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  • Sports Cartoons in Context:TAD Dorgan and Multi-Genre Cartooning in Early Twentieth-Century Newspapers
  • Amy McCrory (bio)

From the 1890s until his death in 1929, Thomas Aloysius "TAD" Dorgan was one of the most popular cartoonists featured in urban American newspapers. Though he is remembered primarily as a sports cartoonist and writer, his work included editorial cartoons, topical cartoons, comic strips, spot illustrations, and portraits and caricatures of politicians, athletes, writers, celebrities, and ordinary people. His work is typical of a type of cartooning that was once abundant in America's daily papers, executed by remarkably versatile and prolific artists who worked in multiple genres and engaged a wide spectrum of subjects, and whose work appeared throughout the paper. The demands of the daily newspaper deadline spurred the inventiveness and productivity of Dorgan and other artists of the period. He is one of many whose works, if they were brought together from the disparate pages on which they appeared, would number in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of examples. The volume of the work is not its only notable trait, however. When a cartoonist's work spans three and a half decades, particularly when it appears regularly throughout the different sections of a daily newspaper, it becomes more than a group of collected works. It forms a chronicle, however loosely constructed, of its society's daily life and manners.

Visual Journalism and Sports Cartoons

Dorgan's career took place during a period that saw the rise and sustained popularity of visual journalism in America. Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and others who entered newspaper publishing in the late 1800s had learned from the success of the pictorial press in the middle of that century, when publishing houses offered [End Page 45]

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Figure 1.

Illustration accompanying an article about the trial of millionaire Harry K. Thaw, who had murdered famed architect Stanford White, reportedly in a dispute over Thaw's wife, Evelyn Nesbitt Thaw. From the Los Angeles Examiner, August 30, 1906. Artist unknown.

multiple titles devoted to special interests such as news, crime, women's fashions, war, business, entertainment, sporting events, fiction, jokes, cartoons, and stories and amusements for children.1 Pulitzer, Hearst, and their contemporaries divided their daily newspapers into sections roughly following the categories offered in the diverse weeklies and dailies of the nineteenth century, and hired artists to fill them with illustrations, photographs, and cartoons to heighten their appeal. Though the artists were to some degree harnessed to the editorial line of the publishers, they were also allowed considerable freedom in experimenting with style. Often the illustrations accompanying the highly emotional accounts of crime and injustice exhibited almost surrealist qualities (Figure 1). Similarly, those staff illustrators who were also cartoonists had the task of producing cartoons that would appeal to broad public tastes, but they were allowed to try out [End Page 46] new styles of caricature, storytelling, and graphic design, making this a period of high creativity in cartooning. Although the success of this popular art was, in Robert Harvey's words, "a triumph whose tawdry connection tainted the future of the comics medium even while asserting its riveting appeal," the yellow press publishers' commercial instincts enabled innovation in the comics by supporting the development of a broad array of artists who created several strong and distinct styles.2 Some, like Frederick Opper, had already established substantial reputations in weekly satirical magazines. Others, like Jimmy Swinnerton and Dorgan, began working as newspaper staff artists while in their teens, developing their talent through the routine of the daily deadline.

During the same period, newspaper coverage of sporting events was emerging as a popular diversion for American readers. Popular art and writing devoted to sports were not new: horse racing, cricket, and prize fighting were featured in American newspapers as early as the 1830s, and sports papers such as American Turf Register (1829–1844) and Spirit of the Times (1831–1902) were popular.3 Lithograph firms sold prints of sportsmen and sporting events throughout the nineteenth century.4 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and The Day's Doings both included illustrations and stories about sports. In a special issue...


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