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Stars of Political Cartooning – Joseph Keppler

by  in Comic News Comment
Stars of Political Cartooning – Joseph Keppler

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at a cartoonist who is most likely considered to have been Thomas Nast’s successor as the most notable cartoonist in America.


Joseph Keppler was born in Austria in 1838. He moved to the United States in 1867, where he tried his hand at acting in St. Louis. That was not going so well, so he started up a humor magazine in St. Louis in the style of England’s notable Punch magazine. It did go so well at first, so he decided to re-start the magazine in New York in 1876.

At first, there were German and English versions of the magazine, which he named Puck (after the mischievous character from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream), and in fact, for the first few years the paper was in business, the German version totally subsidized the English one.

But eventually, the paper caught on and became the first popular humor magazine in the United States.

The format was that each cover would have a political cartoon, each back cover would have a social satire cartoon and the middle would have a two-page spread of a political cartoon. The rest of the issue would be made up of articles and editorials about the current day.

Keppler was an interesting fellow – he was a Democrat in a Republican world, and he had numerous odd beliefs. He was anti-women’s suffrage, for crissakes!

Other weird things would come up, like he would criticize Grant for drinking, but then he would criticize Hayes for banning alcohol from the White House.

Essentially, he changed his arguments to suit whatever position he happened to take – wow, I wonder why he didn’t pursue politics himself!

Here is a sample cover of Puck…

(the subject of this cartoon shows up in a great one coming up)

Here is a cartoon showing Grant’s popularity waning…

A lot of that had to do with the charges of fraud levied at Grant during his second term…

However much controversy surrounded Grant, he was still pretty damn popular, so Keppler was scared spitless over the notion that Grant might pursue an unheard of THIRD term!

So he did a LOT of cartoons on this topic – here are three I liked the best…

The third term being the Golden Calf…

The third term express rolling over Columbia (representation of America)…

The Republican party leaders shutting down the third-party supporters at the Republican Convention. Note the fellow with the fancy beard, that’s Roscoe Conkling – Keppler liked Conkling at this point, but as you can tell by the cover at the beginning of this piece, within a few years, Keppler felt Conkling had lost all his credibility…

And this is why….

Conkling was the driving force behind the 1877 “compromise” that gave Hayes the Presidency in exchange for the removal of Northern troops in Southern cities…

Note how Conkling is Satan and Hayes is courting the South…

Great cartoon.

So yeah, after this point, Conkling was no longer a fellow Keppler respected.

Around this same time, another one of Keppler’s pet peeves was the Pension Fund for Civil War veterans. He felt it was FILLED with corruption, so he did a series of cartoons on it. Here are a couple…

Here’s a cute cartoon from the 1880 Election period, depicting a last drive for the polls before election time….

Here’s a really good one which was titled “Inspecting the Democratic Curiosity Shop,” where the modern Democrats are confronted with the cruelties of their past.

Here are two pieces where Keppler depicts politics as both a dog show and then, a beauty contest.

Funny stuff.

Keppler shows the Republicans attempts at reform here, presenting their ideas to Columbia…

Here’s a cute one showing President Harrison dealing with the legacy of his grand-father, William Henry Harrison….

Check out this neat archive of Puck cartoons for more!

Keppler passed away in 1884, and his son took over the magazine. It continued to thrive well into the 20th Century, but then Hearst bought it and it went under within two years.

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