Posted by: Rachel Czwartacky | November 13, 2011

Darwin Cartoons

I started looking at Playing with Pictures this weekend. It’s a fabulous book and the collage images are all striking–some beautiful, some clever, some creative, some just odd. But I think the image I loved most was not one of the photocollage pages, it was a little satirical cartoon on page 29, taken from Punch magazine on different ways to fly, or “Suggestions for Aerial Navigation.” Amongst a host of other purposefully ridiculous suggestions for human flight, one method takes a jab at Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, depicting a man standing on a rooftop flapping until he gradually develops wings and birdlike features (the copy reads “This plan requires much Patience and Self-Denial”).

I thought this cartoon was fantastic. Siegel says in her introductory essay that Darwin occasionally featured into women’s photocollages (often with people’s photos pasted onto monkey bodies, often in family trees) so that they could show they were aware of current trends, including the scientific ones. So in that way usage of Darwin is like later uses of fans and croquet–a useful visual metaphor and a chance to poke fun at something in vogue.

But what I love most about this image, I think, has nothing to do with photocollage: it is the way in which it is very much like a modern political cartoon. Sometimes old-fashioned humor can seem just that–old-fashioned, and the jokes don’t really work in the same way ours do now. Similar to the way in which we viewed the advertisements in class the other day as too bulky with images and especially copy, our sensibilities regarding humor have also changed. This cartoon, though, I thought felt modern. It was smart, it wasn’t text heavy and it didn’t smack you with the joke. It didn’t go overboard with symbolism, the way the simianized Fenians did, and there were no labels on relevant parts of the image to make sure you got the joke (think “imitations” in the Matchless Metal Polish advertisement).

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