Thursday, August 27, 2009


News of Yore 1950: Cartoonist Does Double Duty

Milt Morris Delineates Human Frailties 2 Ways
By Jane McMaster (E&P, 9/16/50)

One of the hitherto unreported casualties in the Korean War was an editorial cartoon by AP Newsfeatures' John "Milt" Morris. It showed two sketches of a South Korean soldier: one titled "The Yaks Are Coming"; the other titled "The Ya(n)ks Are Coming." The title: "Typographical Correction."

Mr. Morris was prideful about the cartoon (and still is) except for one thing: the Yak planes evaporated so fast the cartoon lost its punch between the' time it was penned and the date it hit papers.

But the added problems of a shooting war in an already tough field rest lightly on the 43-year-old cartoonist. His brown hair is un-flecked with gray ("I'll take gray, just so long as I get hair," he says). He has an unsophisticated air of geniality. And he draws both six-a-week editorial cartoons and a daily panel and Sunday page, "Neighborly Neighbors" for APN. His recipe for not getting stomach ulcers: "I don't take myself too seriously."

About 200 papers use his cartoons.

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"Cartoonist by accident" is not cliche but literal fact as far as Mr. Morris is concerned. A native Californian, he was on the receiving end of a heavy truck at age 13 in San Bernardino. Abed for a year recuperating, he finally got bored with reading and took up drawing, by correspondence course.

After high school, he landed a job with the Los Angeles Herald-Express—in the morgue. But in two years he had dug his way out into the art department. He attended art classes at night.
Coming to New York at 23 and during the depression, he jobhunted without luck; finally landed on the New York Journal American after five months when he was down to $45—$4 less than bus fare home. In 1935 he joined APN.

He soon took over "Neighborly Neighbors", which Oscar Hitt had started. And beginning in 1940, he used to substitute for Editorial Cartoonist Henry "Hank" Barrow when the latter was sick or on vacation. One memorable pinch-hit cartoon was at the time of Henry Ford's death. It showed a desert with two tire tracks going across it.

In July, 1949, when prize-winning Mr. Barrow left to become editorial cartoonist of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, Mr. Morris took over the job. (At first as a substitute, then with full title and over a score of other candidates.)

Being a fast worker had given Mr. Morris some priming for the new job. He had found when engaged only on "Neighborly Neighbors" that he was sometimes enough ahead (the panel has continuity) to do extra jobs. In 1943 he trekked to Washington to draw Roosevelt, in his office, and other Washington bigwigs. In 1945, he went to Washington to sketch Truman and cabinet. Six-shot series were offered each time.

Harold Ickes, he said, was his biggest surprise. While that official had a reputation for blasting people, his office was the "most quiet, library-like office I had ever been in. Ickes never said a word. Just occasionally looked over his glasses at me. It was most startling. Everybody else talked."

Mr. Morris likes the variety of dividing his time between a human interest panel and editorial cartoons. And there are likenesses between the two: his Common People of the editorial cartoons is a caricature of his father ("He gets a kick out of it when I don't make him too milktoasty looking"); and Andy Jarnsen of the panel is a caricature of brother-in-law Andy Johnson, who is "nuts about fishing."

Mr. Morris sums up: "An editorial cartoon is mainly pointing up human frailties on a big scale. The other is pointing up the human frailties of 'the little citizens.' "


You know, Allan, I was just thinking yesterday about how the old cartoonists were often portrayed in publicity pieces as kindly old uncles or gee whiz golly gosh boys next door who just liked sketchin' funny pictures fer the kids. This article flows right through that same lens. I imagine it helped make cartoonists in general seem less threatening, or at least set them apart from the shamelessly alcoholic, womanizing breed we often meet in the first generation of comic-strip artists.
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