The Nation of Illustration
Caricaturist and graphic commentator Steve Brodner was responsible for “managing” the art in the current 150-year anniversary issue of The Nation, America’s oldest continuously published journal of the Left. He worked directly with editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel and designer Robert Best about what he would assign and reprise from the archive. Brodner talks here about his enthusiasm for the project and satiric art.
In 150 years a lot of illustration and cartoons are made. What surprised you about the legacy? What surprised and fascinated me was how much of the art was about what we are talking about now: greed, inequality, accountability, war, racism, women’s, minority rights. The little guy getting pushed around by the big guy. That has been what The Nation has cared about for over 100 years (although under E.L. Godkin it veered right for a while, prior to the 20th century).
The art is in three categories: Nation archive art, current illustration and a series of special full pages that I assigned with editorial approval. I contacted them all (most are friends) and they came through.
Have the themes changed much in 150 years? Although issues have changed, we are still fighting for many of the same things. It is clear that politics is a recurring drama that has to be engaged with again and again. For example, Obama becomes president and we think that politics have changed in the US. Then we see it isn’t quite true. Ferguson, then Staten Island occur; the Voting Rights Act is weakened. And voter ID issues flair. We need projects like this to remind us that political life is cyclical and that many brilliant minds have dealt with these problems in the past.
The wonderful classic art is from near and far (in time): George Grosz, Randall Enos, William Steig, William Gropper, Art Young, Ed Sorel, Robert Grossman, David Levine, Horacio Cardo, Brian Stauffer, Signe Wilkenson, Ed Koren, David Shannon, Ben Shahn.
Are there young illustrators and cartoonists who may be the next dream gang? Absolutely. Some of the newer artists in the issue are led by Ryan Inzana, Tim Richardson and Jackie No-name. I wanted to go with this group because of the combined high level of accomplishment, political POV as well as connection, in some cases, to the magazine. This stuff is very subjective. I would love to do another such like with others who are raising the strong voice. It is a great idea for a single issue focus!
After looking to past and present, how do you feel visual commentary is faring in the current world? Best of times, worst of times. Our focus is more and more scattered, so a single voice will be less potent. That might be a good thing. Today, cartoonists have great followings on social media and establish their own rules. TV offers chances for good writing to happen. Video technology gives artists tools for storytelling across platforms. And there is still journalism, which is hungry for ideas and visual approaches. It’s a wide-open field now. Less concentrations of visibility and money, but a more democratic situation. Very much what The Nation has been fighting for!
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