Flipping Through the Funny Pages: Celebrating Ohio Cartoonists

Cartoonist Billy Ireland drew this self-caricature, which was from “Accountants Reports and Exhibits,” a publication of the American Association of Public Accountants for a meeting held in St. Paul, Minnesota, in October 1907. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory

Beyond the News, Business, and Sports sections of the daily newspaper you will find, my personal favorite, the funnies, or comics. Growing up I would rush to read the latest installment of Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, or Family Circus. These friendly faces were a constant and I never stopped to think of a time when these characters did not exist in the newspaper.

This pewter figurine depicts the “Yellow Kid”, the first popular color newspaper comic in the country, 1890s. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

On Sunday, May 5th, 1895 readers of the New York World were surprised to find the first ever comic strip created by Ohio comic strip writer and artist Richard Outcault. The strip was called “Hogan’s Alley” and became the first commercially successful cartoon. The character, “The Yellow Kid” was so famous that his likeness soon appeared on billboards, product advertisements, and postcards. Ohio Memory has one of these products in their collection The Yellow Kid Figurine.


This is not the only cartooning claim to fame that Ohio can boast. In fact, Ohio is home to many influential cartoonists. In 1933, Cleveland residents Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created one of the most iconic super heroes of all time. Clark Kent, The Man of Steel, with a powerful alter ego…Superman! The aforementioned Calvin and Hobbes was created by Bill Watterson of Chagrin Falls and in Central Ohio we have “The Rembrandt of Comic Strips” Milton Caniff. Caniff was mentored by another famous Ohioan who was hired as a cartoonist by the Columbus Dispatch, where he drew editorial cartoons and spot illustrations. Billy Ireland’s work is featured in Ohio Memory; here you can see one of his self-caricatures often depicted as a round little man in overalls. Ireland continued to create four to seven editorial cartoons per week, until his death on May 29th, 1935.

Breezy comic strip created by T. Melvin (aka. Melvin Tapley) featured in The Ohio State news (Columbus, Ohio) in June of 1944. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

Another notable cartoonist is Melvin Tapley. He was born in New York in 1918 and is considered a pioneering cartoonist of color. He started at the Amsterdam News in 1942, where he drew “The Brown Family.” He later took over “Jim Steele” and created the comic strip Breezy. Tapley’s work can be viewed in Ohio Memory in The Ohio State News. This paper was published weekly from 1935 to 1952 in Columbus, Ohio. This paper documented the city, state and nation’s African American community. Its masthead declared it the “First in Everything” and “Best for the People.”

A cartoon titled “We’ll Get That Bear Yet!” by William A. “Billy” Ireland that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch, in February of 1921, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

Some may find it interesting to learn that cartooning has its roots in caricature. From the Italian word caricare, meaning to load or exaggerate, this art form is used in a variety of ways [i.e. sports mascots, advertising, vacation souvenirs]. One such example, from Ohio Memory, is the 1959 Toledo Area brand symbol. Patricia Ryan was the winner of a caricature drawing contest, held among all Toledo Area high school students, for the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce.

Cartoonist Billy Ireland at his desk at the Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1910-1930. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. Via Ohio Memory.

So celebrate National Cartoonist Day this May, by exploring many of Ohio Memory’s cartoon collections. If your curiosity is peaked and you would like to learn more about Ohio Cartoonists be sure to visit the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum or attend Cartoon Crossroads October 6-9, 2022. Until then, I will leave you with Superman’s mantra “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.”





Thank you to Aimee Truitt, Catalog & Metadata Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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