Japan Cartoon Yahtzees

Every once and a while, cartoonists working hundreds of miles apart will conjure up similar ideas for a cartoon on the same subject. When five or more cartoonists draw the same gag, we refer to these as “Yahtzees.” Our most recent Yahtzee featured Leslie Nielsen and his famous “don’t call me Shirley” line from “Airplane.”

In the aftermath of the disaster that has devastated Japan, several cartoon Yahtzees have emerged from the cartoonists covering this tragic, ongoing event.

As they tend to be instantly-recognizable visual metaphors, cartoonists often use a country’s flag in their cartoon commentary. The Japanese flag is no different, as these cartoonists show:

John Sherffius / Boulder Daily Camera
Manny Francisco / Manila, The Phillippines
Martin Sutovec / Slovakia
Hajo de Reijger / The Netherlands
R.J. Matson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Petar Pismestrovic / Kleine Zeitung, Austria
Brian Adcock / Scotland

Another visual metaphor that is conjured up by the tsunami is “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” a famous woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai. This was also used by several cartoonists:

Martin Sutovec / Slovakia
R.J. Matson / St. Lous Post-Dispatch
Peter Lewis / Australia
Frederick Deligne / Nice-Matin, Nice, France
Aislin / Montreal Gazette
Kap / Spain
Mike Keefe / Denver Post

Finally, as the news broke of the possible meltdown of several nuclear reactors, another similar thought crept into the mind of several cartoonists: Godzilla. The famous Japanese icon made its way into at least five cartoons about the disaster, qualifying it as the third unique cartoon Yahtzee:

David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star
Gark Markstein / Creators
Dave Granlund /
Olle Johansson / Sweden
Paul Zanetti / Australia
Godzilla Japan Tsunami
Steve Kelley / Times-Picayune
Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons

By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post.

28 replies on “Japan Cartoon Yahtzees”

Editorial cartoonists who wonder why they are becoming irrelevant need look no further than this collection of deeply offensive, trivializing and (in some cases, like the slant-eyed flag piece above) racist commentary. These artists had nothing of note to say about the disaster; sadly this didn’t stop them from saying it anyway.

I agree Ted. The yellow character of Frederick Deligne / Nice-Matin, Nice, France is especially offensive.

Not to mention Deligne’s message! His cartoon implies that the tsunami was divine retribution for Pearl Harbor.

Ted’s right: just because you’re SUPPOSED to say something doesn’t mean you should just say anything. Editorial cartoons are supposed to either inform you of what you don’t know or steer your toward a position. These strangely “symbolic” images don’t suggest anything. Instead, they could talk about whether the U.S should give money, (whether we can afford it) whether places like California are rightly prepared for such an earthquake, etc. Even making fun of people who don’t feel empathy for others makes a statement, but to simply draw the Japanese flag or a giant wave in an honorary manner is really no message at all.

A fine example of why this dying profession deserves its death. The only thing less imaginative than 99% of the so-called editorial cartoonists today is 100% of the editors they pander to. The only surprise I had was that no one has drawn a huge sumo wrestler with “tsunami” written across his butt, ready to pounce on a little guy holding a Japanese flag.

Sadder still is the number of cartoonists who just read that, slapped their forehead and yelled, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?!”

The greater question becomes (A)when did political cartoons get so…symbolic, and (B)Why? Editors say all the time that young readers are MIA. Well, look at other markets: music changes to appeal to new audiences, and TV will put on anything from game shows to reality shows to attract viewers. Why don’t newspapers follow suit?

On paper. editorial cartoons should be GROWING in popularity. Think about it: why spend 90 seconds reading an article about the jobless rate or creating a no-fly zone in Libya when, in less than 5 seconds, you can see what the problem is AND perhaps already develop an opinion on it? That’s the John Stewart model: combine knowledge with sarcasm so you can learn and be entertained at the same time. Why don’t papers follow this lead?

Looks like several of these cartoonists buy clip art from the same source. How original.

There’s a lot to say, frankly–and perhaps a cartoonist’s job is to enlighten readers. We could talk about California–whether reactors with the same design need to be replaced. You could make fun of people who have no empathy–the ones who barely look up from their facebook screen to even know what’s going on. You could make fun of our lack of knowledge: you could show two Americans and one says “I’m glad these earthquakes don’t happen very often” and have them standing next to a magazine rack with headlines that say HAITI: ONE YEAR LATER.

This is the TRUE job of an editorial cartoonist–to challenge people to think about or take a stand against something. These ‘honorary’ cartoons as I call them are an insult to our intelligence. Cartoonists that tell me that Japan is hurting simply aren’t doing their job.

I always like Sherffius’s technique; his is understated, so it maintains some sense of dignity. Matson’s flag somehow reminds me of the ones the KKK used to carry, for some reason. Hajo’s isn’t bad, though. Also understated.

I saw Hajo de Reijger’s cartoon on the Japanese sun crumbling into a radiation symbol and thought, that’s a good idea how many people will copy that.

Many of these images maintain a visually-striking, graphic design appeal, but lack the content or originality of a quality editorial cartoon.

From the design perspective, I quite enjoyed Sherffius & Francisco’s panels. The crying Godzilla had a simple, almost tender appeal.

However, editorial cartoons should be edgy. They should have enough broad-based appeal that they attract the attention of the average bloke who may not be fully informed about events, and controversial enough to stimulate research & discussion.

The above cartoons have the appeal, but stop there. Is this a developing trend for editorial cartoons, or is there something unique about the issues in Japan (or current world events taken together) that has led to the low editorial quality?

I don’t see the second yahtzee. Only three of these monsters are recognizably Godzilla-like. The three-headed monster is clearly Ghidorah, Godzilla’s enemy. The “nuclear plant” one looks like a newt of some sort. The one labelled “economic fallout” looks like Fred Flintstone in his Monster of the Tar Pits costume. The one made of water remains a mystery (the kraken, maybe).

Comments are closed.