Chris Mullen

This is a simple set of challenges for you in assessing and sorting visual cliches. Anyone can do it. Think of a witch, a ghost, Lady Godiva. What are the recognisable attributes of the character? What is the basic location? What are the basic rules?

Choose a cartoon. And ask yourself if the cartoonist has added anything new, is there anything revealed about the story that has long been hidden? Is it FUNNY? Is the caption exact, formulaic, or excessive in order to conceal a poverty of thought? It can be a constructive exercise. Much of Saul Steinberg's genius lies in his refashioning of graphic modes and cliches.

If you can see nothing that hasn't been used in the past then you are in the presence of the pictorial cliche (see the Emett drawing beneath). See also Donald McKee's equivalent listing of the dreary formulae of political cartoons - the success of a policy - the beastly behaviour of the enemy - the transition from the Old Year (or policy) to the New.

But don't get too cross. An artist has to earn a living. We are all capable of mediocrity.There may be a puckish spirit at work, if only you looked HARD.Several of the captions have an unusual power, "Why should I damp your Shammy?" being my favourite.

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Wherever possible I have tried to get copyright permissions. The site is purely educational and dedicated to the understanding of the Visual Narrative. Please tell me if I need to contact you. Most of the illustrators represented retain their own copyrights. I will unhesitatingly remove any image of which you own the rights. Many of the images are scanned from scrapbooks assembled by commercial artists for their own reference, so I may not have the date or the source.The blog is intended as an entirely educational experience.  email me at: