Political cartoons are often an overlooked field in newspapers. While many comic strips can leave readers in stitches, political cartoons can do the same while raising a thought-provoking point. They can be comedic, serious, critical or supportive, depending on what the artist feels that day. This medium has been around since before the Revolutionary War broke out and continues to be relevant over 250 years later.
One of the more revered contemporary cartoonists is Bob Englehart, whose work is currently featured at the Dodd Center.
Englehart has produced political cartoons for over 50 years, most notably working for the Hartford Courant. On Wednesday, a reception was held for the opening of “Bob Englehart…In a Few Words,” at the Dodd Center featuring a Q&A with Englehart himself. Topics of discussion ranged from how Englehart was able to get his start in creating political cartoons, what he’s up to now and the very meaning and importance of political comics.
Englehart’s work is characterized by its sharp wittiness and thought-provoking messages, conjuring up both praise and criticism over the last few decades. Featured in the Dodd Center exhibit are several hand-drawn drafts, showcasing his process of creating each piece. Cartoons from throughout his career are on display, poking fun at political events from the late 1970s up to the present.
Englehart discussed his humble beginnings as a cartoonist, attending the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He worked for the Chicago Journal before moving to his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and starting his own studio which drew comics for the Dayton Daily News.
The current elephant in the room when discussing politics right now is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Englehart’s aversion to covering the conflict was a point of discussion. In his view, creating a comic critical of either side will just cause more issues. “What’s my role, what’s my offer? I can offer laughter,” the artist said. While there are certainly other points to a political cartoon, humor and entertainment will always be at the core of its purpose, which is why Englehart recognizes the importance of these aspects over just stating an opinion.
Englehart also brought up the waning popularity of political comics and newspapers in general, reflecting on his long career in the business. He shared a story of being invited to the White House with dozens of other political cartoonists to meet with former President Ronald Reagan, stating that that just wouldn’t happen anymore. Creating comics for decades allowed him to meet with countless people he wouldn’t have met otherwise, including multiple presidents. “You never knew who would walk through one day,” the artist said in a reflection on working at the Hartford Courant.
While Englehart retired from the Hartford Courant in 2015, he is still an active artist. His comics are still regularly published in newspapers across the United States, as well as on his website, bobenglehart.com. His exhibit will be hosted at the Schimmelpfeng Gallery at the Dodd Center until March 2024.