“It’s a way of telling stories about the law and opening up people’s minds,” said Louis-Jacques, who became interested in the genre when she saw a rare books display featuring some of Hémard’s work at a conference. “The illustrations are humorous, and sometimes they’re scandalous, and often they’re thought-provoking.”
She loved the idea that the illustrations might start a conversation or pique a student’s interest in an area of law, and she was intrigued by their ability to express both the happenstance of the human condition and the complexity of law.
Take, for instance, the scene with the skewered eye. Assuming the tumbling man is the one to expire, who bears responsibility for his death? The woman, for clumsily pushing him into the cane? An unknown, or unseen, banana-eater, for dropping the peel? The man with the cane, for brandishing his walking aid so recklessly?
“Look at this guy’s nose,” Louis-Jacques said, pointing to the cane-bearer’s flushed face and reddened nose. “Is he drunk? Is that why he’s unaware? And look at the woman—who's responsible if she dies?”
And what if the scene is meant to be understood in reverse, with the cane, rather than the peel, setting everything in motion? What if the cane has propelled the injured man backward, into the woman and toward the banana peel? And what if the man with the cane is actually drunk? What if he only appears to be drunk? What if they’re all drunk?
“These illustrations do more than show the code,” Louis-Jacques said. “They take it a bit further; they show an understanding of how complicated the law can be.”
Which is what makes them such a welcome addition to the library’s collection, said D’Angelo Law Library Director Sheri Lewis.
“Understanding the story behind a legal question is essential for interpreting and applying the law,” Lewis said. “While law books are filled with such stories, they very rarely include illustrations that depict the legal situations discussed. These rare books offer a unique and colorful way for a reader to connect with the law. We are delighted to have them in our collection.”
So far, the D’Angelo’s collection of cartoon-illustrated law books is small—there are only about a dozen—because finding them isn’t always easy.
“They aren’t always described in a way we can easily call up,” Louis-Jacques said. “They aren’t usually listed as ‘Cartoon-illustrated law codes.’ There is the subheading ‘Caricatures and cartoons’, but that is rarely added to law books in the library catalog unless expressly requested.”
Law books, she added, aren’t generally illustrated so it’s easy to overlook the illustrations unless they are well integrated into the text, as the Hémard books are.