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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On

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Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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1. Illustrators, Icons, and the Infantryman Re-imagined: Cartoon Soldiers of the Great War (Libby Murphy)

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LIBBY MURPHY

Illustrators, Icons, and the InfantrymanRe-imagined: Cartoon Soldiers of the Great War

ABSTRACT

This chapter explores wartime cartoons as a resource for understanding the attitudes and expectations of soldiers and civilians who lived through the Great War over one hundred years ago. Cartoons gave readers a recognizable and reassuring way to imagine the Infantryman in the age of industrialized warfare. Cartoon artists, even those who had seen combat and suffered injuries, did not tackle head-on the topic of war violence and death or reject outright nationalistic stereotypes celebrating the Infantryman and denigrating the enemy. They worked within and against such categories in oblique and often ambiguous ways. Their work cannot be contained within categories such as propaganda, skull stuffing, or eye wash, which were fluid and contested at this time. Nor can they be erased from cultural memory for not corresponding to postwar attitudes about soldiers and about (anti-) war art. Their legacy endures across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

Wartime cartoons are an under-explored resource for understanding the attitudes of the soldiers and civilians who lived through the Great War.1 These single-frame illustrations – which range from the sentimental to the satirical and from the light-hearted to the bellicose – use captions to contextualize and, in some cases, ironize the images depicted. They appeared in large-print-run daily newspapers and in more specialized humour magazines and were often reprinted as postcards and in bound volumes. Wartime cartoons evolved in tone and...

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