Ohio Cartoonists: A Bicentennial Celebration was an exhibition during the summer and early fall of 2003 which was shown at two venues, the Philip Sills Exhibit Hall, William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library and the Reading Room Gallery of the Cartoon Research Library.

Ohio has remarkable place in the history of American cartooning. The number of well-known cartoonists who were born, educated and/or worked in the state is amazing. It was fitting during this bicentennial year to honor our state’s extraordinary legacy with this exhibition.

Geography is certainly a factor in the development of professional cartoonists in the region. The Northwest Territory lured settlers west. Lake Erie and Ohio’s rivers, and later, roads, canals and railways, made travel and the distribution of newspapers and magazines from the East Coast and Europe possible. The area’s first newspaper was published in 1793, ten years before statehood. The Scripps and Cox families began their newspaper dynasties here. Ohio’s combination of industry and agriculture plus its urban centers gave the state extraordinary political power, as evidenced by its nickname as “Mother of Presidents.” 

With the growth of magazines with national circulation in the late nineteenth century, Ohio cartoonists such as Frederick Burr Opper, W. A. Rogers, and James A. Wales migrated to New York City to work on them, and the Ohio sensibilities they reflected in their work were widely popular. Richard Felton Outcault, creator of what is known as the first newspaper comic strip Hogan’s Alley, was born in Lancaster. Charles Nelan of the Cleveland Press was the first editorial cartoonist to be syndicated. Hooper commented in his 1933 History of Ohio Journalism, “Columbus is notable among cities of its size for its excellent newspaper cartoonists,” and he names Billy Ireland, Harry J. Westerman, Harry Keys, Ray O. Evans, and Dudley T. Fisher. Unfortunately Edwina Dumm, the first American woman to work as a fulltime editorial cartoonist when she drew for the Columbus Monitor in 1915-1916, is omitted from his list.

Dozens of future cartoonists took C. N. Landon’s Cleveland-based correspondence course, and he hired several to create cartoon features for Newspaper Enterprise Association. Ohioans whose work was syndicated to millions of readers in the first half of the twentieth century included Billy DeBeck, Milton Caniff, H. T. Webster, and J. R. Williams. James Thurber and Gardner Rea enjoyed successful careers as magazine cartoonists. Superman was created by two young men from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. At least six Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonists have Ohio ties: Tony Auth, Jim Borgman, Walt Handlesman, Ed Kuekes, Charles Macauley, and Mike Peters. Robert Crumb, Cathy Guisewite, and Bill Watterson furthered the legacy of Ohio cartoonists, and the next generation continues it, as evidenced by the work of Tony Cochran, Jeff Smith, Ted Rall, P. Craig Russell and numerous others.

The 2003 exhibition at Thompson Library included work by Tony Auth, Tom Bachtell, Jennifer Berman, Jim Berry, Jim Borgman, Milton Caniff, Tony Cochran, Bill Crawford, Billy DeBeck, Dick Dugan, Edwina Dumm, Cathy Guisewite, Walt Handlesman, Billy Ireland, Ed Kuekes, Jim Larrick, Charles Macauley, Winsor McCay, Leland McClelland, Willard Mullin, Charles Nelan, Frederick Burr Opper, Ray Osrin, Richard Felton Outcault, Paul Palnik, Mike Peters, P. Craig Russell, Noel Sickles, Jeff Stahler, L. D. Warren, Ned White, Larry Wright.

The cartoonists featured in the Cartoon Research Library exhibit were Tom Bachtell, Jim Baker, Tom Batiuk, Jennifer Berman, Jim Berry, Milton Caniff, Tony Cochran, Eugene Craig, James Donahey, Edwina Dumm, Bob Englehart, Ray Evans, Sr., Dudley T. Fisher, Jr., Franklin Folger, Doc Goodwin, Cathy Guisewite, Walt Handlesman, Pete Hoffman, Jud Hurd, Billy Ireland, Jim Larrick, Winsor McCay, Frederick Burr Opper, Richard Felton Outcault, Mike Peters, Art Poinier, Jeff Stahler, Jeff Smith, Kirk Walters, L.D. Warren, Harry Westerman, Ned White, J.R. Williams, and Dick Wright.