'Bruin Become Mediator or Negotation for Peace' (1813).

William Charles was an early 19th-century Scottish political cartoonist who lived in the United States from the mid-1800s until his death. He is credited with introducing the British style of political cartooning in the United States, complete with caricature and speech balloons. While all his caricatures are one-panel cartoons, he also illustrated a couple of children's books. One of these, 'Tom, the Piper's Son' (1808), makes use of sequential illustrations, accompanied by text captions underneath the images, making it the oldest known example of a (proto-)text comic made on U.S. soil.

Early life and career
William Charles was born in 1776 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Not much is known about his life. In his youth, he already made political cartoons, showing direct influence from James Gillray. His drawings circulated in his city of birth, but also in London. Halfway the 1800s, Charles moved to the United States, where he worked in New York and Philadelphia as landscape painter, political cartoonist and children's book illustrator.


Tom, the Piper's Son', pages 16 and 17.

Tom, the Piper's Son
In 1808, William Charles released an illustrated book version of 'Tom, the Piper's Son'. It was based on an old English nursery rhyme about the son of a piper (a musician playing on blow instruments). One day the boy steals a pig, runs away, but gets caught. He is punished with such ferocity that it leaves him behind crying "down in the street". In the original ancient context, the "pig" referred to a certain type of apple pastry. Over the centuries, this story element was changed into an actual pig, because people, especially children, instantly think of the farm animal, rather than a piece of pie.

However, the William Charles version differs from the nursery rhyme. The theft is even completely absent. Instead, the tale focuses on Tom's exceptional musical skills. Whenever he plays his blow instrument, nobody can resist to shake around. He manages to make pigs dance "on their hind legs", a milkmaid with her cow and a man trying to get a donkey into motion. Tom also encounters anthropomorphic animals. He sees a goat, preparing to shave off his beard, and a dog named Rover smoking a pipe and drinking beer. With his ability to make everybody move to his tune, Tom causes a lot of chaos. For instance, an old woman breaks all the stuff she was carrying along. Both text and pictures in 'Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son' were engraved by William Charles in copper-plate. The book was published in Philadelphia and even 15 years later, his original engravings were still reprinted by Mary Charles, Morgan & Yeager and Morgan and Sons. Charles published other illustrated children's books as well. His 'Peacock at Home' (1814) was colored in aqua-tint, at the time still a rare phenomenon, since the technique made books more expensive.


'Josiah the First' (1812).

Political cartoons
The earliest known political cartoon made on U.S. soil was 'Join or Die' (1754), created by philosopher, politician, writer and inventor Benjamin Franklin. Printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, it depicted a chopped up rattlesnake, symbolizing the 13 British colonies in the East of America. Franklin implied that this metaphorical snake should unite as one nation. The cartoon gained more historical weight during the U.S. War of Independence, when the thirteen colonies secreted from the United Kingdom became an independent country in 1776. Still, for most of the late 18th century political cartoons remained a European phenomenon, spearheaded by pioneers like James Gillray and Richard Newton in the United Kingdom. While Gillray's cartoons were quite widespread, at the time they didn't have much impact in the USA. A possible explanation might be that Gillray's caricatures were difficult to understand outside their European context. U.S. readers might recognize politicians like the English king and Napoleon Bonaparte, but otherwise most of the references went right over their heads.

When William Charles emigrated to the U.S. in the 1800s, he imported a Gillrayesque style of cartooning to his new fatherland. He used caricature, speech balloons and metaphorical national representations like the British symbol John Bull. By applying them to U.S. topics, he helped popularize the medium among American audiences and inspire local cartoonists to also pick up a pencil. One specific cartoon by Charles proved to be especially influential. In 'Josiah the First' (1812), he mocked U.S. politician Josiah Quincy, a known opponent of the British-American War (1812-1815) and far more critical of the USA than the United Kingdom. It made him highly unpopular, and as a result, he resigned from U.S. Congress. Charles depicts Quincy as a king, complete with a crown, scepter and regal coat. In a handwritten speech above his head, he exclaims himself "King of New England, Novia Scotia and Passamaquoddy, Grand Master of the noble order of the Two Cod Fishes". Williams Charles appears to have been the first cartoonist in U.S. history to ridicule a politician by portraying him as a mock monarch. In 1832, a similar and equally famous cartoon, 'King Andrew the First', was made by an anonymous U.S. artist - but believed to be E.W. Clay - depicting U.S. President Andrew Jackson as a monarch trampling on the Constitution. Edward Sorel's 'After me, the flood' (1973) portrayed Richard Nixon as Louis XIV, in reference to his historical quote: "After me, the flood", which implied that he didn't care what happened to his country.


'A Boxing Match, or Another Bloody Nose For John Bull' (1813).

War of 1812
During the North American-British War (1812-1815), William Charles rose to more prominence. It was the first major conflict between the USA and the United Kingdom since the U.S. War of Independence nearly 40 years earlier. Even though the United States and Canada fought British and Irish troops, Charles still sided with the U.S. He originally intended his cartoons to be published in monthly sets of four. According to William Murrrell's 'A History of American Graphic Humor 1865-1938' (Cooper Square Publishers, 1967), Charles abandoned this idea due to lack of subscribers. Nevertheless, he eventually published enough cartoons to influence public opinion. To comic historians, these works are additionally interesting for their consistent use of speech balloons. However, in the earliest cartoons, Charles wrote the dialogue above his characters' heads, without capturing them in balloons.

In 'A Boxing Match, or Another Bloody Nose For John Bull' (1813), for instance, Charles portrays English king George III boxing against U.S. President James Madison, with a naval battle in the background. The king's face is beaten into a bloody pulp, while he wonders how "brother Jonathan" managed to make this happen. Madison laughs: "I'll let you know we are an enterprizeing nation, and ready to meet you with equal force any day." In the undated cartoon 'The Present State Of Our Country', two U.S. men try to pull down the pillars "federalism" and "democracy", that support "liberty and independence". Looking from the clouds is George Washington, reminding them that if they pull even one of these pillars apart, "the whole shall be destroyed." 'Bruin Become Mediator or Negotation for Peace' (1813) depicts the United Kingdom (shown as its national symbol John Bull), the U.S. (as the dame Colombia) and Russia (as a grizzly bear). The U.K. begs Russia to negotiate peace between him and the USA. Although they both try, the U.S. says it simply doesn't trust the British. Only the Russian dialogue is presented in an actual speech balloon. The British and American dialogue is handwritten above the characters' heads.


'Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians' (21 October 1814).

The 1814 cartoon 'A Scene On The Frontiers As Practiced By The Humane British And Their Worthy Allies' depicts the English rewarding Native Americans for scalping U.S. and Canadian soldiers. Again, the Englishman's dialogue simply floats above his head. The same year, the British army managed to conquer Alexandria, Virginia. In the cartoon 'Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians' (printed on 21 October 1814), Charles criticized Alexandria for not "fighting enough" against the English invasion. The drawing shows John Bull - this time with an actual bull's head - confiscating various products from the townspeople, while the scared villagers beg him: "Don't be too hard with us - you know we were always friendly, even in time of your embargo!" One English soldier scoffs: "Push on, Jack, the yankeys (sic) are not all so cowardly as these fellows here. Let's make the best of your time." This point was proven when the U.S. city Baltimore put up far more resistance against the British army. Charles showed his admiration in the cartoon 'John Bull and the Baltimoreans' (1814), in which the Baltimoreans scare away the British army, despite John Bull's protests. These two cartoons show a far more prominent use of speech balloons, to the point that all characters speak in balloon format.

During William Charles' lifetime, 'The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap' (printed in December 1814) was his most widespread cartoon. It refers to a series of meetings by the New England Federalist Party in Harford, Connecticut. The New Federalists were opposed to the war and between 15 December 1814 and 5 January 1815, they held a series of meetings to formulate their plans. In the cartoon, Charles pigeonholes them as a bunch of pathetic traitors. Their leader Timothy Pickering and the U.S. states Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut are depicted on a cliff, contemplating whether they should jump off, or not. Below, the English king George III waits with outstretched arms to catch them, promising "plenty molasses and codfish, plenty of goods to smuggle, honours, titles and nobility into the bargain." Indeed, the New Federalists became a national laughing stock. In 1815, they sent three commissioners to Washington D.C., confident that the U.S. President had to take them seriously. However, by the time they arrived in the U.S. capital, the Treaty of Ghent (1815) had ended the war.

Death
William Charles' cartooning career was short. He passed away in 1820, at age 43 or 44. Although less well-known today, his work was significant in the development of the U.S. press, political cartoons and particularly comics. Even though he wasn't American by birth, he still paved the way for many U.S. cartoonists. His most significant contribution may be the introduction of the speech balloon in U.S. cartoons. However, it took until almost the end of the 19th century - thanks to the popularity of Richard F. Outcault's 'The Yellow Kid' - before balloon comics became a dominant force in U.S. cartooning.


'The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap' (December 1814).

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