Happy Birthday Mr. Sorel

When I was a teen, I saw a reproduction of a poster that I would have given anything to own. It showed then-Cardinal of New York and vicar of the Army, Cardinal Francis Spellman, charging, rifle in hand, into battle. The title, “Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition” (above), was a send-up of the Frank Loesser song lyric triggered by the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” Spellman was pious and peace-loving on Sunday but one of the most vociferous Vietnam war hawks on the remaining six days. The message summed up his hypocrisy. The poster was, however, never distributed because the Cardinal died right when it was printed.

The poster’s creator, Edward Sorel, one of the most influential political and social caricaturists of the late 20th century and one of my favorite graphic commentators, turned 80 this month.

The Nixon era was a fertile period for Sorel (and David Levine, Robert Grossman, and Jules Feiffer), but his wit and insight have flourished through the subsequent decades in his various books and writing. In 1998, the National Portrait Gallery gave him an exhibition, and he’s had shows in dozens of venues. In 2001, he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. He’s appeared on over 40 New Yorker covers. The image of the bloated Uncle Sam (bottom) is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago when first published. And he’s still going strong.

Do you have a favorite “Sorel”?

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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