[Over the years Robert “R.C” Harvey was an occasional contributor to the quarterly issues of the AAEC Notebook, sometimes sending along reprints of his “Rants & Raves” columns about editorial cartooning, sometimes writing you-are-there convention recaps for us. A couple weeks before his untimely death, Bob sent me a review of all the books on 19th century cartoonist Homer Davenport. I’m running the article here in its entirety. Thanks for everything, Bob! — JP]
REDISCOVERING HOMER DAVENPORT, AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN CARTOONIST
By R.C. Harvey
HOMER DAVENPORT (1867-1912), one of the great names in American editorial cartooning, is at least the equal of Thomas Nast, whose working life Davenport’s overlapped for nearly a decade, roughly 1895-1902. But almost no Davenport cartoons (except his famous portrait of William R. Hearst) have been reprinted. Until 2006. But I didn’t know about it until seven years later.
In the spring of 2013 at a cartoonists book-signing event in Portland, Oregon, I learned of a book of Davenport cartoons, and I met the author/publisher of it. A bearded Gus Frederick wandered by my table and was about to buy one of my books when I noticed he had a book about Homer Davenport under his arm. Since I knew very little has been written about Davenport, I was stunned to see Gus’s book. I quickly negotiated with him, trading one of my books for his Davenport opus. He told me at the time that he was working on another Davenport book. And I just got that one in the mail a week or so ago. I now own both of the only two books of Davenport cartoons.
A biography exists. Published in 1973, Homer Davenport of Silverton: Life of a Great Cartoonist by Leland Hudt and Alfred Powers is an eccentric opus. It consists of two parts: the first (“Book 1″) is a narrative text; then “Book 2,” the second half, is a “picture biography.” The pictures, while numerous (300 of them), include almost none of Davenport’s cartoons. Instead, we get mostly self-portraits at various ages. And I suspect the authors are citizens of Silverton, Davenport’s home town, and have little or no previous experience at writing biography.
Born in 1867, Davenport grew up drawing all the time near Silverton, Oregon, and eventually, after numerous false starts, he wound up cartooning in San Francisco for the Chronicle, until Hearst finally hired Davenport away for his Examiner by tripling his Chronicle salary.
Davenport was part of Hearst’s team that took over the New York Journal in 1895 and helped launch the “yellow journalism” in competition with Pulitzer’s New York World. Davenport became famous during the presidential contest of 1896, depicting candidate William McKinley’s manager, wealthy industrialist Marcus Hanna, wearing “plutocratic plaid” with a tiny dollar sign in each square, accurately pinpointing the real issues and interests of the campaign.
On April 13, 1912, Davenport was sent to illustrate the sinking of the Titanic. He contracted pneumonia while waiting to interview the survivors and died on May 2 at the young age of 45. Maybe that’s why there is so little information about Davenport.
The first book of Davenport cartoons, Cartoons by Davenport, was published during his lifetime in 1897. Frederick re-published it with extensive annotations giving the current event background for each cartoon, with photos of Davenport’s victims. Frederick has re-titled this volume: The Annotated Cartoons by Homer C. Davenport (184 8×10-inch pages, b/w; 2006 Press.LiberalUniversity.org paperback, $20).
The second Davenport collection (originally published in 1900), also annotated (and published) by Frederick, is now available— The Annotated The Dollar Or the Man? The Issue of Today (114 7×9-inch landscape pages; 2022 Liberal University Press paperback, $20). As in the first Davenport book, every cartoon gets two pages: a full-page reproduction of the work with a facing page annotation by Frederick.
“The oligarchs of the day,” says Frederick, “are easily recognized and of course the familiar bulbous form of ‘Dollar Man Mark Hanna’ is in both books, pictured as the controlling entity of the McKinley administration.”
The second collection introduces a new “character,” the Trust Brute, “a personification of the corporate trusts that took root during the Gilded Age.” In Davenport’s day, the term trust was used to refer to groupings of business interests with market power enough to become monopolies or near-monopolies.
The Trust Brute, representing the raw power of the trusts, is portrayed by Davenport as “bearded, hulking muscular monster, with a primitive grass kilt, often carrying a whip or club. … Like the Tammany Tiger and Uncle Sam,” adds Frederick, “the Brute joins Davenport’s toolbox of hyperbolic personifications, drawn to order.” [The cartoon above shows Hanna and the Trust Brute shaking down a street urchin.]
Copies of the original 1900 book, The Dollar or the Man, are extremely rare, Frederick tells us. “Since McKinley and his administration were the main targets of the work, his death [by assassination] and public sentiment no doubt cut into book sales,” which effectively reduced the quantity of the books that were preserved.
In reprinting that volume and its predecessor with extensive annotation, Frederick has performed a monumental service for all students and fans of editorial cartooning in America, explaining who the victims of Davenport’s pen are and what their significance was at the time.
The second volume is smaller than Frederick’s previous effort, 114 pages vs. 184. And the orientation of the book is horizontal rather than vertical. While this works with many of Davenport’s cartoons, some have a greater vertical dimension, and these are displayed herein by twisting the book sideways. Throughout, reproduction is superb.
The original selection of cartoons for the 1900 publication was by Horace L. Traubel, who chose cartoons that “focused on the monopolistic corporate trusts and the increasing disparity between the few rich and the multitudes of the poor.”
“Traubel was closely associated with the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S. and published a monthly literary magazine called The Conservator from 1890 until the time of his death in 1919. Although a poet of note in his own right, Traubel is best remembered as the literary executor and biographer of his friend, poet Walt Whitman.”
The second Davenport volume arrived in my mailbox just the day before a flyer arrived there announcing the annual Homer Davenport International Editorial Cartoon Contest, also shepherded by Frederick.
Entries in previous contests are posted at the website, including one from me—Entry 2 in the 2017 contest. No, I didn’t win anything. But with editorial cartooning, it’s how you play the game that counts; winning is impossible.
The deadline for submitting cartoons to the Homer Davenport International Editorial Cartoon Contest is 5 p.m. Friday, July 29; grand prize is $750. For rules and entry forms, consult HomerDavenport.com/tooncon/