Thursday, September 21, 2006


E&P 1939: T.E. Powers Obituary

T. E. Powers, 69, Retired Hearst Cartoonist, Dies
Favorite of Presidents, His Political Cartoons Were Nationally Known

Thomas E. Powers, 69, political and satirical cartoonist for the Hearst newspapers for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1937, died Aug. 14 at his home in Long Beach, Long Island, N. Y., after a long illness. His wife, Mrs. Louise H. Powers, two brothers and a sister survive.

Mr. Powers' political cartoons had a wide following and two elflike characters, "Joy" and "Gloom," with which he enlivened his drawings-always signed "T. E. Powers"-became one of the trademarks of his work during a career which made him one of the country's best known and most successful cartoonists.

Favorite of Presidents

A favorite cartoonist of the late President Theodore Roosevelt, his work attracted the attention of other Presidents, and the late Calvin Coolidge was so amused by one caricature of himself that he asked the cartoonist for the original. That letter, on White House stationery, was one of Mr. Powers' most cherished mementos.

Mr. Powers first attracted the attention of Theodore Roosevelt when he pictured the President threatening tall, silk-hatted figures labeled "The Trusts" with the then famous "big stick." His satirical thrusts at "grafting politicians" or others whose right to public office he challenged, however, usually were tempered with broad humor.

The veteran penman's cartoon series, syndicated to Hearst papers in many states, included "Mrs. Trubble," "Never Again," "The Down-and-Out Club," "Sam the Drummer," "Married Life From the Inside" and "Charlie and George."

The veteran cartoonist retired two years ago because of illness, though up until last September he turned out an occasional drawing at home. Since early this year he had been confined to bed or a wheel chair. On Saturday he took a turn for the worse. His butler found him dead early Monday.

Using a relatively simple line drawing technique, which looked easy to duplicate but was not, Mr. Powers had a gift for caricature. His pungent comment in pen and ink drawings on the fads and foibles of the day enlivened the editorial pages of Hearst newspapers from coast-to-coast. Possessor of a keen wit and a sage philosophy, he had the ability to transfer these qualities into a biting picture editorial with a few sure, quick strokes of the pen.

Mr. Powers was born in Milwaukee on July 4, 1870. He moved to Kansas City, where he was educated in public schools and got his start working for a lithographer at $2 a week. In 1906, after his cartoons had attracted nation-wide notice, he gave an Editor & Publisher interviewer the following account of his youth:

"I was born in Milwaukee . . . but before I was old enough to appreciate the product on which the 'fame' of that fair city rests, my 'cruel' parents dragged me away to Kansas City. I had to stay in the latter place until I could earn enough money to make a 'get away.'

"I began to draw pictures at a very early age. One of my first efforts was a portrait of my teacher sketched on the schoolroom blackboard. I was too modest to sign the picture but the teacher discovered its author and I received my reward.

"When I was about 17 years of age I went to work for a lithographer who estimated that I was well worth $2 a week. I also received a goodly amount of advice on the subject of saving money. But, in spite of all he said, I squandered my money, with carelessness, recklessness, and negligence.

"My employer said that I would never be able to draw. I was offended and resigned. My first newspaper work was in Chicago on Victor Lawson's Daily News. I brought in some sketches and submitted them to Lawson, who accepted them and offered me a permanent position."

Mr. Powers later worked for the old Chicago Herald and in 1894 was offered a job in New York with the Evening World, after the late Arthur Brisbane had seen and liked his work. When Mr. Brisbane entered the Hearst service in 1896, Mr. Powers transferred with him to the old New York Evening Journal.

The characters "Joy" and "Gloom" which he used so often, cavorted in the corners of his cartoon. If optimism was in order, "Joy" chased "Gloom," and vice versa. "Gloom" was a mournful imp with a black beard, and "Joy" wore an eternal grin.

Mr. Powers also drew "John Q. Taxpayer," stripped down to a barrel.

For many years Mr. Powers had owned a farm near Norwalk, Conn., but since his illness became serious, he had not visited the place. He once wrote: "My favorite recreation is farming."

Note from Allan: not mentioned in this obit is Powers' distinction as the first American to draw a newspaper color comic strip.


Maybe I'm missing something-- Powers doesn't look African American at all in the accompanying photo. What is the basis for the claim?
Doh! i misread your comment to say: '...first African American to draw a newspaper...'

A non-American was the first to draw a color newspaper strip? who/when/where was that?

I have read that there may be color comic strips/cartoons/graphics/something or other predating his in the Petit Journal (of France). I have never seen them, doubt their existence, and question whether that publication is a newspaper in the way we normally define it. But best that I make the qualification in case I otherwise put my foot in it.

Would love to hear from anyone who can tell us about the Petit Journal.

Hello, Allan---The PETITE JOURNAL was a weekly cartoons-and-politics magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They had color covers and sometimes a few color inside pages. This was a popular variety of publication back then. In America we had equivilents in PUCK, LIFE, and JUDGE. Most countries had these type publications, some of the more famous being England's PUNCH, Russia's KROKODIL, and Germany's SIMPLICISSIMUS and KLADDERADATSCH. ---Cole Johnson.
Hi Cole -
Petit Journal was a daily paper with an illustrated weekly supplement. From what I've seen of the supplements (just the covers) they were more in the vein of news magazines -- I'm thinking the Harper's or Leslies type, not Time or Newsweek. Maybe the insides were all cartoons though.

The real question, though, is whether these supplements were printed on newspaper on high-speed presses. That is an important part of the definition of color newspaper comics. I've been told that the Petit Journal supplements may qualify, but don't know how far I can trust my source, who just mentioned it in passing. I really need to order a few of the supplements on eBay, but its quite a pain to order them, typically from France, and get the right sort of dates, which would be 1892 or before for my purposes.

Just another item on my long To Do list.


I just came across a newspaper clipping from The New York Evening Journal May 14th 1903, "What Shall They Do With The Man?"by TE Powers and On the back is a document on the wounded and starving jews in streets. Do you have any information regarding this cartoon.
Information like what, Anonymous? Seems pretty cut and dried.

If you do not know Powers's work for an 1890s little magazine called M'lle New York, you simply must see it. This magazine was a New York based publication edited by Vance Thompson and James Huneker -- with illustration by Powers and Thomas Fleming. It modelled itself after the French illustrated weeklies. It is extremely rare. I own quite a few issues (it ran from 1895-96 and then again briefly from 1898-99). I have scanned an issue on my website on American Decadence
Very cool Kirsten! What a depressing comic strip he produced for that magazine -- was that typical?
i have an old comic of t e powers from the ny evening journal. I is from 10/11/19??. It is entitled hats off to the cardinals , it shows a yanky baeball player with a money bag tipping his hat to a st louis player who is wlking away carrying a money bag abd a black penant. gloom is standing at home platesulking and joy is celebrating . can you tell me the year, the yank player . any value thanx bob edelman
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