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Editorial cartoonist Draper Hill, dead at 73

Draper Hill, the long-time Detroit News cartoonist, and eminent cartoon historian, passed away earlier this week. In addition to his decades of work as a staff cartoonist, he published biographies of Thomas Nast and James Gillray, and was long considered the “institutional memory” of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC).

A past president of the AAEC, Mr. Hill wrote its magazine’s history column and won Germany’s Thomas Nast Prize in 1990, said member V. Cullum Rogers. “He was a repository of history. Among working cartoonists in the U.S., he probably knew more about the field than any other.”

In 1983, he earned a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on a biography of political cartoonist Thomas Nast.

Hill was on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon in the 1950s. He began his newspaper career as a cartoonist at the Patriot Ledger and Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts and worked at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn before joining The Detroit News in 1976.

Community Comments

#1 Paul Fell
May/15/2009
@ 3:08 pm

Draper was one of a kind.

#2 T. Brian Kelly
May/15/2009
@ 5:38 pm

I met Draper at an AAEC convention once and he was absolutely charming and a true gentleman. He also knew more about the history of editorial cartooning than anyone I had ever met. His passing is a true loss to our profession. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and many, many friends.

#3 Dan Collins
May/15/2009
@ 9:02 pm

I met and got to know Draper at the OSU Festivals over the years. I’m sad to hear of his passing.

#4 Ted Rall
May/16/2009
@ 2:49 pm

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of Draper to editorial cartooning and the AAEC. He was a great artist, historian, friend and conscience. Those who knew him miss him; those who didn’t missed out.

#5 Wiley Miller
May/16/2009
@ 5:31 pm

“…those who didnâ??t missed out.”

Big time. Unique and truly a gentleman. He was a font of knowledge that simply cannot be replaced.

#6 Paul Fell
May/16/2009
@ 7:26 pm

I grew up in Worcester, Mass., loving the cartoons of the late, great Al Banx, one of the founders of the AAEC. Draper Hill became his successor at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette while I was in college, so we never met at that time. Later, through the AAEC we became friends, with our years in Worcester in common.

Once, a few years back, I was lamenting to Draper that, being a young dumbass, I never asked Al Banx for one of his originals while he was at the T&G. Draper informed me that he had many of Al’s originals and that he’d be happy to send me one.

The original he sent me was from around 1954 and is approx. 12″ x 18″. It is one of his “Midweek Specials” that ran every Wednesday in a half-page spread chronicling goings on in town from cockeyed cartoonist’s perspective. People would write and phone Al with accounts of funny and embarrassing things that happened to them or their neighbors. It was a point of honor in Worcester to be featured in a Banx cartoon. Draper personalized it for me and even skillfully forged Al’s distinctive signature with a dedication. It hangs in a prominent place in my studio and reminds me of Al Banx’s great influence on my becoming a cartoonist and my 30 year friendship with Draper Hill. Both the original cartoon and our friendship are treasures.

#7 Wiley Miller
May/17/2009
@ 8:09 am

That story of Al Banx’s “Midweek Specials” is a perfect illustration on how newspapers lost their way and became an instrument of their own demise, as well as illustrating the importance of a staff cartoonist for a local paper. The operative word here being, “local”.
The corporations and their bean-counters took over all of media and drummed out all semblance of a personality to local papers by homogenizing everything. Every newspaper in every town today looks virtually the same. What they achieved in this is driving the reader away by not having a personality to the paper that reflected the community and invited the readers to be involved, such as the “Midweek Specials”. It’s all so mind-numbingly stupid how these geniuses destroyed their own very lucrative industry.

#8 Terry LaBan
May/18/2009
@ 7:49 am

Draper Hill was probably the first real cartoonist I ever met. I was just out of college at the University of Michigan, and had started freelancing political cartoons on local topics for the late, lamented Ann Arbor News and my parents, who knew someone who knew someone, gave me his number. I called him and he invited me to lunch downtown. I met him at his office at the Detroit News, which was festooned with original cartoon art and we went to a burger joint around the corner. I brought samples of my work and he was very kind and encouraging; he also offered me valuable criticism and advice. The lunches became a regular thing and I continued meeting with him until I moved a few years later to Chicago. Draper was probably the closest thing I had to a cartoon mentor. Though I didn’t ultimately pursue a career as a political cartoonist(thank god), his support was very important and appreciated at that time, when I was just starting out, and I still have several of his originals. It’s been awhile since we’ve been in touch, but I’ll never forget Draper and I’ll always be grateful for his generosity and attention.

#9 Phil Hands
May/18/2009
@ 9:23 am

This is truly sad news. Draper was my cartoon mentor, and the guy who encouraged me to get into this crazy profession. Like Terry, I met Draper through a friend of a friend and he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of the world of editorial cartoonists.

He invited me to my first cartooning convention at OSU, shortly after we met, and sneaked me into exclusive luncheons, with the big wigs like Wil Eisner and Art Spiegleman.

Draper and I both lived in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. My first gig drawing cartoons was for the Grosse Pointe News, the small weekly publication whose primary audience was widows over 70. Draper faithfully followed my work and was never afraid of offering blistering criticism early on, and eventually honest praise for my cartoons.

We often had breakfast together at his house to discuss editorial cartoons and current events. It was nice to have someone look at your work, and tell you to your face that a cartoon was utter shit, but then turn around and point out the strong points of the next one.

His house was a shrine to the art of cartooning, and he had several hundreds, if not thousands, of original cartoons hanging on every usable inch of wall space in his home. (You can tell a guy has a lot of cartoons when he’s forced to hang a Winsor McCay original in his back stairwell).

I’m honored to say that even a couple of my cartoons made it up one his walls over the years.

I have since moved out to Wisconsin, and we haven’t spoken much since, a fact that I now regret.

Thanks for everything Draper and my deepest condolences to your family.

#10 Bob Englehart
May/18/2009
@ 11:57 am

How sad and too soon. Draper was so helpful and encouraging to me when I was first starting out and throughout my career. He was a great guy and a great cartoonist.

#11 Craig Janson
May/20/2009
@ 3:23 pm

I’ve always had a love of political cartoons and never missed one of Draper’s in The Detroit News. He had a amazing way of bring out his subjects personality.

The first time I met him was at a talk he gave at the Scarab Club in Detroit. And it was there that I had the opportunity to purchase one of his cartoons. It’s a work of art I’ll always cherish.

Detroit and the Political Cartoon world have lost a good man.

#12 Tim Benson
June/8/2009
@ 8:48 am

Very sad to hear this just as my book on Leslie Illingworth was published. Illingworth was a great cartoonist and friend of Draper’s and I’m very sad he did not live to see it. Can anyone put me in touch with Sarah his widow so I can offer my condolences?

Dr Tim Benson

#13 Stanley D. Williams, PhD
June/8/2009
@ 7:23 pm

I was editor and project coordinator on a book Draper collaborated on with Sonny Eliot (see web link) that was published in 2007. The publication includes a CD interview with Draper that I edited down from a video I shot of him….for the audio. A great artist and always striving to do better and educate us all about history.

#14 Stanley D. Williams, PhD
June/8/2009
@ 7:26 pm

Tim Benson. I just talked with Sarah and can put you in touch with her, although her voice is thin after years of difficultly with her throat. Email me sdw@stanwilliams.com

#15 Gottfried (Geoff) Brieger
December/28/2009
@ 10:55 am

Draper was an exceptionally fine human being, my friend, and college classmate. In his memory, I would like to share a brief verse I wrote to him seven years ago.

“Ah, Draper rides again to pierce
The pompous, pious, and the fierce.
Pen poised, he begs us, look again
At windmills clanking in the plain”

#16 Jon Hill
September/11/2010
@ 9:31 am

I am Draper’s son. You all are class acts. I truly appreciate the sentiments about my Dad. Best wishes and luck in keeping the integrity of your profession.

Jon Hill

#17 michael grniet
September/20/2010
@ 9:19 am

I just learned through the internet of Drapers death and I am very sorry because he spent time in my bookshop in Worcester all the years he woked at the Telegram. He and I exchaned cartoons for books and historical Thomas Nast mateial. I also have orginal manuscript pages for his Gillray book.When I was hospitalized with ulcers he a get well card.

#18 Susan Patton Robinson
September/29/2012
@ 2:34 pm

I found 4 signed prints and 2 originals of Drapers cartoons that he gave me while in Memphis at the Commercial Appeal. I am featured in 1 of them! He gave me a hard time in his wonderful way about being on the Memphis Board of Review! So so sorry that he is gone. I just found out.

#19 Brian Stegner
March/6/2013
@ 9:49 am

One fine day in the early 1980’s, I walked into the Detroit News, unannounced, portfolio in hand and asked the lobby receptionist if there were any job openings for a cartoonist. I was greener than an Illinois cornfield. After a short wait, I was escorted into the cavernous office of the executive editor. A tall balding gentleman motioned for me to come toward his desk in the far corner. I confidently approached, he extended his hand and introduced himself. “Now, exactly, who are you?” I explained that I was a young cartoonist from Florida seeking a job at a big city newspaper. He looked over my portfolio for only a minute or two. “Do you know Draper Hill?” I replied that I only knew of his name and his work. “Well, he’s the smartest man here…and don’t forget that.” That was the beginning of an incredible experience and opportunity for me as a young aspiring cartoonist intern – to work side-by-side with the “Dean of American Cartoonists”. Draper Hill took me under his wing for a short time and schooled me on editorial cartooning “from the ground up”. I shall be forever indebted to the great man and cartoonist, Draper Hill, for his brotherhood, kindness and taking the time to kickstart the career of a young cartoonist.

#20 Barbara Griffiths
July/31/2013
@ 1:47 pm

In 1964ish a mutual friend introduced my husband and me to the Hills whilst we were all living in Massachusetts. Adults and children became close friends. Sadly, we lost touch as we all moved around the country.

Draper generously gave us 3 original cartoons. Eons have passed and I would like to sell/find new homes for these delightful pictures.

Any advice?

#21 gene basset
August/5/2013
@ 5:46 pm

So sad, only 73. Draper was a student as well as a participant in the game we call political cartooning and excelled in both. Sorry I didn’t find out about his death until now. Sarah, Ann and I send our condolences.

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