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A Drawing in Time
Comics. Caricatures. Stories told through pictures were left by prehistoric man on cave walls, engraved in Egyptian hieroglyphics and can be found in just about any 21st-century bookstore. Over the centuries, cartoons have become a medium for entertainment, political satire and even a genre of literature.
As with all literature, comics and caricatures give us insight into a culture’s values and fears. They pull the norm slightly out of focus to create humor or provoke thought.
Cartoons even help us track the changes of a culture over time. Just witness the changes over the years in the comic strip Blondie. First published in 1930, Blondie Boopadoop began life as a carefree flapper (her last name comes from the scat singing lyrics of 1928’s “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, by Helen Kane).
In 1933, Blondie married Dagwood Bumstead against his parents’ wishes. The timing for this was no accident. While the fictitious Bumsteads were expressing ire at their son marrying beneath his class, American society was on the cusp of the mass unionization of the American workforce. As the cartoon couple triumphantly bucked the establishment and set up house in a middle-class suburb, Blondie both reflected and cast humor on the cultural upheaval that took place between World Wars I and II.
Over the years, the appliances in the Bumstead’s kitchen have been updated. Clothing has changed (Dagwood no longer wears a hat to work). The Bumstead children, perpetually teenagers, now use social media. And as women’s roles in American life have changed, so has Blondie’s: 61 years after her introduction to the American public, the former flapper girl became a businesswoman.
As translators and interpreters, we can find a wealth of cultural, linguistic and historical information in cartoons and comics. So go ahead: pick up those Sunday comics and enjoy. It’s research.
-Carol Shaw, Editor