Chapter 3

Semiotic Analysis of Cartoons in Nigerian Newspapers

Dahiru Isa

Department of English

Federal College of Education, Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria


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Pictorial form of communication (such as cartoons) can be said to have existed as long as man himself. In Africa, proof of drawings, paintings and engravings- rock art which is precursor of the cartoon- is available in a variety of sources and oddly enough was discovered earlier than the European ones. Dating these have been rather difficult for several reasons, but the exciting Namibian discovery has been radiocarbon-dated to about 27,000 years ago (Willett 1993). Willett even posits that, since humankind appears to have originated in Africa, it may well be said art, in this instance the cartoon, originated here. Man being perhaps the highest social creature is known to devise clear means and processes of organizing and controlling its teeming populace wherever they commune for development. Visual image, known to be a medium of communication- conveying message quickly and clearly- is one critical component of the development in Nigeria. Of the various visual forms and illustration genres in modern times, the cartoon is perhaps one of the most usual. It is said to be a visual metaphor or metaphorical codification through which an artist (a functional member of the polity and keen societal gauge trained in close observation), informs, educates or entertains his viewers. With regards to Nigeria, the cartoon as a visual communication genre is noted to have gained prominence with the political struggle against colonialism in the early part of the 20th century. It received a weighty mandate within the nationalist media of the day espousing anti-colonial interests and sentiments. Through Akin Lasekan, famed as the first cartoonist in Nigeria and the West African Pilot newspaper for which he worked, cartoon was established as a vital force within the political struggle to liberate Nigeria from British colonization. According to Lent (2000), in some cartoons, the message is so subtle that readers debate among themselves who is being attacked. The process of unveiling serious ideas through cartoon may involve the use of satire, humour, contrast, surprise and even nonsense. Some readers may simply end at the entertainment level thus loosing the pragmatics of the text.

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