Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ed Graham's Advice To Aspiring Cartoonists of the 1930's: "Get out of the business."

Ed Graham began his career as a professional cartoonist in the 1920s when he moved from his home state of Indiana to New York City. There he enjoyed some admirable successes: Graham's work soon began appearing on covers and interiors of many major magazines including Life, Ballyhoo, College Humor, Collier's and Judge.


Graham was the subject of an article in the March 16, 1935 issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator. By then he'd had ten years experience in the cartooning business but struck a cynical tone when addressing his audience at a presentation at Columbia University: "Mr. Graham thoroughly denounced any rumor that would indicate that a cartoonist's life was easy and without hard luck and discouragements," wrote the article's author, Howard Hammer.


Graham allowed that the most determined newcomer might enjoy a modicum of success if he possessed the many virtues of "resourcefulness, hard work, careful attention to detail, and intellectual honesty."

(An Ed Graham gag from the "Annual Nudist Number" of Ballyhoo magazine, October, 1936)

As for that core skill of the cartoonist - the ability to come up with funny ideas - Graham suggested one consider the scenario of "the wolf at the door" to help motivate one's creative funny bone. "Then," quipped Graham, "the gags will be numerous." In other words, "Be funny or die."


"Those seeking to achieve fame and success in cartoon work without doing the necessary "ground-work" are doomed to disappointment and would do better to change immediately to some other vocation," Graham warned his audience, emphasizing that "nothing but discouragements will be encountered in the [cartooning] profession." The tenor of Graham's 1935 speech at Columbia certainly suggests he felt wounded by his years in cartooning. While he didn't entirely give up freelancing, that year it became a sideline.


Graham took a staff position with an advertising agency, a business he stuck with for the next three decades, eventually becoming vice-president and creative director at Outdoor Advertising Inc. in 1963. Graham also served as president of the New York Art Director's Club in 1962-3.


Cartooning may not have been Ed Graham's true calling, but at least one fellow cartoonist, E. Simms Campbell, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the gag panel racket, gave Graham credit for launching his career.


"My break came when I ran into Ed Graham," wrote Campbell. "There aren't many fellows like Ed. He and I had worked on the Phoenix at the same time back at the University of Chicago. Well, Ed Graham had come on to New York ahead of me, and he had already broken into the humorous magazines and made a name for himself. He had his knocks, but he was over the hump. He knew the editors, and they knew him. I showed him some of my drawings and gags and right off the bat he said, 'I'll take you around. This is stuff is good.' "*

*Quote by E. Simms Campbell from Ariel S. Winter's blog post on the artist.


  1. Great to have these insights, Leif, thanks. Nice to see the big scans of his work, too.

  2. My pleasure, Jim - I appreciate hearing that! :^)

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