Why 2016 election cycle is a "cartoonist's dream"

Election political cartoons
Election political cartoons 05:01

You'd have to go back more than a few election cycles to find a time so ripe for the fine art of satire. Whether it's Donald Trump's hair or Hillary Clinton's pants suit, political cartoonists are enjoying a kind of renaissance in this election cycle, reports CBS News correspondent Mo Rocca.

At the Cleveland art gallery, "Spaces," four decades of political cartoons from former syndicated editorial artist Ed Freska are now on display.

"What makes for a successful political cartoon?" Rocca asked.

"When I have provoked somebody into thinking. I don't know if it's left, right, doesn't matter," Freska said.

Henry Adams is an art historian and a descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

"Benjamin Franklin did that famous cartoon with the snake cut up. It's the 13 colonies, which if they don't unite are not going to survive," Adams said.

American political art predates the founding of this country. But Adams said this is a "year that's made for a political cartoonist."

A look at Pulitzer Prize-winning political ca... 00:58

"Donald Trump is just a cartoonist's dream. Just you know, his hair, his face and the way he speaks. There's a cartoon quality to that," Adams said.

David Horsey is a two-time Pulitzer Award-winning editorial cartoonist with the Los Angeles Times. He's wielding his pen all this week in Cleveland.

"I could draw him every day," Horsey said. "I've drawn him as King Kong, I've drawn him as a barbarian conquering Rome, I've drawn him as a sort of caveman. There are wonderful ways - analogies you can find for his sort of macho, 'I'm in charge, I don't care' style."

But political cartooning isn't just about caricaturing an individual.

"Caricaturing is just one of the tools. I mean really... I'm providing commentary like a columnist would," Horsey said. "And I think the drawing adds something, sort of a heightened reality."

Horsey is a self-described liberal. But he doesn't hesitate to satirize anyone.

"When you're looking at Hillary Clinton, which physical features are good material for a political cartoonist?" Rocca asked.

"Well, you start with the face. She has a round face - moon face -- kind of small mouth, big eyes," Horsey said. "There's sort of - I don't know I'm going to get in trouble for this -- there's a sort of a 'Midwestern mom' look to her."

It may sound harsh but the point is to draw blood. Richard Nixon gave Watergate plenty of material.

"I think Nixon was a kind of sneaky-looking guy and it wasn't too hard to exaggerate," Freska said.

"The whole tradition of political cartooning has been to poke fun at the powerful, and humor itself is seldom very nice," Horsey said. "You're are always finding weakness and going after that. And that's ultimately the job of political cartoonists -- is just to intelligently provoke with images and observations about the world."

And also, maybe, just maybe, to move the masses, like when both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant credited American caricaturist Thomas Nast for their winning elections.

"I don't think I've changed minds - but I've marshaled forces," Horsey said.

"The best ones, somehow, they can take an issue that you don't care about and they can make it seem very immediate and visceral," Adams said.

But how effective are they?

"I think this is a period where no one quite knows what's going on. I think that social media have had a big impact," Adams said. "We are communicating more with word and image."

In other words, the meme has given millions of social media users a political say.

"This may indeed be the golden age of political cartoons," Rocca said.

"I think it probably will be, although probably in some way that we can't quite yet anticipate," Adams said.

Ed Freska retired after Hillary Clinton's campaign against Barack Obama, so he never had the opportunity to draw Donald Trump. But he sure sees it as a great opportunity for today's cartoonists.