June 27th, 2012
We have been working on a new digital project in Special Collections on the old periodical, Life, which was published between 1883 and 1936. It is not like the Life you may remember that was mostly photos. This older Life was like the New Yorker, with reviews, essays, stories, editorials, and best of all, cartoons, political and otherwise. In doing this project, we have discovered some truly original and wonderful artists that we want to share. So, over the next few posts, we will share a few. The first one is considered to be one of the most influential cartoonists of his time: T. S. Sullivant. However, most people never heard of him. He was considered to be a gag cartoonist and the creator of the modern caricature cartooning. If you want to read more about him, The Comics Journal Special Editions, Winter 2002, volume 1, has a great article about him written by Jim Woodring. This issue of Comics Journal is located in Special Collections.
T. S. Sullivant was a true pioneer in the field of cartooning. At a time when most American cartoonists were drawing fairly realistic looking characters and animals, Sullivant drew his figures with exaggerated facial and anatomical features. He inaugurated the big heads and big feet of modern caricature cartooning. Sullivant’s subjects were animals, cave men and women, Biblical characters, and ethnic groups, and his cartoons are as funny today as they were when they were written almost 100 years ago.
Thomas Sterling Sullivant was born in Columbus, Ohio. He may have studied art in Germany, where he lived for several years. He returned to the United States in 1885 and moved to Philadelphia where he studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Art with Thomas Eakins. In 1886, he sold his first cartoon. He soon was appearing in a number of periodicals, including Life. He continued to study with various artists, such as Edward Moran and E. D. Bensell. He utilized a pen and ink style that was meticulously cross-hatched, which was popular at the time. His cartoons were masterfully distorted figures of animals and stereotypical people referred to as “grotesque yet believable.” He also worked for a number of other periodicals and for William Randolph Hearst, but returned to Life in 1911 and contributed cartoons until his death in 1926. He is considered to be one of the most influential cartoonists of his time.