Comic Chronicles – Past Tents

MAD and MAD images © EC Publications

You may not immediately recognize the name John Caldwell of Ballston Lake. But if you’ve ever read MAD Magazine, National Lampoon, the Harvard Business Review, or a host of other magazines, or if you’ve ever sent a Recycled Paper greeting card or perused a collection of one panel cartoons in a bookstore, you’ve seen his work. He was an extraordinarily prolific cartoonist.

Former MAD editor John Ficarra remembers cartoonist John Caldwell.

It always bugged me that John’s humility and self-deprecating demeanor prevented him from recognizing just how funny and talented he was, from appreciating how admired and beloved he was by everyone at MAD. Which is why I’m writing this long-overdue remembrance.

© the Estate of John Caldwell



In 2006, the Onion began printing political cartoons by an artist known as Stan Kelly. The satirical weekly had long parodied the other staples of a traditional American newspaper—screaming topical headlines, man-on-the-street interviews, op-eds by old cranks and young dumbbells, articles about local individuals of note—but it lacked a heavy-handed editorial cartoon. This struck the cartoonist Ward Sutton as odd. “It’s such a basic component of a typical newspaper,” he said.

The Daily Cartoonist was on hiatus in 2016,
so we missed this New Yorker profile of The Onion’s editorial cartoonist.

For the past ten years, the fictional Stan Kelly, who emerged from that thinking cap, has provided the Onion with elaborate puns, tearful Statues of Liberty, bags of money with dollar signs on them, pearly gates, handguns, Hitlers, burning flags, and plenty of outrage.

The New Yorker talked to Stan Kelly‘s editor Ward Sutton in 2016.

© The Onion/Ward Sutton


Meet Ferdinand Johnson.

Known as “Ferd,” Johnson was born in 1905 in Spring Creek where he lived until the age of 17 when, according to his obituary, he left town to attend the Art Institute of Chicago.

“There he met cartoonist and teacher Frank Willard, who had just begun drawing Moon Mullins,” that article states. “Willard soon took Mr. Johnson on as an assistant at the Chicago Tribune, a relationship that spanned 35 years. When Willard died in 1958, Mr. Johnson took over Moon Mullins.”

Local Spring Creek (PA) native Ferd Johnson hits big time in Chicago (IL).

© Tribune Content Agency


If C&H resembles any of the great strips of old, it is Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. In this strip from the first decades of the century, a child’s dream life flows, week after week, in a continuous story line from one Sunday to the next (there were few daily strips at the time). They were always interrupted in the last panel by a sudden vision of Nemo waking up with the sheets twisted around him or falling out of bed.

Two peas in different pods. In 1988 Ted Cox compared Calvin and Hobbes to Little Nemo.

Calvin and Nemo are both compulsive dreamers. Yet Calvin is hyperactive and adventurous, a child of television and Bugs Bunny (who’s sometimes mentioned); his life is ruled by daydreams. Nemo is timid and often overawed; his nighttime dreams often become nightmares. Calvin exists as unbridled id, with Hobbes as well-balanced ego. Nemo is guilt-ridden and self-questioning, egged on by the egotistical Flip.

© Bill Watterson




What was the connection between Berryman and Roosevelt? Like many editorial cartoonists Berryman’s job was to cast the events of the day in a humorous light. His cartoon subject matter regularly included political figures and settings. His distinguished career gave him a following and the opportunity to influence the public.

The Smithsonian looks at Clifford Berryman‘s relationship to Teddy Roosevelt.

This pen and ink drawing showing the Smithsonian Castle building surrounded and overcome with boxes marked “TR,” was prepared by Clifford Kennedy Berryman, the renowned Kentucky-born cartoonist for the newspapers The Washington Post and later, by 1907, The Washington Star. The illustration—now part of the museum’s collection—illuminates both the cartoonist’s position in the newspaper world and the U.S. capital, while also pointing to the history of Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition to Africa.



Among the most significant occasions in the lives of gay men and lesbians is the one in which they realize that their sexual orientation situates them as “other.” One aspect of this process, known as coming out, is the self-acknowledgement ofbeing gay or lesbian, while another aspect consists of revealing this identity to family members and friends.
In Spring of 1993, such a “coming out” process was played out in North American newspapers through Canadian artist Lynn Johnston’s syndicated comic strip, For Better or For Worse.

In 1995 Sue A. Lafky and Bonnie Brennen examined the famed For Better or For Worse storyline.

With its coming out storyline, For Better or for Worse became only the second nationally syndicated comic strip in North America to include a gay character in an ongoing plot. The first comic to represent gay life was Doonesbury, which featured a gay character named Andy Lippincott who populated the strip from 1977 until his death, from AIDS, in 1990. The tone and overall orientation of the two comic strips, however, differs a great deal. While Doonesbury is known for its pointed political critiques of contemporary American society, For Better or For Worse falls into the genre of comic strips that depict suburban family life in a humorous and gentle way.

© Lynn Johnston


Virtual Tour Premiere! Into the Swamp: The Social and Political Satire of Walt Kelly’s Pogo

FREE and open to all. Registration required.

Sep 2, 2021 07:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join exhibit curators Jenny Robb and Lucy Shelton Caswell on a virtual guided tour of the exhibit, Into the Swamp: The Social and Political Satire of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, on display at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum until October 31, 2021. Caswell and Robb explore Kelly’s career, his influences and his legacy, as well as his take on the many political issues of the world in which he lived: from the Red Scare, to the Cold War, to the environment, and presidential elections. Along the way, viewers will see a broad selection of Kelly’s artwork and will hear from special guests Jake Tapper, Lynn Johnston, Ben Sargent, Jeff Smith, Garry Trudeau, Jan Eliot, and Bill Watterson on their favorite aspects of Pogo, as well as how the strip influenced them. The premiere will be followed by a Q+A with the curators.


3 thoughts on “Comic Chronicles – Past Tents

  1. The MAD image all the way at the top was pulled, since it was scheduled to run after 9/11/2001, and depicts was appears to be Aflred E. Neuman running triumphantly over dead people in lower Manhattan. They replaced it at the last minute with a cover showing Alfred with an American Flag where his missing tooth would be. But it’s become kind of legendary because of that.

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