"Arkansas’s Cartoon Campaign Advertisements, 1942-1970." By Janine A. Parry and Dusty Higgins.

In postwar Arkansas, hundreds of original, bitingly satirical political messages appeared as cartoon ads in the state’s newspapers during election season. Peaking in the 1960s, it has been decades since Arkansans have seen cartoon-style advertisements but they used to be as familiar as today’s television spots.
These unique examples of paid campaign communication reveal much about the state’s politics at mid-century. Frequently, they struck a populist note, alerting voters to the risk of being manipulated, “sold down the river,” or otherwise exploited by powerful interests. Arkansas also had a reputation for local political potentates, fluid factions, and election irregularities. Accordingly, the cartoons teemed with old-school wire-pullers like Conway County’s Marlin Hawkins. Nearly always, the cartoons exhorted newspaper subscribers around the state to vote for (or against) candidate or issue X as the only way to avoid being bamboozled by the “Old Guard,” “Wall Street Boys,” labor bosses, or “cut-throat employers.”
Although the ads were not signed, the available record suggests most can be attributed to the two best-known Arkansas editorial cartoonists of the twentieth century, Jon Kennedy and George Fisher. Kennedy drew for the Arkansas Democrat for almost fifty years before retiring in 1988. Fisher started a commercial art service in 1954, but later became the regular editorial cartoonist for the Gazette. From the 1940s through the 1960s, both artists moonlighted for parties and candidates using the same single-panel cartoon medium they used at the newspapers for which they worked, a practice anathema to later journalists’ professional ethics. It was sticky enough then that Kennedy said he tried to mask his work by changing his lettering technique. Still, “during all my years at the Democrat,” he said, “I wore two hats: one as editorial cartoonist, and one as a commercial artist. I always tried never to let my commercial or political work influence my editorial cartoons. . . . Actually I never got any complaints from the Democrat, or anybody else.” Fisher’s happy account of his time at the Gazette suggests this was also the case for him.
Arkansas’s experience with cartoon campaign ads probably was unusually rich. Although there is evidence that this form of campaign communication was used in national and state campaigns elsewhere—including sequential art treatments on behalf of presidential candidates Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman—it seems likely it remained common practice decades longer in Arkansas than elsewhere. Low population density and fragmented media markets hampered the rise of television as the dominant form of political communication, prolonging the use of more traditional campaign tactics. In the following slides, we examine 23 representative samples of this lost practice.


A longer version of this article appears in the Autumn 2018 volume of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Used with permission.

“The ‘Farmer’ with a Crown,” Northwest Arkansas Times, July 16, 1942. Artist unknown.

Among the earliest examples of Arkansas’s cartoon advertisements, this Karl Greenhaw for Congress message ran in the Northwest Arkansas Times and the Boone County Headlight in the summer of 1942, after Clyde Ellis, the 3rd district’s U.S. Representative, decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Greenhaw was a prominent local attorney and Supreme Court justice who had served as Gov. Homer Adkins’s Washington County campaign chairman. With this ad, his campaign tried to convince voters that Bill Fulbright, the young professor recently dismissed as president of the University of Arkansas at Adkins’s direction, was an entitled heir to a family fortune who “spent most of his 37 years going to school, touring foreign countries, and generally having a good time as is possible only for persons possessing great wealth.” Still, Fulbright prevailed, going on to defeat Adkins two years later for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat. It was a post the “farmer with a crown” held until his defeat by Dale Bumpers in 1974.

“Puppet Show,” Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1954. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Here, the campaign of the “personable, good-looking” mayor of Little Rock—Republican Pratt Remmel—called attention to Remmel’s claim that Democratic powerbrokers offered him $10,000 if he would stay out of the governor’s race. Remmel declared that the general election “pitted the people of the state against the ‘political machine’ which serves the greed of political bosses and the back room crowd.” Remmel also said his opponent—newcomer Orval Faubus —admitted to being the machine’s chosen candidate. The puppet masters include former governors Homer Adkins (1941-1945) and Sid McMath (1949-1953), as well as Jim Bland (a Northeast Arkansas newspaper publisher and executive secretary to Gov. Carl Bailey, (1937-1941) and Jim Crain (a Mississippi County planter and Adkins appointee to the Arkansas Highway Commission). All were well-known political insiders, if unlikely to act in concert in the manner suggested here.

“Forward (?) With Faubus?” Arkansas Gazette, July 29, 1956. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Although charges of corruption were a mainstay of the few GOP political bids made in mid-century Arkansas, lesser-known Democrats sometimes took their party’s elites to task too. In this half-page ad, Jim Snoddy—a former state senator and aide to Governor Cherry—tried to get some traction against incumbent Orval Faubus. Snoddy’s messaging focused on school integration (accusing Faubus of “wobbling” on the issue), the role of “utility magnate” Witt Stephens, and the influence of political patronage on the state’s independent agencies. In one speech, for example, he alleged there was a “scheme to scuttle citizen-control of our Highway Department” through crony appointments. Nonetheless, Faubus carried 67 of the state’s seventy-five counties that year.

“Front Man,” Arkansas Gazette, July 24, 1960. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

The complicated  story behind this race for central Arkansas’s U.S. House seat boiled down to a contest between the incumbent, Dale Alford, and the candidate preferred by the Democratic establishment. Alford had angered party brass in 1958 by conducting a successful write-in campaign against six-term incumbent Brooks Hays on the basis of Hays’s racial moderation. Robert Williams was to unseat Alford for his disloyalty. The effort failed, in part because of Alford’s support from  Orval Faubus, who now commanded an organization formidable enough to challenge Arkansas’s most storied potentate: Marlin Hawkins. Joining Hawkins under Williams’ jacket are the NAACP’s Daisy Bates and other “bleeding hearts.” Trailing behind is a diminutive Johnny Wells, who had used his paper, the Arkansas Recorder, to oppose Alford’s first candidacy and had helped recruit Williams. This ad is a sublime representation of V.O. Key’s observation that Arkansas politics was a spectacle of “personal organization and maneuver.”

“Plenty for Propaganda,” Arkansas Gazette, November 6, 1960. Artist unknown.

Arkansas’s cartoon ads were not exclusive to candidate campaigns. Both proponents and opponents of statewide ballot measures also contracted with artists in the hope of persuading potential voters. In this ad, the Arkansas AFL-CIO appealed to the state’s economic populism by pitting an “underpaid worker” against a deep-pocketed pantheon of powerful interests working to defeat the Minimum Wage and Overtime Initiated Act, including the Farm Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and—likely in reaction to the position taken against the measure by its editorial board the previous week—the Arkansas Gazette. Labor leaders and anti-poverty advocates had pressed the General Assembly to adopt a minimum wage law for decades. The proposal in question here proposed a one-dollar per hour minimum wage, starting at eighty cents in the first year followed by a ten cent hike each of the next two years; it excluded farm and domestic labor, plus small businesses. The measure garnered only 39 percent of the vote.

“Stop Tax Nightmares!” Arkansas Gazette, October 25, 1964. Likely artist: George Fisher.

Arkansas voters faced seven statewide ballot measures in 1964, lending their approval to only two: abolition of the poll tax and the establishment of a statewide system of community colleges. Among the hotly contested measures that failed was a constitutional amendment spearheaded by the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce to legalize casino gambling in Garland County. Although illicit, the gambling industry had thrived there for decades, suffering occasional raids only to spring back to a wink-and-a-nod existence. After Orval Faubus was needled into unusually vigorous action in the spring of 1964, leaving the casinos shuttered, business leaders in Hot Springs sought to convince the rest of the state that legalization would serve the interests of all. Proponents argued that gambling would provide a stable revenue stream for a region and state in great need, and also that the practice was simply impossible to stamp out. 

“Hello . . . Goodbye!” Arkansas Gazette, October 18, 1964. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Opponents of the 1964 gambling measure included the statewide Churches United Against Gambling. In this cartoon ad, their messaging shies away from casino gambling’s moral implications, instead casting the measure as repellent to the national business interests—like the manufacturing plants and “industry” represented here—long at the heart of Arkansas’s development strategy. The measure was defeated by a margin of 60 to 40 percent, and casinos were stamped out just a few years later when Republican Winthrop Rockefeller made good on a long standing campaign pledge, confiscating more than five hundred slot machines from the “private clubs” previously protected by other political actors.

“Rockefeller’s Finding Out,” Arkansas Gazette, October 18, 1964. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Winthrop Rockefeller’s challenge to the Democrats’ monopoly on power was one they took seriously out of the gate. Among the many tactics five-term incumbent governor Orval Faubus and his Democratic allies employed in 1964 was to paint the New York native (and longtime chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission) as a political dilettante using his name and family fortune to capture the governor’s mansion. In a mid-October campaign swing, for example, Faubus said Rockefeller was running for governor “simply because he has the whim, the time and the money.” In the first of this representative trio, the novice Republican calls on his billionaire brothers for aid against “Democratic solidarity,” “public resentment of millions spent on campaign,” “inexperience,” and other encumbrances.

“The King and I,” Arkansas Gazette, October 25, 1966. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

After Faubus stepped aside and segregationist Jim Johnson captured the 1966 Democratic nomination, Johnson again sounded the “elitism” alarm, accusing Rockefeller of trying to turn the governorship into “a plaything for [a] millionaire who wants to have another title.” A campaign committee facetiously registered as “the Committee for New York Politicians” contracted a cartoonist (probably Jon Kennedy) to lampoon “King Winnie” along these lines.

“Arkansas’ Two-Party System,” Arkansas Gazette, November 3, 1968. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

This cartoon sponsored by Democrat Marion Crank’s campaign in 1968 likewise attacked Rockefeller’s use of his personal fortune to subsidize party competition. Countering charges of machine politics on the Democratic side, Crank offered: “‘[W]e have at the present time a situation which is a machine in the classic sense. . . . It is a situation in which one man not only controls an entire party and finances that party, but he is that party. This machine is probably more tightly controlled and better financed than any in our entire nation.”

“Rockefeller Lets His Cattlemen Down . . .” Arkansas Gazette, October 28, 1964. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Another common tactic used by Arkansas’s majority party to counter Winthrop Rockefeller’s rise was to portray him as a “playboy interloper.” This characterization included jabs not only at his personal wealth (and grooming habits) but many thinly-veiled nods toward alcoholism. The Gazette report here was accurately excerpted by the cartoonist. But the reporter asserted in later paragraphs that “Rockefeller is still nursing a cold” and quoted the candidate as being “just pooped” from the campaign. Still, just a few columns over in the same edition, another story provided an account of several campaign stops by Faubus in which the governor took swipes at Rockefeller’s liquor cabinet. Saying Rockefeller once described himself as a “collector of ancient spirits,” Faubus then read aloud from a list including “cognac, Johnnie Walker, Old Smuggler and Haig and Haig” and concluded to the crowd’s amusement that they all sounded like “current consumable products.” 

“Formulas,” Arkansas Gazette, November 5, 1966. Likely artist: George Fisher.

In 1966, Orval Faubus announced he would not seek a seventh term. In the frenzy to find a new Democratic standard-bearer, early bets were on Frank Holt who believed he had the support of Faubus’s machinery. Others saw former congressman Brooks Hays as the candidate to beat. But neither captured a strong following, clearing a path for Jim Johnson. Johnson was hardly the anointed heir suggested in this ad. Instead, his “blistering attacks on Lyndon Johnson, the Supreme Court, and even Orval Faubus … struck a responsive chord among the confused white voters who faced an uncertain day.” Still, by tying Johnson to Faubus, the cartoonist calls to mind the cronyism of old as well as some of its notorious beneficiaries, including the highway commissioner (Baker), powerbrokers (Hawkins and Jones), and developers (Cooper and Basore) caricatured here. The stain of the Central High crisis is likewise invoked by the inclusion of Leon Catlett, who had represented the school board.

“I am the CHAMPION AGINNER!!” Arkansas Gazette, August 5, 1966. Likely artist. Jon Kennedy.

It was Frank Holt who advanced to the 1966 run-off with Jim Johnson out of the crowded field of Democrats vying for the post-Faubus party mantle. In this ad, Holt attempts to thread the needle between the liberals who had supported the third-place finisher, Brooks Hays, and the white Democrats who had supported segregationist candidates by painting his opponent as a stubborn caveman who fumed against even popular federal government initiatives. Holt hammered away at this theme for weeks. He labeled Johnson a “purveyor of prejudice” whose tactics would “destroy our human resources, our material well-being and the greatness of our state.” On the eve of the run-off, Holt declared that “The apostles of discord—the ‘aginners’—are rallying around [Johnson]. . . . They want to make our state a last-ditch battleground in a war against the 20th century.” Johnson won.

“The Jim Johnson Platform,” Arkansas Gazette, October 27, 1966. Likely artist: George Fisher.

Gubernatorial candidate Jim Johnson was a name-caller, a fact that exasperated members of the political class. The Arkansas Gazette described him this way: “Mr. Johnson has had a stormy public career built essentially on appeals to those who are radically discontent with one condition or another . . . . [H]is appeal continues to explore an exotic mélange of fears and prejudices, resentments, grievances, hatreds . . . . Most of all he has been violently and abusively against his opponents. Brooks Hays was a ‘quisling,’ Frank Holt, ‘a pleasant vegetable,’ now Winthrop Rockefeller is a ‘prissy sissy’ and a ‘Santa Gertrudia steer’.” With this cartoon, Rockefeller’s Democratic allies stoke the fire of low regard by portraying Johnson’s campaign as a rickety pile of nothing.

“I tell you, friends,” Arkansas Democrat, October 29, 1966. Likely artist: George Fisher.

A related tactic put into heavy rotation by Johnson in the final days of the campaign was the charge that Rockefeller was from out of state, and thus unqualified to govern it. Among Rockefeller’s retorts on this point was to ask if Johnson, as governor, intended to fire the wildly popular University of Arkansas football coach Frank Broyles, another non-native. This was the same year the Razorbacks went eight and two, tying for second place in the Southwest Conference, and just one year after they had earned a national championship

“Grandpappy’s Education,” Arkansas Gazette, July 11, 1966. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Initiated Act I of 1966 would have consolidated districts with fewer than four hundred students. Proponents pointed to low teacher qualifications, pay, curricular offerings, and graduation rates in Arkansas’s smallest districts. Twelve of the targeted districts did not provide a high school, for example. 

Opponents of Act 1—organized into the Arkansas Rural Education Association (AREA) and caricatured here as waving off a meal more nutritious than “the 3 R’s” porridge that had been served for decades—parried that local communities were better situated to attend to reorganization and that four hundred was an “arbitrary cutoff.” In the end, almost three in four ballots were cast against the measure, guaranteeing the issue would remain on the public agenda for decades.

“I’ve only had two years” Arkansas Gazette, October 23, 1968. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Wrestling with a Republican governor during the 1967 legislative session threw the state’s Democrats into at least as much disarray as had the absence of Orval Faubus from the ticket in 1966. Consequently, although several familiar names emerged in the 1968 Democratic primary, so did some new ones. One of the favorites was longtime state legislator and Faubus ally Marion Crank who – after some legendary political maneuvering – became the Democratic nominee. Jim Ranchino described the general election of 1968 as “particularly bitter. Crank blasted away at the Rockefeller image as that of a non-working, non-present, non-concerned governor.” Rockefeller and his allies punched back with reminders of Crank’s ties to Faubus. In a series of pro-Crank cartoons like this one, voters were invited to lay the blame for the  political tumult of the era on the incumbent governor’s ineptitude.

“That Wonderful Prison Reform” Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1968. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Of particular significance to Marion Crank’s attacks on Rockefeller in 1968 was the daylighting of Arkansas’s medieval prison system. An investigation had revealed a host of anachronistic conditions and practices covered by news outlets in ghastly detail. Inmates were forty to sixty pounds underweight. Implements for punishment included brass knuckles, rubber hoses, and the infamous Tucker Telephone which administered an electrical charge to inmates’ genitals. Thomas Murton, the criminology professor hired by Rockefeller to implement reforms, lasted just one, raucous year. Although Arkansas eventually modernized its system, it did so at the direction of the federal courts and under the scornful eye of the rest of the country, an embarrassment for which the Crank campaign wanted Rockefeller held responsible.

“Old Guard?” Arkansas Gazette, October 13, 1968. Likely artist: George Fisher.

 Appearing behind the curtain are many of the central characters—all associated with corruption—of mid-century. They include Clint Jones, the securities commissioner who had authorized scam insurance companies; Paul van Dalsem, the state legislator whose threat to keep politically active women “pregnant and barefoot” earned him infamy; Marlin Hawkins, Conway County’s master election manipulator; Bruce Bennett, the Arkansas attorney general who railed against Daisy Bates and the NAACP during the Central High crisis as perpetrators of a Communist plot; and Claude Carpenter, a Faubus aide who resigned to manage the rogue congressional bid of segregationist Dale Alford but not before benefiting from a shady stock deal. Clearly, “Democrats for Rockefeller” wished to portray a vote for Marion Crank—a legislative leader and Faubus ally—as a step backward.

“Trick or Treat,” Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1968. Likely artist: George Fisher.

The dubious Arkansas voter in “Trick or Treat” is reminded of many of the same characters from “Old Guard.” Joining the cast in this general election ad from 1968 – also sponsored by Democrats for Rockefeller – is Mutt Jones, another longtime legislator whose forceful orations and ability to win pork barrel public projects for his district were legend; and Charles Matthews, who served a single term in the Arkansas House but had just assumed leadership of the Democratic Party when this ad was published. Interestingly, a newspaper endorsement in 1966 had called Matthews “the new look in Arkansas politics. He is bright, aggressive and dissatisfied.” Democrats for Rockefeller hammered away with their anti-Old-Guard message nonetheless.

“Issue?” Arkansas Gazette, October 13, 1970. Likely artist: Jon Kennedy.

Eight Democrats—including Orval Faubus—jostled one another through the summer of 1970 to take on Winthrop Rockefeller. Among them was Dale Bumpers, the owner-operator of a hardware business that doubled as his law office. Bumpers’s use of a television blitz just two weeks from election day launched him from single-digit support to a spot in the run-off with Faubus. Faubus pounded away at the youngster’s “nice smile,” telling voters it was the media who wanted to see “Bumpers versus Rockefeller, battling it out, tux-to-tux, cocktail-to-cocktail, boyish-grin to boyish-grin.” In this cartoon, Republicans, too, accuse Bumpers of running a vacuous campaign. Deftly ducking debates on the hunch that the people’s desperation for something different would be enough to win, Bumpers dispatched both Faubus and Rockefeller.

“Labor Czar,” Arkansas Gazette, October 28, 1970. Likely artist: George Fisher.

As television became the dominant medium, this ad was among the last to appear in Arkansas newspapers. Under the leadership of AFL-CIO president Bill Becker, organized labor proved vexing enough for state Republicans to cast Becker as a czar presiding over the decimation of the state’s business climate. Becker shared Rockefeller’s civil rights agenda, but also sought more generous unemployment benefits, strengthened workers’ compensation rules, and a state-level minimum wage. The AFL-CIO consequently endorsed Bumpers in early October. That endorsement, together with Rockefeller’s rightward drift, helped Democrats recover the votes of urban liberals, African Americans, and poor whites in what Ben F. Johnson has called “the twilight of the system of traditional Arkansas bosses.”