Beginning at about age five, O’Connor drew and made cartoons, created small books, and wrote stories and comical sketches, often accompanied by her own illustrations. Although her interest in writing was equally evident, by the time she reached high school her abilities as a cartoonist had moved to the forefront. After her first cartoon was published in the fall of 1940, her work appeared in nearly every issue of her high-school and college newspapers, as well as yearbooks—roughly a hundred between 1940 and 1945—and most of these were produced from linoleum block cuts. When she graduated from the Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville in 1945, she was a celebrated local cartoonist preparing for a career in journalism that would, she hoped, combine work as a professional writer and cartoonist.
In her three years at GSCW, she earned a reputation among the students and alumnae as the “cartoon girl.” The staff members of the 1944 Spectrum yearbook gave her special recognition, publishing this acknowledgment for her in the yearbook: “Mary Flannery O’Connor, of cartoon fame, was the bright spot of our existence. There was always a smile in the Spectrum office on the days when her linoleum cuts came in.” During her senior year, she was The Spectrum’s feature editor, and her cartoons were the organizing principle of the entire design concept, providing a retrospective of O’Connor’s years as the school’s documentary cartoonist, caricaturist, and resident comic wit.
Taken as a whole, her cartoons comment on a predictable range of student experiences—the anticipation of vacations and holidays, complaints about teachers, cramming for final exams—and represent an impressive collection of single-frame satires anchored by human interaction. She targets the anti-intellectualism and social pretensions of her fellow students most frequently, but she also takes up some of the popular cranks about the school’s shortcomings and responds to the effects of World War II on the lives of the students, particularly the presence of the training school for WAVES that invaded the campus in early 1943. Her cartoons showed a talent for mimicking what she observed about people, their appearance, behavior, and manners, and what these things revealed about their character, or what she thought they showed.
Drew Litton and Rob Tornoe — who are among the nation’s few remaining regularly published major daily newspaper sports cartoonists — are struggling less but still feel the pinch of an industry that no longer prizes them. There is more job security in being an editorial cartoonist and dipping into sports, as many do.
“Most editors, especially sports editors, are word people who don’t see the sports cartoon as a succinct form of journalism and a different way of covering sports,” said Tornoe, 34, whose sports cartoons appear in The Philadelphia Inquirer but who also draws editorial cartoons for various outlets.
Litton said: “It’s a part of America that’s dying away. I feel we’re losing a vital medium.”
It was easier for their predecessors, especially in the golden era from the 1930s to the 1960s.