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This paper investigates how political cartooning migrates from an editorial context into that of graphic novels and how it spreads via social media so as to generate an echoing laughter that rings beyond the original drawing. The latter may occasionally be an homage to famous caricaturists from the past, such as Gillray, whom many view as the grandfather of modern caricature, particularly in the press. This year's bicentenary celebrations across the UK stand as testimony of an enduring aura of Gillray's cartoons in contemporary political satire, not least in Martin Rowson's graphic works. In both his editorial cartoons and his graphic novels, scatology and gut-wringing scenes abound ad nauseam: rudeness, lewdness and offence are at the core of his satire. Under his hand, black bile mixes organically with India ink when he depicts and mocks the antics of political life, whether ultra contemporary or fictionalised. This “vindictive ink,” as Ralph Steadman describes it, comes from the same old well in which satirists like Swift dipped their quill. His drawings often require a strong stomach, though his usual readership will actually expect most of it. Rowson sees himself as a pen-wielder whose mission is to “lower the tone, and who gets away with puns mightier than the sword when he encrypts “fair coffin dye” in an anti-Blair cartoon. But he is also the author of graphic novels which, to put it in Bolter and Grusin's terms, are “pageants of mediation and remediation.” This paper will examine how Rowson's adapted (and updated) version of Swift's Gulliver's Travels echoes of visual motifs reminiscent of revered masters of British satire as well as self-borrowed topoï which resonate across several types of media. Moreover recycling is central to the dystopian plot of his Gulliver's Travels, and so contributes to the originality of this adaptation in which “excess” is writ large. Finally, this talk will address the role of social media connected with contemporary political cartoons. It will be argued that political cartoons trigger a specific “echoing laughter” mainly destined to enlarge the readership via social media. In the process, this mode of circulation creates new parameters in editorial vetting but may equally contribute to a novel integration of readers hitherto neither considered, nor necessarily amused by Rowson's humour in the first place. The aim of the talk will be to discuss what type of agenda is set by the immediacy of social media where L.O.L (Laugh Out Loud) constantly needs to reinvent its love/hate relationship with O.T.T. (Over The Top).

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Vanessa Guignery
Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the ENS de Lyon and member of the Institut Universitaire de France in Paris.
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