No other American editorial cartoonist—or artist of any type—ever rocked the boat as hard as Thomas Nast. During the Civil War, Nast produced pieces of anti-Southern and anti-slavery imagery so biting, President Abraham Lincoln called him "our best recruiter." After the war, Nast turned his ire on President Andrew Johnson, blasting him as a slavery sympathizer who let the Confederacy off easy. Nast's attacks contributed to Johnson's unpopularity, which ultimately resulted in his impeachment.
The most famous victim of Nast's poison pen was New York politico "Boss" Tweed, who said he didn't care what newspapers wrote about him, but wanted to "stop them damn pictures." When Tweed fled to Spain to escape corruption charges, he was arrested by local authorities who recognized him from one of Nast's cartoons.
It seems quaint today to consider the reach and influence cartoonists and artists like Nast once had. Since the turn of the century, the full-time newspaper editorial cartoonist has already become a mythical creature, and social media memes have mostly taken over as people's primary diet of political imagery.
Having a robust culture of political art is as important as a free press and, while the job market for editorial cartoonists or protest artists is worse than ever, there are still those who put pen or brush to paper to make a political point.
Boise Weekly Staff Writer Harrison Berry checked in with a number of local and regional artists to get their take on the importance of protest art, the perils of producing it and Idaho's attitude toward rabble rousing creatives. Find his report on "them damn pictures" on Page 14.