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Adam Zyglis

November 15, 2012

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Election years are always rich with possibilities for editorial cartoonists: They've got a new lineup of faces, mannerisms and quirks to parody in the least flattering way possible.

Newt Gingrich often came off looking like a scheming hobbit, Mitt Romney like a sickly Ward Cleaver. Barack Obama's lips and ears seemed to grow in contrast to past years, as cartoonists became more comfortable with the landmine-rich challenge of portraying a black president without crossing certain lines. They crossed them anyway.

But there was plenty of other fodder, some of it tragic, from Newtown to Superstorm Sandy to Penn State. The best of the nation's cartoonists were able to segue from satire and well-deserved mockery to heartfelt pain and shared grief as the circumstances demanded.

One basic truth about political cartoons remained intact: Cartoons that lampooned the idiocy of people or institutions on the other side of the ideological fence were always funny, and cartoons lampooning things dear to the observer's heart were not. Some of the most outraged readers we encountered were people offended by political cartoons. That speaks to the strength and limitations of this unique medium: Boiling down oftentimes-complicated subjects to a single panel with a single caption requires a deft touch -- or an unnecessarily brutal haymaker, depending on one's point of view.

Newspaper political cartoons have been around since before this country's founding. At left are some of the best from 2012.