Ever since editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast used the power of images to help dismantle the corrupt Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall political machine in the 19th century, generations of cartoonists to follow have built the medium into an effective tool of satirical communication that makes people laugh by distilling complex ideas to their essence. Atlas Network partner Illinois Policy Institute is using the power of satirical cartoons to take on modern forms of corruption, waste, and malfeasance throughout Illinois with a daily comics series by artist Eric Allie.
“Political cartoons have deep roots in American culture,” said Illinois Policy Institute’s vice president of marketing, Ryan Green. “Ben Franklin's ‘Join, or Die,’ published in 1754, is still recognized today. In 2016, just as it was in the 1700s, attention is everything. At Illinois Policy, we recognize we're competing with millions of messages in an attempt to gain peoples’ attention. Communicating complex messages in a consumable, easily digestible format is key, and cartoons provide the perfect vehicle for distilling our message in a simple and compelling way.”
Allie has just been named a finalist for this year’s Peter Lisagor Award, the most prestigious honor in Illinois journalism. The Lisagor Award is bestowed annually by the Chicago Headline Club, the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States, and is awarded for “truly superior contributions to journalism.”
Readers can stay current with Allie’s cartoons for Illinois Policy Institute by visiting the website’s daily comics page and by signing up for the organization’s newsletter, which is customized according to each subscriber’s areas of interest.
“Since we started publishing our political cartoons, we've seen increased engagement across platforms — print, social, email, etc. — and a reduction in cost of paid media,” Green said. “The popularity of our cartoons cuts across ideological lines and gains the attention of influencers — media, lobbyists, lawmakers, and donors — as well as the general public.”
A primary reason for this popularity is the way in which the cartoons both get to the heart of complex issues in Illinois public policy and tie them satirically to elements of the broader culture that are instantly relatable and recognizable to almost everybody.
“We’re all kids at heart,” Green said. “Our audience is curious. They crave information. But they also want to be entertained. They want to consume content that is fun and makes them feel good. Our cartoons do just that. Our cartoonist is a great artist first and foremost. His cartoons stand out against the typical editorial cartoon because they are well crafted. We also do a great job of mixing pop culture references with current events. ‘The Dude’ cartoon is my personal favorite. Chicago proposed a tax on bowling, and The Big Lebowski is the most iconic bowling movie of all time, in my opinion, so we took one of the most well-known quotes from the movie, ‘This aggression will not stand, man,’ to push back against the proposed bowling tax.”
Green said that the organization’s biggest challenge is overcoming the apathy of the general public, and getting them to care and pay attention to what’s happening in state and local government. When citizens feel helpless to change their government and reverse bad policies, this attitude allows bad lawmakers to stay in office for decades.
“We have the longest serving state house speaker in U.S. history,” Green said. “And not only are we faced with an apathetic voter base, we have to cut through millions of competing messages. We have to produce amazing content in order to be successful, and our political cartoons have been one of the most successful pieces of our content strategy to date.”