartoon history.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The visuals in The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and their Enduring Power are irresistible and the passionate Victor S. Navasky is a wonderful storyteller.”
—The Boston Globe
“[Mr. Navasky] is agreeable company…a man who knew many of the great cartoonists of the 20th century and has stories to tell.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Accessible, yet acutely academic…With The Art of Controversy, Navasky has made a substantial effort to bring understanding to the power of caricature.”
—The New York Daily News
“Mr. Navasky’s wonderful book is a spirited homage to the art and craft of political caricature.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“This heavily illustrated, entertainingly written look at political cartoons is both personal—Navasky’s experience with controversial drawing as well as writing is considerable—and thoroughly researched. It is also deeply insightful.”
“A lavishly illustrated, witty, and learned look at the power of the political cartoon throughout history.”
“Engaging and often illuminating.”
“Navasky argues eloquently and convincingly [that] censorship of caricature artists amounts to an assault on individual free speech. The Art of Controversy is an amazing historical document from a political journalist all too familiar with caricature’s intuitive and divisive power.”
"A novel approach to the history of political cartoons. From Picasso, Grosz, and Daumier through Herblock and Ralph Steadman, Navasky illuminates an underappreciated art form."
"As Victor Navasky, a word man, investigates the wordless art of the political cartoon what, he asks, accounts for its implosive power? we find ourselves in the hands of a writer of indefatigable curiosity and are caught up in the tempestuous history of newsprint art. An expansive, illuminating work. I know of nothing comparable."
"Victor Navasky's The Art of Controversy is an entertaining and instructive reminder of the important place of political cartoons in exposing lies, hypocrisies, stupidity, and corruption in the public arena. Be prepared to laugh and get angry all at once."
"Victor Navasky pulls it off - he showcases the significance and power of political cartoons without taking the 'funny' out of them or cloistering the amazing rage they evoke that is far beyond the power of mere words to explain."
“For the political junkie, journalist, artist, cartoonist or student, The Art of Controversy is a wonder story of an amazing art form.”
-New York Journal of Books
“An invaluable account of two centuries of comic art, with a galvanizing emphasis on the specific conditions of its creation.”
—Barnes & Noble
“Thought-provoking…a compelling meander through the complex world of satirical cartooning.”
—Ashbury Park Press
“An entertaining tour through a wonderfully affecting mode of illustration.”
The veteran journalist offers a survey of political caricature, international in scope, but a little sketchy in its short biographical summaries. As the former editor and publisher of the Nation, Navasky (Columbia University School of Journalism; A Matter of Opinion, 2005, etc.) at least twice faced open revolt from staffers at the liberal magazine for caricatures that he published, including a famous one by David Levine that shows Henry Kissinger raping (or at least sexually dominating) the world. Most of the outrage came not from the right but from the left, from feminists who decried the sexual stereotype of a man having his way with a submissive female, who protested in a group letter that "a progressive magazine has no business using rape jokes and sexist imagery (he screws, she is screwed) to make the point that Kissinger revels in international dominance. Kissinger is a man, but the globe is not a woman." The incident underscores many of the points made in the book: that there can be a big difference between the way a caricature is conceived and perceived, that images have a different and often greater power than words, and that "unfairness, by the way, is the point--there really is no such thing as a balanced or objective caricature….Caricatures by definition deal in distortion." Admitting that "my methodology was anything but scholarly," the author presents a variety of theories on how and why caricature derives its communicative power before proceeding through an "unguided tour" of more than four centuries of political caricature and a gallery of more than 30 caricaturists and publications, most represented by a couple pages of text and a couple pieces of work. Where even a master of the form such as Ralph Steadman dismisses caricature as "low art…nothing but a cheap joke," the imprisonment or even murder of some whose work has offended suggests how severe the consequences can be. Generally engaging and often illuminating, but the study might better have gone deeper rather than wide.