Jon Kennedy Biography

Jon Kennedy as a young man, drawing at his desk. ca. 1935.

Jon Kennedy as a young man, drawing at his desk. ca. 1935.

Jon Kennedy was born on August 19, 1918, in Springfield, Missouri, to Brownlow and Ida Kennedy. He attended public schools and went to college at Southwest Missouri State at Springfield. Kennedy’s first job as an artist was with the Springfield Leader-Press at age 17.

After the Arkansas Democrat installed an in-house engraving plant, they needed an artist to do society layouts and photographic retouching. Kennedy, then 22, applied for the job. At his hiring in 1941, he became the first full-time cartoonist employed at an Arkansas newspaper. Kennedy worked at a wide variety of artistic jobs: story illustrations, sport cartoons, editorial cartoons, locator maps, and more. One of his editorial cartoons was reprinted by the New York Times in December 1941, the first of many to be used by the Times during the 1950s and 1960s.

Jon Kennedy reading a newspaper. 1942.

Jon Kennedy reading a newspaper. 1942.

Within months of Kennedy’s arrival in Arkansas, World War II began. In 1943, he enlisted and was inducted at Camp Robinson, but trouble with his right eye kept him confined to limited duty.

The army found outlets for his skill in producing training posters, and camp newspapers were eager for cartoons showing the funny side of army life. During two and a half years in the service, Kennedy’s byline became familiar to readers of Yank, Army Times, and many camp papers.

Kennedy returned to Arkansas and to the Arkansas Democrat after the war and continued one of the longest tenures of service with one newspaper in the nation. Over more than four decades, he won many awards and became a charter member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (1957). After 47 years, Kennedy retired from the Arkansas Democrat, his retirement cartoon appearing on September 16, 1988.

Jon Kennedy looks at newspaper article about his retirement. September 16, 1988.

Jon Kennedy looks at newspaper article about his retirement. September 16, 1988.

Kennedy returned again to cartooning in 1992 for Arkansas Business but retired due to vision problems in 2005. The Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History conducted an oral history (transcript available) with Kennedy in 2006.

His work has appeared in the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year series, the New York Times editorial pages, and one book of his cartoons, Look Back and Laugh (1978), has been published. In 1988, he was recognized as Arkansas Journalist of the Year. He has political cartoons on display in seven presidential libraries.

His special interest in the school dropout problem in Arkansas led to a national school poster business, Jon Kennedy Cartoons. These posters are used in the fifty states, and they deal with topics such as etiquette, courtesy, job attitudes, and tips for getting jobs.

Kennedy married the former Opal M. Dillon of Springfield. Together they had two sons. Kennedy passed away Friday, October 10, 2014. He was 96 years old.


Learn more about Kennedy as a cartoonist in John Deering’s commentary.