A Portrait of Arkansas Cartoonist George Fisher
George Fisher in his studio
The Old State House Museum’s new exhibit, Drawing on Arkansas Politics, pays homage to the wit of Arkansas’s political cartoonists. A small fraternity, over the years they have provided a wry and powerful counterpoint to the behavior of our politicians and public figures. George Fisher, the leader of this group, was considered by many as “the most important social and political satirist in the state’s history,” according to Ernest Dumas, curator of the exhibit.
Fisher developed early interests in art and politics, and both fostered his talent at political cartooning as a teenager. Later, as an infantryman during World War II, he kept a sketchbook diary and drew cartoons for his regimental newspaper. A Democrat like his father, he shared the belief of many fellow war veterans that the political ideals they fought for were not equally observed back home. After the war Fisher worked for a time as a cartoonist and reporter for the West Memphis News, which tried unsuccessfully to break the political machine that controlled local politics.
When Governor Orval Faubus, whom Fisher initially supported, opposed the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, Fisher was moved to express his opposition. He began drawing political cartoons for the North Little Rock Times in the late 1950s, and other newspapers soon published his work. In 1964, the Arkansas Gazette began using his cartoons in each Sunday edition. He became the Arkansas Gazette’s full-time editorial cartoonist in 1976.
Fisher’s cartoons were richly drawn and the political views he conveyed were thoughtful, symbolic, and humorous. He often used metaphors derived from Arkansas’s history and culture. While Fisher skewered politicians and others, he maintained their respect and even friendship. “He was never mean for the sake of being mean,” observed John Deering, political cartoonist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In the minds of many readers, Fisher’s cartoons became synonymous with the Gazette, and his caricatures became part of Arkansas’s political lore.
Shortly after becoming the Gazette’s full-time cartoonist he began inserting the word “Snooky,” his wife’s nickname, within each drawing as a tribute. When readers discovered this, many began scouring Fisher’s cartoons daily to “find Snooky”. Although his wife passed away in 1983, he continued this tradition as a memorial.
Fisher declined to syndicate his work, desiring the freedom to draw Arkansas cartoons for a statewide audience. Deering notes, “[What] set George apart was his love of Arkansas.” It’s also what endeared him to his many friends and fans. Though not well-known to newspaper readers outside the state, Fisher was deeply respected by newspaper journalists and cartoonists throughout the nation.
Many of Fisher’s most enduring images are showcased in this exhibit, including caricatures of Orval Faubus, David Pryor, Frank White, Tommy Robinson, and Bill Clinton, as well as cartoons of the “Keep Busy” Corps of Engineers and the gang of retired politicos at the Old Guard Rest Home. The exhibit’s centerpiece is his drawing table and chair, where he completed his last cartoon for the Arkansas Times. Also featured are cartoons, photos, and personal effects of other Arkansas political cartoonists, and a video commentary.
Drawing on Arkansas Politics, part of the Old State House Museum’s larger exhibit, A Circus Hitched to a Tornado: Arkansas Politics in the 20th Century, will be on exhibit through October 2009.