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THE art of the cartoonist was flourishing in the palaeolithic age, about fifty thousand years ago. In the caves of Dordogne, in Southern France, the early artist scraped and scratched his figures of reindeers and mammoths, and colored them in red, white and black. He was a magic worker, using his remarkable art to impress his less skilled brother. The caricaturist belongs to a much later period; but he, too, was in evidence in Greece during the days of Aristophanes, a century or two before the artistic genius of the Maya race carved and modelled their quaint, grotesque figures of men and animals. That the art of caricature is an ancient one in Mexico we have abundant evidence. The artist usually worked in clay, but he also made drawings with pointed obsidian knives or charcoal on stone. Representations of his art craft can be seen in many of the ancient codices. In Padre Sahagun’s illustrations (the Florentine Codex) we find many whimsical and fantastic sketches, grim with sardonic humor. Except here and there, on rare occasions, the art of caricature which flourished in Europe during the Spanish Colonial period, was dormant in Mexico. In the Codex of San Juan Teotihuacan, which dates from the middle of the sixteenth century, we see the Indian artist caricaturing the portly Augustinian friars, and revealing with tragic earnestness the suffering of the poor natives whom the monks compelled to build their beautiful churches to the “Glory of God.”
But the art of satirical expression can only be developed when some degree of freedom obtains. Under Spanish rule and the rigid jurisdiction of the Inquisition no freedom of thought was possible. With the changed conditions brought about by the separation of New Spain from the mother country there was liberty enough—and even license—for the caricaturist, which he used with biting satire against the ever-changing political heroes. To-day, the political cartoonist in Mexico is a powerful factor in moulding public opinion against influential persons. Since the fall of Porfirio Diaz the daily and weekly journals have been enlivened by the cartoons of a brilliant group of young men—foremost and leader of them all is Ernesto Garcia Cabral, the fertile genius who has daily depicted and delineated every phase of Mexican life and politics.
Cabral, who is quite young, was born in the year 1891, in Huatusco, a picturesque village in the State of Veracruz. As a child of three or four years he amused himself by tracing figures on the ground and before the age of fourteen he delineated figures of animals and saints on the walls of the village church. At that time he also discovered his future artistic bent in making profile caricatures of his younger brothers and school-fellows. His school teacher, early recognizing the ability of the boy in draughtsmanship, persuaded the “Jefe Politico” of the district to solicit a scholarship from Señor Don Teodoro Dehesa, the enlightened Governor of the State. Señor Dehesa, a patron of art, who frequently acted as a Maecenas to struggling artists, granted the young Ernesto the coveted bursary which entitled him to enter the San Carlos Academy in the Capital of the Republic. There he was able to improve his technique, but the scholarship did not make him independent. To live and continue his studies it was necessary for him to earn money. He therefore commenced to draw for the public, collaborating in the publication of a lithographed political paper called “La Tarantula.” In this paper, directed by Fortunato Herrerías, he dedicated himself exclusively to the art of caricature. At the end of six months he joined the staff of the short-lived comic weekly “Frivolidades” which soon had to stop publication for want of funds. The next important step in Cabral’s career was his collaboration with Mario Vitoria, in the well-known political weekly “Multicolor” and through the medium of this paper his drawings became known to a wider and more influential circle. “Multicolor” had great political influence during the three years it was published (1911-1914), and helped very powerfully towards the making and unmaking of the political idols of the hour.