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Stars of Political Cartooning – Joseph Keppler

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at a cartoonist who is most likely considered to have been Thomas Nast’s successor as the most notable cartoonist in America.

Enjoy!

Joseph Keppler was born in Austria in 1838. He moved to the United States in 1867, where he tried his hand at acting in St. Louis. That was not going so well, so he started up a humor magazine in St. Louis in the style of England’s notable Punch magazine. It did go so well at first, so he decided to re-start the magazine in New York in 1876.

At first, there were German and English versions of the magazine, which he named Puck (after the mischievous character from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream), and in fact, for the first few years the paper was in business, the German version totally subsidized the English one.

But eventually, the paper caught on and became the first popular humor magazine in the United States.

The format was that each cover would have a political cartoon, each back cover would have a social satire cartoon and the middle would have a two-page spread of a political cartoon. The rest of the issue would be made up of articles and editorials about the current day.

Keppler was an interesting fellow – he was a Democrat in a Republican world, and he had numerous odd beliefs. He was anti-women’s suffrage, for crissakes!

Other weird things would come up, like he would criticize Grant for drinking, but then he would criticize Hayes for banning alcohol from the White House.

Essentially, he changed his arguments to suit whatever position he happened to take – wow, I wonder why he didn’t pursue politics himself!

Here is a sample cover of Puck…

(the subject of this cartoon shows up in a great one coming up)

Here is a cartoon showing Grant’s popularity waning…

A lot of that had to do with the charges of fraud levied at Grant during his second term…

However much controversy surrounded Grant, he was still pretty damn popular, so Keppler was scared spitless over the notion that Grant might pursue an unheard of THIRD term!

So he did a LOT of cartoons on this topic – here are three I liked the best…

The third term being the Golden Calf…

The third term express rolling over Columbia (representation of America)…

The Republican party leaders shutting down the third-party supporters at the Republican Convention. Note the fellow with the fancy beard, that’s Roscoe Conkling – Keppler liked Conkling at this point, but as you can tell by the cover at the beginning of this piece, within a few years, Keppler felt Conkling had lost all his credibility…

And this is why….

Conkling was the driving force behind the 1877 “compromise” that gave Hayes the Presidency in exchange for the removal of Northern troops in Southern cities…

Note how Conkling is Satan and Hayes is courting the South…

Great cartoon.

So yeah, after this point, Conkling was no longer a fellow Keppler respected.

Around this same time, another one of Keppler’s pet peeves was the Pension Fund for Civil War veterans. He felt it was FILLED with corruption, so he did a series of cartoons on it. Here are a couple…

Here’s a cute cartoon from the 1880 Election period, depicting a last drive for the polls before election time….

Here’s a really good one which was titled “Inspecting the Democratic Curiosity Shop,” where the modern Democrats are confronted with the cruelties of their past.

Here are two pieces where Keppler depicts politics as both a dog show and then, a beauty contest.

Funny stuff.

Keppler shows the Republicans attempts at reform here, presenting their ideas to Columbia…

Here’s a cute one showing President Harrison dealing with the legacy of his grand-father, William Henry Harrison….

Check out this neat archive of Puck cartoons for more!

Keppler passed away in 1884, and his son took over the magazine. It continued to thrive well into the 20th Century, but then Hearst bought it and it went under within two years.

14 Comments

You know, the art in these old editorial cartoons is pretty incredible, but often the print is so small and hard to read, and the issues and personalities are so far removed, that it’s hard to get the point. I much prefer the 20th century cartoonists to the 18th and 19th century ones, as I can usually understand and appreciate the cartoons more. I know that probably marks me as an ignorant barbarian, but there’s my two cents.

His characters are so expressive and animated, while still maintaining a resemblance to their models. Awesome stuff.

Your views are common, Craig.

There are a whole pile of modern cartoonist critics who think labeling is the absolute pits, as far as style goes, and that you should be able to make your point withOUT having to label each figure X or Y.

The South got back.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 20, 2008 at 8:34 pm

It continued to thrive well into the 20th Century, but then Hearst bought it and it went under within two years.

What happened?

He got final say on what was funny?

Or he just banned all jokes about him, removing half the planned content from each issue?

I dunno, Ben.

It could be one of those deals where it was just very personality-driven, and when you take the personality off the book, it suffers.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 20, 2008 at 9:03 pm

It could be one of those deals where it was just very personality-driven, and when you take the personality off the book, it suffers.

Yeah, I’m guessing it’d be like Murdoch buying The Onion.

Segments like ‘Beyond The Facts’, would lose that ironic edge.

Craig, most political humor and satire is topical when you get down to it.

Ive been getting early Robert Klein and George Carlin dvd’s from netflix,…and just don’t find them funny (sure a bit here and there, but on the whole, no…and these are both concidered legendary commedians.)

Likewise, take political cartoons from the 80’s with..say, “Where’s the beef” as the punchline…wouldn’t have much humor today.

Jeremy Cresswell

October 22, 2008 at 3:34 am

Hearst did have final say on which cartoons were published in Puck. There was alson an unrelated Puck in London in the 1860s. Another Keppler illustrated periodical was a Yiddish Puck. Cartoonists like Keppler and Nast illustrate (pun intended) the dominance of German migrants in 19th Century American cartooning. Keppler, like Nast, showed a lot of hostility towards the Irish in his cartoons which could stem from the economic rivalry between the two largest migrant groups in 19th C America.

[…] Exhibits/Events Viz at Frankfurt Go See Matt And Jessica Flashback to Kids Draw! 2008 History On Joseph Keppler More On Beautiful People From Comics Industry <a […]

[…] india ink and vivid water colors and follows the style of 19th century cartoonists Thomas Nast and Joseph Keppler.  “It’s a little contrarian on my part,” he said. “There are a lot of […]

[…] india ink and vivid water colors and follows the style of 19th century cartoonists Thomas Nast and Joseph Keppler.  “It’s a little contrarian on my part,” he said. “There are a lot of […]

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