I thought it would be an interesting look into our nation’s political cartoon history if, this month, I took a look at a different editorial cartoon each day that won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Do note that we’re talking basically 1922-1967 here, as since then, the Committee has awarded cartoonists generally for their work, not for an exemplary single cartoon. So in many ways, this is a snapshot of American politics (for better or for worse) over a forty-five year period. Here is an archive of the cartoons featured thus far.
Today we look at Jacob Burck’s 1941 award-winning cartoon.
Jacob Burck was born in Poland in 1902. As a young boy in 1907, he and his family immigrated to the United States. As a young cartoonist, Burck was involved in various radical newspapers, including The New Masses and the Daily Worker, although Burck himself never actually became a Communist.
During the 1930s, he was actually hired (along with his artist wife) to paint a mural in Moscow on the behest of Stalin. Burck quit the project because Stalin interfered too much.
Years later, Burck’s past associations would haunt him, along with the fact that his citizenship was never exactly totally settled, so during the 1950s, the government tried to deport him. Luckily, by this time, Burck has been working for the Chicago Sun-Times for many years (first at the Chicago Times and then he stayed on when the Times merged with the Chicago Sun in 1948 to become the Chicago Sun-Times) and the publisher of the Sun-Times threw his great financial weight behind his cartoonist, and Burck remained in the country.
Burck was still working for the Sun-Times in 1982 when he died in a house fire caused by his own smoking (he was 75 and in poor health, so when a lit cigar/cigarette caught fire to the house, he was unable to escape).
Burck won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for this 1941 brilliant (and brutal) anti-war piece about life in war-torn Europe (one would think he’s speaking more specifically about England, but if he is, it’s never made evident) titled, “If I Should Die Before I Wake.”
The classic children’s prayer is:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
Should I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
It’s striking how powerful the image and respective phrase are together.