How to Analyze an Editorial Cartoon

"Political cartoons, unlike sundials, do not show the brightest hours. They often show the darkest ones, in the hope of helping us move on to brighter times." —Herb Block

Analyzing a Cartoon

  • Look at the cartoon and think about the people, items, actions portrayed, and words within the drawing.
  • Who is in the cartoon? Can you identify specific people? How do you know who the people are? If you can't identify specific people by name, who might the people portrayed represent?
  • Whose story is being told? How would the cartoon change if it were told from a different point of view?
  • Break the cartoon into quadrants. What details do you see in each quadrant?
  • Top left:               Top right:             Bottom left:       Bottom right:
  • What objects (tools, signs, vehicles, furniture, technology, etc.) are in the cartoon and why are the objects important?
  • What can you figure out about the setting (time--year or decade, place), and how do you know? Why is the setting important?
  • You learn about characters from what they do and say and how others react to them. What can you learn about the people in the cartoon from these things?
  • Are any symbols used in the cartoon? What are they and what do they symbolize?
  • Why are the symbols important?
  • Are there any metaphors in the cartoon? What are they?
  • What information does the caption provide? Does it support the drawing or provide a different perspective?
  • What can you infer from this cartoon? List evidence to support your answer.
  • What is the viewpoint of the artist? How do you know (list evidence from the cartoon to support your answer)?
  • What questions does the cartoon raise in your mind? Where might you find answers to those questions?

Other Sources:

Video - How to Make an Editorial Cartoon - The New York Times

Library of Congress: Cartoon Analysis Guide

Opper Project's: Reading an Editorial Cartoon

NIEonline and AAEC : Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

National Archives: Cartoon Analysis Worksheet

Teaching History: The Cartoon Analysis Checklist

ReadWriteThink.org: Editorial Cartoon Analysis

Classroom Law Project: Political Cartoon Analysis Guide and Worksheet