POTHOLES AND POLITICS: A CARTOON PORTRAIT OF OTTAWA By John Graham - Reviewed by Chips Filleul
John Graham Chips Filleul
From the selection of review comments provided by the author/cartoonist (John Graham), one might conclude that in his humility, Graham is not interested in receiving plaudits (e.g. “Peaches, my Afghan house, enjoyed it” – a remarked attributed to me – or “There is none of me. That’s a plus” from Joe Clark). Indeed, he might well prefer a series of barbed cracks because they are funnier than judgements of conventional critics. But in my case, a more careful than usual scrutiny of Potholes and Politics had the effect of moving me from carping critic to champion.
How did this happen? Well, because almost from the first page I was struck by two overriding qualities. First most of the cartoons reflect the day-to-day reactions of community members to life in Manor Park: dog walking; the tyranny of the snow plough and garbage collection, and of course, the seasonal blight of potholes. The cartoon of a giant pothole on St. Patrick St. on the cover is an example of the best.
Secondly, the images reveal a socio-political dimension – the cartoonist’s battle with local, federal and international powers of darkness. Over several years the bridge to Kettle Island case, a long shadow over the community, inspiring volleys of cartoons, some more serious than comical, but each skewering the dreaded project. Other themes are the non-stop roadwork, protection of green space and the presence of pet and feral wildlife. Of course, there are the joys and hassles of the multiple-user roadways with the slalom-pole pathways for cyclists. Pace! Tobi Nussbaum.
Heeding an admonition from the author to avoid over-the-top adulation in this review, I conclude by saying that I found some cartoons fitted my category of ‘inscrutable’ as in the New Yorker and some others failed to find my funny bone. Now that both of my barrels are empty, I feel I can justifiably place the wreath of “political cartoonist” on Graham’s brow – an accolade supported by his well-documented essay A Short History of Editorial Cartoons, a welcome adjunct to Potholes and Politics illustrated with cartoons by the masters: John Wilson Bergough on John A. MacDonald (Canada), Terry Mosher (Aislin) on Jean Drapeau (Canada) Bruce MacKinnon on Trump (Canada) all led by James Gillray, a founding father of editorial cartoons. This one below, from the author’s collection, is dated 1798 and mischievously lampoons both the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. This remarkable cartoon is fixed in the book as a Playboy-like centre fold.
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