• J. J. Sedelmaier

Winsor McCay Illustrates Temperance — or Prohibition?, 1929

While strolling through a used-books store in Los Angeles over 20 years ago, I spied the dust-jacketed binding of a book with a familiar illustration style. Much to my delight, I’d found a little-known 1929 first edition volume published by the Hearst Company concerning Prohibition—and primarily illustrated by the brilliant comic-strip artist and animation pioneer Winsor McCay, with some additional pieces by the well-known Hearst cartoonist Frederick “F.” Opper.

Titled Temperance — or Prohibition?, it’s a small hardbound book filled with data presenting the Hearst Syndicate’s position of repealing the Prohibition laws and the inconsistent behavior of legislators responsible for supporting and enforcing the Volstead Act. The reprinting of select political cartoons by McCay and Opper helped demonstrate Hearst’s ongoing campaign.

McCay was no stranger to political issues or propaganda. His amazing animated film from 1918, The Sinking Of The Lusitania (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhCWmIu1H_g), was a documentary-style presentation that helped support anti-German sentiment but also showcased his draftsmanship and pioneering animation talent. You’ll see graphic similarities between the Lusitania cartoon and the  “Leviathan” piece below.

The illustration below is another McCay/Hearst cartoon that fits into the context of this article. I’d clipped it from a discarded edition of the New York American editorial page dated Monday, September 7, 1931.

(Shades of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Soda Ban”!)

The following four cartoons are the ones illustrated by the Hearst cartoonist F. Opper. Opper’s “Happy Hooligan” was a popular strip from the turn of the century into the early 1930s. He wasn’t the draftsman that McCay was, but “Happy Hooligan” was one of the most popular strips of its time and also introduced the regular use of word balloons to the comic strip!

If you’re interested in leafing through more material on Winsor McCay’s work for the Hearst Syndicate and other lesser known pieces by him, check out Daydreams & Nightmares, an edited collection assembled by Rick Marschall. The original publication was printed in 1988, but a larger format, newly designed and revised edition was released in 2005. Both are softcover editions published by Fantagraphics Books.

If you’re interested in McCay’s tremendous career in general, you can’t beat John Canemaker’s Winsor McCay—His Life And Art (Abrams, 2005), revised and expanded from an earlier 1987 Abbeville Books edition. It’s the definitive profile of McCay, by the definitive McCay biographer.


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