In comments Jeet Heer and Caroline Small call for a consideration of the relationship between cartooning, caricature, and stereotype.

I’m curious what people have to say about this, so I thought I’d give it a thread and see if anyone else wanted to take a whack at it.

My own sense is that cartooning, at least, does not have to involve caricature or stereotyping. Charles Schulz’s work, for example, seems to me to definitely be cartooning, but it doesn’t really involve caricature in any meaningful sense, nor stereotyping. You could say the same of Garfield, probably, or of Tiny Titans, or of Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes or Doonesbury…any number of things really.

On the other hand, caricature and stereotype seem a lot closer together. I think this has blighted the history of editorial cartooning, in many ways. Despite my love for some practitioners of the form (Art Young, Dr. Seuss), I think you could really argue that it’s main function throughout history has been to deliver disgraceful racist stereotypes to the masses — all the way up to present-day bile pillorying muslims and arabs.

I do think, too, that while they’re not intrinsically linked, caricature has been a historically important part of cartooning — and I think this is probably a significant part of the reason that comics have had such trouble acknowledging and shedding their use of stereotypes. There’s a sense that stereotypes are part of what cartooning is about; that representing a black person as a blackface caricature (as in the work of Crumb or Johnny Ryan) is about being true to comics’ roots. The lack of racial and gender diversity in comics compared to other mediums (like film, or television, or visual art, or most anything, really) hasn’t helped matters.

So that’s my not-especially-well-thought-through two cents. I’d be interested in hearing what other folks have to say if they’d like to chime in.

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