Bill Graham: A Retrospective on Style and Substance
From 1945 to 1985, readers of the Arkansas Gazette were treated to the elegantly drawn cartoons of Bill Graham. Sprightly and animated in style, the drawings of William K. Graham created for both the editorial and opinion pages of the Arkansas Gazette could elevate and entertain. Graham’s ability distill his commentary on complex political and social issues into airy cartoons with graceful line work was part of his appeal.
Over the course of Bill Graham’s career with the Gazette, he took on a wide range of issues in his cartoons alternating between local, national, and international topics of concern. Most notably perhaps, he addressed the issues raised by the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School. As always, he maintained his consistent approach in the cartoons he drew during those years by attempting to elevate his readers by appealing to their better nature.
He maintained a light approach in his work regardless of subject matter. Graham used India ink applied with both pen and brush to preliminary drawings lightly sketched in non-repro blue pencil. Graham sometimes applied shading to his drawings with black crayon or plastic shading film. The distinctive characteristic of a Graham cartoon is his unique sense of line. Graham’s line work, graceful and tapering, most often appears to have been executed with a brush. This is a typical choice for most cartoonists for this type of work. He used a Windsor Newton series 1 brush or something similar.
In 1974 Bill Graham published a collection of his cartoons entitled A Little Drum Roll, Please. The collection focused on Richard M. Nixon’s 2nd presidential administration and was published on Jan 1, 1974, just seven months before Nixon became the first U.S. president in history to resign from office. Graham’s cartoons from this collection are, as always, simultaneously biting and light-hearted and beautifully drawn.
The approach to cartooning that Bill Graham took may be seen in similar work by contemporary cartoonist such as Mike Peters, Ann Telnaes and the late John Fishetti.
The art of gentle persuasion – conveying a serious message or biting satire within a charming drawing is, perhaps, a more effective form of communication. Bill Graham was certainly a master of the art.
John Deering has been an editorial cartoonist and illustrator for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 30 years starting with the Arkansas Democrat in 1981. His two comic features, “Strange Brew” and “Zack Hill” are distributed by Creators Syndicate as are his editorial cartoons. John has spent a lifetime as an artist and his paintings can be seen at Cantrell Gallery in Little Rock. He is also a figurative sculptor. John regrets never having entered the “Draw the Pirate” cartoon contest.