Abusing Power: Satirical Journals from the Special Collections Library

Caricature At Duke

Image from Ravue Comique (1848)

Image from Ravue Comique

Special Collections hold a remarkable range of satirical journals. With over 60 individual titles from Europe, North and South America, the library offers readers one of the most varied and comprehensive surveys of comic art and graphic satire available anywhere in the United States.

Caricature journals provide resources for a wide range of research. Many give valuable insights into the development of visual languages that influenced graphic design, animation, and comic book art. Others reveal unfamiliar aspects of artists better known for their activities as “legitimate” painters and sculptors: figures such as Félix Vallotton, Kees Van Dongen, and František Kupka regularly contributed to French caricature journals, while in Germany artists such as George Grosz, Max Beckmann and Käthe Kollwitz were mainstays of the graphic press.

Satirical journals contain unexpected riches for students of literature. Poems, short stories and essays feature in most magazines. Some, such as Simplicissimus in Germany, attracted authors such as Thomas Mann and Rainer Maria Rilke; in France, Le Chat noir (1874-1903) and Le Courrier français (1884-1908) were in the forefront of fin-de-siècle literary experimentation.

For historians, satirical journals offer insights into the formation of popular opinion, changing attitudes towards political personalities and ideological controversies, and the evolving role of the press in public discourse. Though their language is stylized and certainly does not provide an unproblematic window onto the past, comic magazines bring political debates, social customs, and popular mentalities into vivid relief for researchers and students alike.

The wealth of the satirical tradition displayed here is explored further in the Nasher Museum of Art, in the exhibition “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature” (February 4 – May 16, 2010). This show explores the languages, development and effectiveness of caricature – past, present, and future – by presenting classic cartoons by Daumier and his contemporaries attacking French king Louis-Philippe with American and British caricaturists’ treatment of the Bush administration.