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Ariail featured speaker at DAR luncheon

Posted: March 19, 2015 2:07 p.m.
Updated: March 20, 2015 1:00 a.m.
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Cartoonist Robert Ariail discusses the history of editorial cartoons in America. Behind him is the first known printed cartoon in America, entitled “Join or Die” by Benjamin Franklin.

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Robert Ariail has spent his career following a long and storied tradition of skewering those who would aspire to holier than thou status.

An award winning, syndicated cartoonist who lives in Camden, Ariail recently spent a few minutes with the ladies of the Hobkirk Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution talking about editorial cartoons and the pivotal role they have played in American history.

The occasion, held at Springdale Hall March 12, was the Hobkirk Hill Chapter’s annual Scholarship Luncheon, a chapter fundraiser that provides scholarships for Kershaw County area students. Distinguished guests included Ariail and Ann Crider, Chaplain General for the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution.

Cartooning and lampooning have been around for a long time, but it truly became a unique art form in America, Ariail said.

"It’s probably safe to say that editorial cartoons have been around throughout history," he said. "However, they really took root in the U.S. and became an art form, like jazz."

The earliest known printed editorial cartoon in America, entitled "Join or Die," drawn by Benjamin Franklin and run in his "Pennsylvania Gazette," first ran in 1754. The cartoon depicted a snake cut into eight pieces, each representing a colony. The idea, Ariail said, was a play on a myth that if one cut the head off a snake and placed it back together with the body before the sun went down, the snake would become whole again and come back to life.

The point Franklin was trying to make was that the colonies – at that time there were eight – needed to join together with England to defeat the French and Indians, Arial said.

It would later become a symbol of colonial freedom during the Revolutionary war.

Editorial pages have traditionally functioned to stir emotions, vet issues, put out calls to action or call into question actions taken, Ariail said. The function of both written editorial and editorial cartoon is to provoke response. However, falling back to the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, a cartoon can strike an immediate, visceral chord in the reader, he said.

"A good written editorial will present a strong, well-reasoned argument, and it will likely generate a response," Ariail said. "But a good editorial cartoon can immediately evoke an array of emotions and reactions – sometimes all at the same time."

One of the first to take the job of cartoonist to new levels was Thomas Nast, considered to be the "Father of the American Cartoon, who was active from the 1860s until around 1886. His numerous cartoons in Harper’s magazine lambasting New York political strongman William M. "Boss" Tweed, head of the infamous Tammany Hall Democratic Party political machine, is greatly credited with bringing about the downfall of Tammany Hall.

"The job of the cartoonist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," he said. "Nast certainly did that."

It is a tradition and a work ethic that continues to this day, he said.

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