On heels of the announcement of the return of The Davenport International Cartoon Contest, R.C. Harvey takes a look at a recent book on the seminal political cartoonist. Here's his review:
DAVENPORT is one of the great names in American editorial cartooning, but almost nothing has been written about him—nothing, at least, approaching the scholarship that Frederick displays in this volume. 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 William Randolph Hearst finally hired Davenport 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. The cartoonist’s work was fierce enough on politicians that it inspired a failed anti-cartoon bill in the New York State Assembly. In 1904, one of his cartoons of Uncle Sam with his hand on the shoulder of Teddy Roosevelt is said by many to have enabled TR’s election. Davenport also bred American-born Arabian horses and wrote a book about it.
On April 13, 1912, Davenport was sent to illustrate the sinking of the Titanic. He contracted pneumonia waiting to interview the survivors and died on May 2.
Two volumes of his cartoons were published during his lifetime— Cartoons by Davenport in 1897 and The Dollar or the Man in 1900. He wrote an autobiography, focusing on his youth in beloved Silverton, The Country Boy (1910). The only biography I know of is Home Davenport of Silverton: Life of a Great Cartoonist by Leland Huot and Alfred Powers (West Shore Press, 1973), which is a fairly relaxed and casual anecdotal account of his life, mostly chronological but not entirely. Almost half of its 400-plus pages are pictures—photos of Silverton and elsewhere and Davenport’s cartoons. The quality of reproduction is, however, poor. In Frederick’s book, the pictures are superbly reproduced, the finest lines meticulously captured.
In reprinting the 1897 volume of cartoons with extensive annotation, Frederick has performed a monumental service for all students of editorial cartooning in America. The original book printed only cartoons with no explanation. Herein, each cartoon, all from 1895-1898, gets a full page, and facing it is a page of text, explaining who the victims of Davenport’s pen are and what their significance is at the time. Frederick told me he is at work annotating the 1900 collection.
Only a few of the cartoons consist of metaphorical messages in the modern manner; most are caricatures that exaggerate and distort their victim’s features, making them all seem highly questionable persons. I’m posting only a few hereabouts, including Davenport’s 1996 portrait of his boss, H.R. himself—a friendly, even complimentary, picture that may well be the most familiar of Davenport’s works: it shows up often in histories of journalism.
Among this selection is a cartoon featuring Uncle Sam. The top-hatted, striped-trousered, goateed old gent had not been long on the scene as the nation’s emblem, and Davenport deployed the figure frequently, if we are to judge from the content of this book.
The Annotated Cartoons By Homer C. Davenport
Researched and compiled by Gus Frederick
200 8×10.5-inch pages, b/w
2013 Liberal University Press paperback, $20