Life and Dedication of Art Young
Art Young was one of the most picturesque and highly regarded cartoonists of his generation, one of the early masters of the medium. Often forgotten these days, he was, in his day, the subject of a certain amount of sensational news coverage. And he can be credited with a couple of historic firsts, too. But mostly, he was an artist of principle at a time, the turn of the century, when cartoonists weren't yet particularly noted for doing much more than making funny faces.
Young was born on
Passionate about drawing, he saw little
value in a formal education and quit school a year before graduating. He clerked in his father's store for awhile,
then worked as a photographer's helper, but when he sold a
cartoon to Judge magazine
in 1883, his career preference was confirmed.
That fall, he went to
While attending classes, Young freelanced his humorous drawings to various local publications and was regularly published in the Nimble Nickle, a weekly wholesale grocery house paper, beginning in 1884, and, shortly thereafter, in American Field, a sportsman's magazine. After a year in the city, he started contributing to the Evening Mail, whose editor occasionally sent him out on reportorial assignments. In those days, artists who drew for newspapers often served in the way that photographers do these days: they were assigned to make sketches of the subjects of newsstories (such as murder scenes, trials, disaster scenes, and the like).
In June 1886, Young had his first brush
with the kinds of social issues that would later claim his unswerving
loyalty. He was sent to cover
the trial of the so-called "anarchists" who were accused
of setting off a bomb at a labor rally at
Young left Stone's paper in the winter
of 1888 to take a better paying position with the Chicago Tribune but was let go within a few
months. (The suspicion remains
that the Tribune had hired
him away from Stone in order to put him out of circulation.)
But Young had had enough newspaper cartooning for the nonce. Having saved some money, he went to
Six months later, he was stricken by pleurisy and almost died but for an operation financed by his father. He returned to Monroe to convalesce, and by the spring of 1891 was well enough to join two friends in producing a traveling show that featured his caricatures of well-known people, which he drew on stage to musical accompaniment.
In early 1892, Young joined the staff of the
McDougal had been doing a daily cartoon for the New York World since the summer of 1884, but Young was the first in the midwest to do the same.
McDougal, incidentally, was not the first to do a front page editorial cartoon for a daily newspaper, but he was the first to do one regularly, nearly every day. And the way he found himself on the front page of the World makes a fascinating tale, worthy of a digression here, I wont.
By the spring of 1884, McDougal was successfully freelancing cartoons to Puck and other comic weeklies, and one day when he was on the way to a ball game, he stopped at the Puck office to see if a cartoon he'd left there had been purchased. It hadn't, so McDougal found himself on the street with a rolled-up cartoon under his arm. He didn't want to take the cartoon with him to the ball game, so on an impulse, he turned into the World building as he walked by it, thinking, momentarily, that the newspaper might buy the cartoon.
"I invaded the dingy dark counting room, found the twenty-two-caliber elevator in the rear–and then my courage oozed away," McDougal wrote years later. "The idea of offering a cartoon to a daily paper seemed to utterly absurd that I thrust the artwork into the hands of the elevator boy and stammered, Give that to the editor and tell him he can have it if he wants it. Then," McDougal continued, "I went to the ball game to forget the cares, the hunger and the thirst of a poor country artist who tried to sell a picture once a month to a funny paper."
The World published the cartoon the next day–five columns wide on the front page. And it sold so many papers that Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, hired McDougal immediately. All at once, McDougal said, "I was the World's cartoonist, rolling in luxury, eating three, sometimes four meals a day, smoking fifteen-cent cigars, and riding to Albany on an annual pass, with a daily production of from two to ten handmade pictures, each meticulously signed 'McD' in letters not larger than those on a modern taximeter dial. And all this was actually the result of pure ignorance and sheer luck combined. ... With a [private office] 'studio' all my own and a salary of fifty dollars per week, an enormous sum in the newspaper world at the time, I remained there for sixteen years."
McDougal also claims to have produced all the artwork for the World's first color Sunday supplement in September 1893. This production was not a comic supplement, though; that would be launched a year later and would be the occasion of Richard F. Outcault's first work for the World. But to tell that story here would constitute a digression within a digression, and I'm sure that would try the patience of even such passionate perusers as thou.
Back to Art Young. In September of 1892, the year he went to work for the Inter Ocean (in case you've forgotten during that long apostrophe to McDougal), Young participated in another inaugural event when he drew pictures for the Inter Ocean's Sunday supplement, the nation's first newspaper Sunday supplement to be printed in color. The "first color Sunday supplement" but, like the World's first color Sunday supplement, not devoted entirely to comics.
During this period, Young worked with cartoonist Thomas Nast, who was briefly associated with the Inter Ocean after leaving Harper's Weekly. Late in 1892, Young published his first book of drawings and text, Hell Up to Date, in which the cartoonist indulged his fascination with both Dante and Dore by depicting various contemporary malefactors in torments appropriate to their sins. The man who invented barbed wire, for instance (responsible for the gashed and bleeding cattle Young had seen in his youth) is condemned to sit naked on one of his fences for eternity.
On New Year's Day 1895, Young married
Elizabeth North, a hometown girl, and soon after, the
In the fall of 1895, Young left
Young's attitude towards marriage is perhaps the most unusual aspect of his life. It is matched only by his unblinking frankness in recounting his failure as a husband.
Almost from the day of his wedding, Young had felt constricted by marital life: while not apparently in any way a libertine, he felt keenly the loss of the freedom he had previously enjoyed to pursue his art without regard to the daily "routines and binding extractions" (as he said) of married life, and his growing depression affected his work. After a couple of years of marriage, he separated from his wife in order to be able to work and earn enough to support her.
They reconciled in
1900, and the first of their two sons was born that fall.
In 1905, they purchased a farm in the country near
Young may have been gay, although no one that I'm aware
of has ever advanced this notion in explanation for the cartoonist's
washout in marriage. If he was gay, it is entirely likely that Young
was not, himself, fully aware of it. He may not even have known homosexuality
exists. Bound by the ingrained conventions of a Victorian midwestern
upbringing, perhaps the only way he could understand himself and his
obvious uneasiness in a normal marital relationship was to think in
terms of marriage and its spousal obligations, finding himself derelict
in the latter and believing the cause of the dereliction to be his
consuming interest in his art. Whatever the case, Young's unabashed
candor in discussing his failure is highly unusual for the day (for
any day, I suppose), but it seems, nonetheless, of a piece with his
political attitudes and his professional dedication as they were to
emerge. In his principles, he was as uncompromising as he was unflinching
about his having flunked married life. His wife soon moved with their
two sons to
About the same time as his marriage
was dissolving, Young's political views were taking their final shape. In 1902, Young had returned to
In 1906, he graduated from Cooper Union where he had been taking courses in debate and public speaking. And in 1910, he realized that he belonged with the Socialists "in their fight to destroy capitalism." Late in the year, he joined Piet Vlag and others in launching the Masses, a radical magazine to which he regularly contributed "pictorial shafts" against the symbols of the corrupt system--chiefly, financiers and politicians.
Because of the magazine's precarious
financing, Young, like most of the contributors, worked to advance
the cause without pay. In 1912,
he accepted a remunerative assignment with another radical publication,
Metropolitan Magazine, to produce in words and pictures a monthly
review of governmental action in
His mature drawing style was distinguished by its uncluttered simplicity at a time when most of his colleagues embellished their work with extensive crosshatching. Working in bold outline, Young created visual impact with solid black shapes contrasted against the open white areas of his pictures; sometimes, he shaded boldly with grease crayon.
He crusaded against sweatshops, firetrap tenements, child labor, racial segregation, and discrimination against women as well as the traditional industrial and political foes of Socialism. One of his most reprinted cartoons depicts two slum urchins staring up at the night sky, one declaring: "Chee, Annie–look at the stars, thick as bedbugs."
In another labeled "Capitalism," Young shows a bloated glutton at a dinner table strewn with the leftovers of a feast for one; drinking from a large urn, the man is tipping his chair backwards, and it teeters on the brink of an abyss. In an oft-quoted cartoon, a weary laborer returning home from a day's work, says, "`I gorry, I'm tired!" To which his haggard wife responds: "There you go! You're tired! Here I be a-standing over a hot stove all day, an' you workin' in a nice cool sewer!"
In 1913, Young and Max Eastman, editor
of the Masses, were indicted
for criminal libel by the Associated Press.
The magazine contended that the AP had suppressed news in its
reporting of a coal miner's strike in
During World War I, Young lost his assignment with Metropolitan Magazine because it was pro-war
and he wasn't. In 1918, the
cartoonist found himself in court again.
He and several Masses
contributors were charged under the Espionage Act with "conspiracy
to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service of the
Called to the witness stand and asked why he drew anti-war cartoons, Young responded with simple eloquence, "For the public good." Later, wearied by the technicalities of the proceedings and the warmth of the April weather, Young fell asleep at the defendants' table, a circumstance taken as a display of his utter indifference. The trial ended in a hung jury; ditto, a second trial in September.
Following the suppression of the Masses in 1917, Young and several colleagues started the Liberator, to which he contributed until it was merged with the Communist Workers' Monthly in 1924. In 1919, Young helped found another magazine, Good Morning, a weekly with a radical sense of humor. Within five months of its debut, Young had become editor and publisher–and the chief contributor of both words and pictures–in which capacities he continued until the jovial little magazine expired in October 1921, by then a semi-monthly.
Throughout the remainder of the decade, Young contributed to several publications, including Life and the New Yorker, and his cartoons were fixtures in the pages of the New Masses (born in 1926); and, beginning in 1922, his were the first cartoons published in Nation magazine.
By the 1930s, plagued by the infirmities
of old age, he produced much less work, and he was occasionally supported
financially by his friends. In
November 1934, they sponsored a testimonial dinner "not in any
sense as charity but as a definite tribute to the enduring value of
your work," which raised enough money to keep him comfortably
the rest of his life. A portly and rumpled figure with wispy white
hair and a shiney red "light comedy
nose" (his expression), Young was a familiar sight, strolling
the streets of
At his death December 29, 1943, of a heart attack in the Irving Hotel on Gramercy Park in Manhattan, the New York Times noted editorially that "he was a lovable soul in spite of his sometimes heterodox opinions" in the advocacy of which "he had sacrificed the chance to accumulate a fair share of this world's goods." That he was a kindly, thoughtful man, selfless and sincere, with simple but firmly held convictions is borne out by every page of his two autobiographies. Observing that "in his crusading, he was in deadly earnest," the New York Times called him "a good American" whose calm voice "will be missed."
Indeed. Even more so now in the new century, when the air is blue with political invective, half-truths, and unsubstantiated innuendo. But perhaps it was always thus, calm prevailing only at a drawingboard or keyboard.