RIP, ETTA HULME, 90: Political-cartooning colleagues salute her as ‘trailblazer’ and ‘friend’

 

 


Etta Hulme’s self-portrait. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

 

HER DRAWING STYLE could be warm even while her wit was wicked.

Etta Hulme rendered judgment with her pen for decades and, in turn, drew national praise.

And as an artist swimming in oxymorons, Hulme contained multitudes.

As the longtime editorial cartoonist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ms. Hulme was a liberal commentator working for a right-leaning paper. She also was, for a period after her 1972 hiring, about the only woman political cartoonist at a major metropolitan paper – at times a certain type of lone star in a Lone Star state. As her colleague Scott Stantis, a right-leaning cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune, says of Etta, she was “a woman visual commentator when there were none, on [the] staff of a conservative paper in a conservative town in a conservative state.”

She was a trailblazer – that was even the title of a 2004 documentary about her — but she often waved off attempts at being singled out as such.

She was “the dean of our little band of women editorial cartoonists,” Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson (Philly.com) told The Post’s Comic Riffs, “though, in her self-effacing way, she would never have claimed that spot.”

And as multiple colleagues note, she wielded that Texas wit like “the Molly Ivins of cartooning.”

The grandmotherly artist with the Lone Star style was twice voted by her National Cartoonist Society peers as the land’s best editorial cartoonist, in 1982 and 1998 – the latter time while she was in her 70s. Her peers also elected her president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. They knew she was not only talented. As Stantis recalls, they also knew she could be tough.

“She was a very liberal cartoonist, but she was a very excellent cartoonist,” former Star-Telegram publisher Wes Turner told his newspaper last week. “She could tell a story better in one frame than a writer could in a thousand-word story.

“Her political persuasion and mine diverged, but I thought she made our paper better because she certainly got people talking and got people thinking,” Turner continued, “and that’s what a good political cartoonist does.”

Or as she herself said of her readers: “They just have to live with me. I’m an opinion person.”

Ms. Hulme died Wednesday at her home in Arlington, Texas, her newspaper reported Friday. She was 90.

Etta Hulme was born Dec. 22, 1923, in Somerville, Texas, the daughter of a grocery owner and a teacher, according to her paper, which said she is survived by a son and two daughters; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

I asked more than a dozen colleagues to remember their friend and their influence – the woman some of them knew, and the cartoonist they all appreciated. Here are their words:

SIGNE WILKINSON (Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer; Philly.com):
“In the early 1980s, Etta Hulme was the dean of our little band of women editorial cartoonists — though, in her self-effacing way, she would never have claimed that spot. She also wouldn’t have wanted to be segregated from the larger band of brothers who made up our tiny fraternity. Her cartoons stand up to the best in the business. She never won the Pulitzer, though her work is as [strong] as most who have, but her cartoons won higher honors.

“For example, on [Interstate] 95 coming home from a women’s march in Washington, I remember looking over at the car in the next lane and seeing a Hulme cartoon about equal rights blown up and plastered in the window. That’s the mark of a successful cartoonist. Her work lives on.”

JIM BORGMAN (longtime Cincinnati Enquirer political cartoonist):
“Only in retrospect do I appreciate Etta’s remarkable place in the storyline of editorial cartooning. A lone female voice, liberal at that, in 1970s Texas — that’s one lonely perch in an already solitary profession. Etta was confident, brave, funny and warm, with an engaging drawing style that focused on people more than symbols. She was under-appreciated by those of us who should have known better.”

MIKE PETERS (Dayton Daily News):
“I can’t believe Etta was 90. Her cartoons retained that same clear , hometown satirical view she had all of her life. She was the Molly Ivins of cartooning. Truly one of our greats. We’re going to miss her.”

LIZA DONNELLY (The New Yorker et al.):
“I met Ms. Hulme back in 1999, when I was invited to be on a panel at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Arranged by Signe Wilkinson, the panel consisted of editorial cartoonists who are women, and we were to discuss why there aren’t many women in this business. I was honored to be included on the panel, and very honored to meet Ms. Hulme. We spoke to a standing-room crowd of men. Sadly, things have not changed — there still is a pathetic number of women doing political cartoons. Being on that panel, and the research I did beforehand, led me eventually to write my history of women cartoonists (‘Funny Ladies’).

“I love Ms. Hulme’s cartoons. Her work is incisive and at times quietly aggressive; her soft pen line draws you in, and her powerful wit always delivers a strong punch. Historically, as one of the few women [political cartoonists] to be hired by a major metropolitan newspaper, she broke ground for women in the business of editorial cartooning, and I am grateful to her for that.”

STEVE ARTLEY (Alexandria [Va.] Gazette Packet; ARTIZANS):
“The news of Etta’s death has really affected me. As she was a friend and one of my favorites to hang with at the AAEC conventions since the mid 1980s, and was also a friend to my father, I am deeply saddened to hear of her passing. Etta’s keen wit, combined with her unsinkable Texan, ‘Molly Brown’-style charm made her a pleasure to be around. Yet she was also a woman of dignity with a strong sense of integrity. And that is probably the best thing I can say about anyone, personally.

“But these are personal remembrances and are meaningful treasures to me about Etta the person. Professionally, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better model representing the field of editorial cartooning. For years, she was the only female in this male-dominated field, yet she didn’t consider herself a trailblazer simply for being a female cartoonist. She saw herself just as a cartoonist. And what an exceptionally talented cartoonist she was! Etta Hulme’s insightful and provocative editorial cartoons made her a lone star of reason in Texas. And that is probably the highest professional honor I can think of to say about her.”

SUSIE CAGLE (Medium’s The Nib, et al.):
“She loomed large in the editorial cartooning community. What struck me was that she was always referred to as a ‘woman cartoonist.’ It seemed like an odd kind of tokenism. She worked during a time when that was certainly a rarity — to be sure, it still kind of is — but she could draw with the best of the men.

“While I’m tremendously grateful to the women like Hulme who changed the perception of who a cartoonist could be, I hope her legacy will be that of a great, award-winning talent, regardless of her gender.”

ROB ROGERS (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
“Etta Hulme always reminded me of Kathy Bates’s character in the film ‘Misery.’ Etta had a sweet, harmless, folksy demeanor and appearance that belied her capacity to inflict harm. Of course, thankfully, Etta directed it at those in power through her masterful cartoons.

“Etta was also a major groundbreaker, being one of the first — and for a long time, the only — female editorial cartoonists in the country. She will be sorely missed.”

ANN TELNAES (Washingtonpost.com):
“Etta always told the best stories. At one of the conventions, a group of cartoonists were sitting around talking about some of negative feedback they would get from readers about their work, Etta told about the time she received a letter from a guy who took issue with a gun cartoon. He had cut out the cartoon, used it for target practice, and then neatly folded it and put it in an envelope. Etta laughed the entire time she told us the story; I can still picture her wonderful smile. A lovely woman and a kickass cartoonist.”

KEVIN “KAL” KALLAUGHER (Baltimore Sun, The Economist):
“Etta Hulme was a delightful study in contrast. On the surface an endearing genteel and humble grandmother, beneath a punishing pundit with cunning wit. I loved both those Ettas and will miss both of her.”

MIKE LUCKOVICH (Atlanta Journal Constitution):
“She was a great cartoonist and person. She was fearless in standing up for the oppressed and less fortunate, while never taking herself too seriously.”

JACK OHMAN (Sacramento Bee):
“Etta was a real pioneer in editorial cartooning. She was the first woman staff cartoonist that I’m aware of. She was a beloved, gentle member of the profession who had the oxymoronic motherly demeanor combined with the ability to knock Texas politicians around with aplomb.”

JEN SORENSEN (Austin Chronicle et al.):
“I met Etta very briefly once at an AAEC convention, and regret that I did not get to know her better, especially having moved to Texas a couple years ago. As a cartoonist, she had a wonderful line — a very accessible, funny drawing style that I am amazed she pulled off into her 80s. Politically, she was right up there [with] Molly Ivins and Ann Richards in the great tradition of witty and wise Texas women. I think she deserves a much longer Wikipedia entry than she currently has, and far more national recognition for her place in history.”

SCOTT STANTIS (Chicago Tribune):
“In 1986, I had landed the job of editorial cartoonist at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. Back in the days before e-mail, I reached out to the AAEC [Association of American Editorial Cartoonists] to volunteer my services in any way that may be helpful. The president that year was Etta Hulme. Her gracious welcome and stately manner seduced [me] into believing she was a softie. A few months later, the editor of the association’s magazine dropped the ball and Etta called me to ask if I could fill in. She asked so nicely, I couldn’t say no. She then said, her voice turning steely: ‘Good. We need it done by Friday.’ This was a Tuesday. Etta knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to ask for it.

“It remains a wonder to me that Etta is not more celebrated. A woman visual commentator when there were none, on [the] staff of a conservative paper in a conservative town in a conservative state. She expressed her opinion in a style that was as seductive as her request for help with the magazine. [A] soft and gentle drawing style that masked a passion and moral certitude that, when fully realized, could be jarring and powerful.

“What can I say about her as a person? [Denver cartoonist] Ed Stein said it best when he stated the simple truth of how this crazy band of [mostly] brothers think of Etta: ‘We loved her.’ In my three decades in journalism, I have met few heroes. She is, and shall always remain, one of them.”

 

 

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.
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