Cartoon Chronicles – Huddled Masses

Little Orphan Annie and the Melting Pot


Harold Gray has been derided as a conservative, and that he was, but he had a complicated relationship with ethnic figures. He both painted them with limiting stereotypes at the same time as elevating them to heroic status that few other comic strip creators of the era ever did. Whatever Gray’s political beliefs, he clearly was a advocate of tolerance and acceptance of different races, ethnicities, and faiths.

Punjab, The Asp, Wun Wey, Dona Dolores, Hairy Wolf and other characters of various ethnic backgrounds are examined by Mark Carlson-Ghost in his latest look at historical comic strips.


Jewish Mamas

I love that Jewish women abound in the artwork of children’s book author and cartoonist Syd Hoff.  I was a fan of his classic “I Can Read” books in my Cold War-era childhood. But when I read the quirky stories to my sons I began to see a whole different message about gender that had escaped me in my own youth.

Hoff’s zaftig mama is everywhere in his made-in-Miami children’s books and the New Yorker cartoons he produced from 1929 to 1975—as are other archetypal female characters. There are young and innocent girls, tenement-dwelling street toughs, eligible maidens, sexy molls and buxom Bronx Jewish mothers. Hoff was portraying Jewish women realistically and unapologetically for a general readership.

Dina Weinstein looks at Syd Hoff’s women for Lilith.


Nasty Nast

Thomas Nast hated my ancestors. That much is clear from the famed political cartoonist’s consistent depiction of the Irish as knuckle-dragging ogres. Nast drew demeaning pictures of Black people and Chinese immigrants, too. But he seemed to reserve a special hatred for Hibernians. Either way, I long held an impression that Nast was a racist, nativist Know-Nothing.

But nothing is that simple.

Patrick L. Kennedy checks out the complicated Thomas Nast.


American Babel

You can spend hours dissecting McCarthy’s depictions of individual ethnic groups here, and there are some predictable bigotries. They are mainly distinguished by their common visual stereotypes of the day. Italians with triangular hats and handlebar mustaches. Irish with chin beards and simian face. Chinese figures with yellow long shirts and thin braided pony tails. Eastern Europeans/Jews with full beards, hats and high boots. The Irish characters often seem to be ready for a fight. One African-American sports primitive dress. And for some reason the Chinese-American figures are on the receiving end of deliberate violence. But generally, this “Tower of Babel” is a tableaux of chaos, slapstick mishaps all in service of a mechanically sophisticated scientific wonder.

Popeye Smith takes a magnifying glass to Dan McCarthy’s famous illustration.


A New Coat for Whitewashed History


Texas History Movies was a cartoon strip published in the Dallas Morning News and dedicated to the history of Texas. It debuted on October 5, 1926, and concluded on June 9, 1928. After its conclusion, the cartoon strip was distributed to Texas school children in paperback form for the next thirty years.

… In 1974 the Houston Chronicle urged the TSHA to reprint the strip for distribution to school children and agreed to finance the printing of 50,000 copies. However, the United States had changed since the original strip concluded in 1928. The civil rights movement raised awareness to racial injustice and inequality, and some of those racial overtones were reflected in the strip. Mexicans were “greasers” and “tamale eaters.” Native Americans were “redskins” or, like the Lipans, “vagabonds and bums.” The contribution of Texas women was minimalized with brief mentions of Susanna Dickinson and Angelina Eberly. Slaves were depicted as unwittingly happy in their subjugated status. Statements such as “The law provided for the education of Negros even while they were slaves” and “Slaves could change masters at will” completely whitewashed the brutality and indignity of slavery.

The Texas State Historical Association studies a Texas student history book.