Finding Cartoons and Comics in Historic Oregon Newspapers

Some of the richest content in our historic newspapers are the political cartoons and comic strips embedded within the pages of text. Newspapers digitized through the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program and made available online at Historic Oregon Newspapers (http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu) are keyword searchable, but it may be difficult to find images, cartoons, and comics.

A keyword search for “comics” yields a plethora of pages, but few of them actually contain comic strips. If we delete the “s” and search for “comic,” the results are much more applicable. Newspapers such as the Portland Sunday Oregonian, the Salem Daily Capital Journal, and the Portland Oregon Daily Journal often contain a whole section of comics, often titled “Comic Section,” which is why a search for “comic” is much more fruitful than a search for “comics.”

Clipping shows the title block for a comic strip called Old Dog Yak. This particular comic is titled "Old Dog Yak, A Study in Nature," and depicts Old Dog Yak in a field with a butterfly net and a bottle of chloroform.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) 1881-current, August 10, 1913, Comic Section, Image 75. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83045782/1913-08-10/ed-1/seq-75/

The Sunday Oregonian also has a Magazine Section that contains a variety of full page photographs and images. A keyword search for the words “Magazine Section” within 5 words of each other will turn up a large number of interesting results! Here is just one example from the holiday season of 1910:

Image of the front page of the Sunday Oregonian Magazine Section shows a full page photograph of a child in pajamas, with a decorative border of Holly leaves and berries, with caption that reads, "Waiting for Santa Claus."

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) 1881-current, December 25, 1910, SECTION SIX, Image 49. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83045782/1910-12-25/ed-1/seq-49/

The Portland West Shore and Illustrated West Shore also contain several images, especially on the front page of every issue. Here is just one of the many illustrations to be found in the West Shore:

Image shows two men in a field preparing food and drink over a small cook stove, with a covered wagon and horses grazing in the background. Caption reads: "Eastern Oregon - The Freighter's Camp."

The west shore. (Portland, Or.) 1875-1891, July 26, 1890, Image 1. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2012260361/1890-07-26/ed-1/seq-1/

Political cartoons are a bit harder to come by, since they are not usually labeled with the words “political cartoon.” A search for the words “political” and “cartoon” within 5 words of each other produces very little applicable content. Luckily, this one cartoon just happens to have a statement beneath it containing the words “political cartoon,” making it easily findable:

Political cartoon depicts a large man holding a pick axe, building a road, with a smaller man in a car labeled "G.O.P." driving down the road, kicking up dust. Caption beneath the cartoon reads: "Governor Chamberlain is building a first-class good road from the state reform school into the city of Salem with convict labor under the provisions of an act of the last legislature. Johnny Harris, a student at the Chemawa Indian School, has furnished the above political cartoon expressing the situation."

Daily capital journal. (Salem, Or.) 1903-1919, June 28, 1904, Image 1. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063957/1904-06-28/ed-1/seq-1/

Few cartoons actually have words printed on or near them. If anything, they might contain handwritten words that are often either misinterpreted or overlooked by the optical character recognition software that makes the pages keyword searchable. If you’re looking for cartoons, the front page of the Morning Oregonian is a good place to start. Editorial cartoons began appearing on the front page of the Morning Oregonian around February of 1903. By 1907, these cartoons were appearing on the front page on a regular basis, and this trend continued up until at least 1922, when almost every issue had a political cartoon on the front page. Take for example this prohibition era cartoon:

Cartoon has caption that reads: "Just when they had begun to think that they could get away with it." Image shows a 1920s style car with a sign on it reading "Bootleggers," with three men looking shocked out the back as their luggage, marked "Booze," is falling off the car and the tires of the car are being popped by spikes on the road marked "larger gov't appropriations to enforce prohibition." An evil looking, smirking sun watches the scene from behind a cloud above.

Morning Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) 1861-1937, January 07, 1922, Image 1. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1922-01-07/ed-1/seq-1/

The Morning Oregonian is likely the most common source for finding editorial and political cartoons, but that’s not to say that other historic Oregon titles aren’t holding interesting cartoon gems within their pages. That’s where the fun of searching and browsing comes in! If you come across any cartoons, comics, or images that might be of interest to others, please leave a comment below, indicating the newspaper title, date, page number, and subject matter depicted. With your help, we can make these culturally significant images more findable for all!

For a political cartoons teacher’s guide, please see Political Cartoons in U.S. History, from the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources, Teacher’s Guide, Primary Source Set.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Finding Cartoons and Comics in Historic Oregon Newspapers

  1. I recently received a book of political cartoons by murray wade at the capital journal 1923 legislature. I can’t find out much on it and was wondering if it is rare

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