This issue marks the fifth anniversary of the “What If …” cartoon, which was first drawn by John V. Lawing, Jr., for the November 20, 1964, issue. Here are some reflections of our art-production director and cartoonist-in-residence on the art of religious cartooning.

When Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses in Latin on the Wittenberg Church door, only a few of the local populace could read or understand the issues he set forth. Had the reformer posted one of the cartoons later produced by sympathetic artists, he might have attained instant notoriety.

For instance, he might have used the cartoon by the German portrait painter Hans Holbein, showing on one side King David and others kneeling in true repentance, while on the opposite side the pope is casually dispensing indulgences—for a price.

Cartoons figured heavily in communicating issues of the Reformation to the partially literate public. Luther himself did not escape the cartoonist’s pen; he is pictured by one as a sevenheaded monster.

Modern satirical cartooning was born out of the same matrix as the Reformation. The development of new printing processes made possible the relatively easy production of line art. Thus an artist could comment on current issues and get his message across to the public while the topic was still hot. But as public interest in theology cooled, a split then developed, with so-called religious cartoonists producing “inspirational” cartoons, while secular cartoonists dealt with religious subjects only to ridicule them.

A few of the more modern comic-strip cartoonists have dealt with religious personalities or concepts. Ergo, “Pogo.” Walt Kelly introduced into his strip clergy types who ...

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