Northland News

Politics at the point of a pen

Cartoon competition marks 30 years of lampooning

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Judges Andrea Bertolo and Pamela Van Arsdale interview students about their political cartoons at St. Francis DeSales High School Oct. 2. The school's 30th annual political cartoon contest followed the theme "elections and Leadership Changes Through the Ages."
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Although the dust has finally settled -- or at least will soon settle -- on the contentious presidential election of 2012, politics will live on.

And so will cartoons that lampoon and caricature politics and politicians.

"Political cartoons have been a staple of American history as long as there's been political dissent -- a long time," according to an article on the website of the Public Broadcasting Service.

"Benjamin Franklin's 'Join or Die,' which depicts a snake whose severed parts represent the Colonies, is acknowledged as the first political cartoon in America," an item on the University of Virginia's website states.

"Franklin's cartoon helped create a sense of American nationhood, and ultimately fueled the fight for independence," PBS added.

If Franklin came up with the first political cartoon to be published in a newspaper in what became the United States, some seventh- or eighth-grade student who participated in a contest last week at St. Francis DeSales High School may well produce the last, given the way daily newspapers are faring in these ever-changing times.

The Catholic high school's 30th annual Political Cartoon Contest, under the theme "Elections and Leadership Changes Through the Ages," was held in the cafeteria, featuring the top entries from students or groups of students in the traditional feeder schools as well as Clintonville Academy "because we've begun to get students from there," according to DeSales social studies department chairwoman Ruth Seggerson.

The other participating schools included St. Matthew in Gahanna, St. Michael in Worthington, St. Paul in Westerville and the Northland area's St. Anthony, St. Matthias and St. James the Less.

Seggerson, department chairwoman for the past decade, has been at St. Francis DeSales for 30 years, but was an English teacher when the contest was launched. She said she doesn't know what led to it.

She does know that participants who create political cartoons for the annual event gain from it.

"I think it has several benefits," Seggerson said. "We consider it a historical political cartoon contest, so they can go back into whatever history they've studied to this point. It allows them to take something that they've studied and sort of look at it through new eyes and use their artistic abilities, too, to express a particular point of view."

Seggerson said some contestants show definite talent for the medium.

"Every year, there are a few that are just very, very well done," she said. "They do wow us sometimes."

The political cartoons are judged by members of the high school's faculty on four criteria:

* Artistic expression.

* Originality.

* Written expression, through a brief explanation regarding what the work is meant to accomplish.

* Oral expression, during spoken remarks about the work.

Participating schools were provided the theme for this year's contest at the beginning of September, Seggerson indicated. Since that time, "mini-contests" have been held to pare down the entrants in last week's final to 15 or so individuals and around 20 groups.

Seggerson said the contest is something she intends to perpetuate, in part because participants very much enjoy the experience.

"I teach seniors and some of them look back fondly and remember when they were doing their cartoons, so I think it's a good activity," she said.

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