Local News
6:13 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Legendary Louisville Cartoonist Hugh Haynie, Through His Son's Eyes

Judge Smith Haynie has had a long day. He's tired from his work in the courtroom. But when he leaves the bench and heads to a museum showcase of his late father Hugh Haynie's editorial cartoons, he can't keep still.

"You want two famous cartoons?" he asks me as he bounds across a room in the Frazier History Museum. He's pointing at a pair of framed cartoons that comment on the U.S. space program of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He singles out one, which he calls "Moon Rocks."

"It's an African-American child with a lunch tray and his tattered coat says, 'U.S. Urban Needs,'" Smith Haynie says. "On his tray you can see a glass and a plate and there are rocks on his plate. And he says, 'Oh yes sir, they're very nice moon rocks. Thank you, sir.'"

Hugh Haynie worked at The Courier-Journal for nearly 40 years. In that time, he drew thousands of cartoons mocking local, national and international politicians and affairs. His work was syndicated and reached many people beyond Louisville.

Now, more than 100 of his cartoons are on display in downtown Louisville at the Frazier, in an exhibit called "Hugh Haynie: The Art of Opinion."

"It's chronologically balanced," says Smith Haynie, who worked as an editorial cartoonist before entering law.  So you can not only see his development as an artist. You can see the development of our culture. You look at these cartoons and each one is topical today. Gun control, gay rights, you name it. It's all here."

It's All Here

Hugh Haynie's worldview is represented by two of the exhibit's most prevalent figures: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

In JFK, Haynie saw the ideal, his son says. Hugh Haynie supported Civil Rights and envisioned a better world under Kennedy, whom he knew personally.

"One of my first memories is dad kicking the TV. He kicked the TV when Kennedy was killed," Smith Haynie says. "The reason I remember it so clearly is my father had no temper. He was a calm and gentle man and I remember going into the den and seeing the TV all busted. The bottom fell out of his world."

But rather than become cynical, Hugh Haynie held other politicians to the standards Kennedy had set in his mind. Nixon didn't pass.

"He went after Nixon like he had a beef with him from the old neighborhood," says Smith Haynie. "Of course he didn't care for George Wallace much either."

Hugh Haynie was brutal with the 37th president. He drew him as Pinocchio, Mary Poppins, Richard I, a bomb, a bug and any number of weakened, scared creatures. And Haynie was rewarded. He was on Nixon's enemy's list.

"When he found out he was in the list…he got screwed over on the Pulitzer, but nothing was bigger than being on the list," Smith Haynie says.

Hugh Haynie responded with a cartoon. In it, a shocked Statue of Liberty looks at a piece of paper and exclaims, "My God! I'm on the White House 'Enemy List'!"

Is the statue saying that or is Haynie? Is Haynie comparing his work to a symbol of America? Was there really a Richard I reference in a newspaper political cartoon?

Drawing Down

Among the endangered species of modern media, the full-time editorial cartoonists' numbers are dwindling the most. Thirty years ago, there were more than 200. Ten years ago, there were fewer than 90. And the quality has suffered as well. Un-clever cartoons in which every symbol is shamelessly labeled have become too common, (The Onion has a particularly good parody) and it's easy to forget how powerful the once-great form can be.

One Haynie cartoon is lifted from the Dutch Master himself, depicting JFK contemplating a bust of John William McCormack, who was then Speaker of the House.

"He realized that not everybody would get that that was a Rembrandt painting," says Smith Haynie. "But he drew on many levels."

Another cartoon depicts Nixon in Shakespearean garb, on stage, looking at a spotlight labeled Watergate and echoing Lady Macbeth's "Out damn spot."

The power of a good editorial cartoon lies in its ability to entertain the reader while also imparting an opinion and a bit of information in a small drawing that takes less time to digest than an article. Like all daily news, editorial cartoons expire. But the work isn't disposable. The same qualities that make them powerful as commentary also make them effective as history. And cartoons are drawn much larger than they're printed in the paper, making these works seem in place in a museum.

When I visited the show before opening day, I found a Haynie admirer: Marc Murphy, his (not direct) successor at The C-J.

"This is truly a kid in a candy shop type scenario," he said when I asked him to pick a favorite.

Tucked under his arm, Murphy had a drawing he'd prepared to present to Smith Haynie, honoring his father. It showed Haynie's pen dipping into a bottle labeled "Genius." Waiting for Smith, Murphy admired the cartoons.

"When people come to see these, they're going to see they're three-dimensional pieces of art," he said. "[Hugh Haynie] had to use paste and glue and different kinds of ink and white out and other sorts of templates. It's almost like going back stage at a play."

Murphy isn't a full-time cartoonist—he works as a lawyer as well (it's not clear why the two cartoonists present at the preview are in the legal profession). He mourns that the job title "editorial cartoonist" is in decline.

"My personal hope is that eventually the [media] companies will realize that's one of the first places people look," Murphy says. "Those who look at the editorial section. As human beings, we're built to look at visual things first, before we read," he says. "If you eliminate that place or if you just dumb it down by using stuff from some other city instead of having someone sitting in your own offices, I think you're making a big mistake."

There are cartoons with a local focus in the exhibit, too. Former mayors Jerry Abramson and David Armstrong and Sen. Mitch McConnell get two cartoons each. Haynie wasn't at his drawing table to see what became of those targets. He retired in 1996. But his work hasn't been forgotten at the paper. Every year, on Christmas Eve, The C-J runs what may be Haynie's most famous work.

"Christ Christmas"
Credit Hugh Haynie (used with permission)

"Christ Christmas" was first drafted in the 1950s, when Haynie worked at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paper refused to run it, but the panel appeared in The C-J in 1961. The fact that the original is here is a bit of surprise, too.

"It vanished for some 37 years," says Smith Haynie. "I don't think he had any idea where it was. When my father passed away, I was at his visitation, and man named Bubs Entwistle, who was the son of our next door neighbor, came up to me and he said, 'I've got something for you in the parking lot.' He pulled out the Christ Christmas cartoon and gave it to me. If you'll notice, it's signed to his father. My dad gave it to the next door neighbor."

Hugh Haynie donated most of his cartoons to his alma mater, the College of William and Mary. This local display is rare, and it runs through January. Smith Haynie says he's not sure what he'll do with the work after that, but he wants to keep it in Louisville so the cartoons that were published, celebrated and scorned the nation over can remain accessible to their first audience.