I just noticed, online, that the famed Soviet cartoonist and propagandist Boris Efimov died at, are you ready for this, 108.
This may be of interest to few people but me, but since I did my second Masters degree on WWII cartoon propaganda, it’s kind of a landmark: Efimov was sort of the last of the last WWII cartoonists still kickin’ around. It’s interesting to note because we live in an age where newspapers are painfully diminished in scope and impact: They’ll largely be gone in five years or so (especially now that General Motors, P&G and others are cutting back on their advertising due to the worsening recession). And cartooning, which for so long rode those circulation numbers to mass-market appeal, is a much-diminished artform in terms of cultural impact. The most popular among us, online, can boast only a 2 or 3 million readers a day.
But! Back in the day, specifically, back in the days of WWII, cartoonists were king. My chosen graduate focus, Phillip Zec, worked for London’s Daily Mirror (13 Million subscribers in 1939, 22 Million in 1948 — with a secondary readership far, far larger than those numbers communicate). He and guys like Efimov, Low, Mauldin — they spoke to tens and tens of millions of people a day. And in the way a cartoonist/propagandist can only do in an all-out, existential war…they swayed the moods and opinions of huge swathes of the populace.
So, Efimov’s passing is sort of a landmark for me. He literally is the final passing of an age for cartooning.