On Pugilist Parodies, or Boxing in Political Cartoons

In my online wanderings, I like to look through the OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs) of libraries, museums, and archives far and wide to see what they have on the squared circle. Boxing has been a major part of the fabric of cultural life for so long that most repositories have a little something featuring the sweet science.

My favorite boxing finds aren’t of actual fights or fighters. Instead, they are the parodic and satirized bouts between politicians and personifications fought in an illustrator’s ink and paint (or pixels) on the pages of newspapers and magazines all over the world.

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Ibrahim El-Wahibi’s 1992 ‘Caricature’ shows Saddam Hussein getting KO’ed by the UN. British Museum 

Here’s a tip of the hat to a few of the many institutions that have worked hard to preserve and provide access to these gems.

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King George III beaten and bloodied by James Madison, 1813. Library of Congress

A good starting point for any American looking for anything is the Library of Congress. The LC is a massive repository with more than its fare share of pugilist parodies stored on its shelves. My favorite, shown above, is an etching of “A boxing match, or another bloody nose for John Bull” that commemorates the American frigate USS Enterprise defeating the British HMS Boxer during the War of 1812.

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Contenders in the 1948 Nebraska primary preparing to slug it out under the watchful eye of Mother GOP. NARA

The National Archives and Records Administration is an another amazing resource. In 2008 it produced Running for Office, an exhibition of Clifford Berryman’s political cartoons that now lives online. Berryman’s cartoons on American political life showed that fights, like the one above, didn’t need to take place in a ring — politicians will have a knock-down, drag-out anytime, anywhere.

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Ding Darling’s “And he thought it was going to be so easy,” 1917. University of Iowa Libraries

The University of Iowa Libraries maintain the papers of the late political cartoonist  J. N. “Ding” Darling, of The Des Moines Register. Darling’s syndicated cartoons poked fun at current events from the 1910s to the late 1940s. 54 of his cartoons posted in the Iowa Digital Library feature people and personifications duking it out in a boxing ring.

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No explanation needed for this 1939 Daily Mail cartoon. British Cartoon Archive

Though not solely focused on politics, the University of Kent hosts the British Cartoon Archive, where you can see boxing depicted or referred to in over a thousand editorial cartoons that appeared in British newspapers and magazines — including those from around the Empire (with a few from the New York papers thrown in). This is one of my new favorite sites. And — be still, my heart! They even have a cartoon poking fun of my former favorite promoter, Tex Rickard. Swoon!

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I would be remiss if I did not include The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank. Everything from politics to romance to the battle with the bulge finds its way into the ring in its cartoons. Considering that The New Yorker is focused on life in the city that’s home to “The Mecca of Boxing,” it’s only fitting.

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