EDITOR’S NOTE: To at least a generation or two of North American political cartoonists, Charles Brooks Sr. was perhaps best known as an editor. His long-running book series, Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year (Pelican), was — and is — one of the relatively few print outlets for many newspaper cartoonists to gain a national stage. (Full disclosure: My cartoons were reprinted in his annual books over the past 15 years.) Brooks cared not only about editorial cartooning, but also about supporting the work of other editorial cartoonists. In that regard, even if Pelican continues the book series (and I certainly hope the publisher does), his passion and effort will be especially missed.
CHARLES G. BROOKS SR., the conservative Southern cartoonist who said one of the best compliments he ever received was from President Richard Nixon — who called Brooks the Herblock of the right — died Thursday in his home state of Alabama. He was 90.
Brooks was a fixture of Alabama journalism, commenting on local and international politics from his Birmingham News perch for nearly 40 years, until 1985. His satiric targets ranged from the White House to the KKK.
Brooks received the National Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial cartooning in 1960; he also received 13 Freedom Foundation Awards and was a past president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
“All of my life, I had been interested in reading the newspaper and keeping up with what was going on in politics,” Brooks Sr. told the Capitol Weekly (Calif.) earlier this year. “As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to draw. While other kids played at ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ I would draw and dream of being a cartoonist.”
While attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Brooks Sr. was taught by Vaughn Shoemaker, the two-time Pulitzer winner from the Chicago Daily News.
During World War II, Brooks enlisted and served in the combat engineers, seeing action on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge.
Several years after the war, Brooks caught on as cartoonist for the News, notably taking aim at the KKK at midcentury in the South --- which reportedly prompted threats against him. He also lampooned Washington.
“I don’t think cartoonists should hesitate to make fun of politicians with whom they disagree,” Brooks Sr. told the Capitol Weekly. “Looking back, some of my cartoons that I think were among the best was where I took words right out of a politician’s mouth and hung him with his own words.”
“Chuck lived a life we all wish we lived,” memorialized Chicago Tribune political cartoonist Scott Stantis, who befriended “Chuck” Brooks Sr. when Stantis joined the Birmingham News in 1996. “He met and was admired by the great and the average.”
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While president of the AAEC in the early ‘70s, Brooks Sr. helped launch the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year line, which over four decades has spotlighted hundreds of North American cartoonists. In editing the books all those years, Brooks told the Capitol Weekly: “I look for a pungent message, easy to understand and well-drawn, with humor if possible.”
The 2012 edition is in the works for publication later this year, reports The Daily Cartoonist.
Brooks Sr. was critical of editorial cartoons that over-relied on labeling, and of cartoonists who strived more for humor than for making a forceful political point.
Brooks Sr. reportedly took the greatest career pride from being recognized by Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin when Brooks retired in late 1985 (Heflin’s praise was read into the official record).
Brooks’s survivors include his wife, son and daughter; he is scheduled to be buried Monday.