Opinion

Dwane Powell drew in the golden age of cartoons

Take a look back at the work of cartoonist Dwane Powell

For over three decades Dwane Powell skewered the left and the right as an editorial cartoonist at the News & Observer. Here's a look back of some of his best work.
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For over three decades Dwane Powell skewered the left and the right as an editorial cartoonist at the News & Observer. Here's a look back of some of his best work.

As an editorial writer at the News & Observer for three years, I worked closely with my fellow Arkansan, the late cartoonist Dwane Powell whom I called “Deewayne” to remind him of his roots. One of my assignments was to select cartoons to go on the op-ed page between 1973-1977.

This was a golden age for newspaper cartoonists and N&O Publisher Frank Daniels Jr. and editor Claude Sitton generously paid for the syndication rights, allowing me to see the work of the best cartoonists in America: The famous “Herblock” (Herb Block) of the Washington Post (four Pulitzer Prizes), Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun Times (two Pulitzers) Don Wright of the Miami News (two Pulitzers), Paul Conrad of the Los Angeles Times (three Pulitzers), Pat Oliphant of the Denver Post (one Pulitzer), North Carolina’s own Jeff MacNelly of the Richmond News Leader (two Pulitzers), and two Dwane contemporaries, Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News and Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer, (one Pulitzer each).

Each had their trademarks. Herblock was straightforward, Conrad and Mauldin (of World War II’s Willie and Joe) were more subtle but deadly. MacNelly was brilliant and more of an artist in the Thomas Nast tradition. Oliphant could set a tone, like drawing President George H. W. Bush in a dress, much like the great comic strip writer Garry Trudeau (one Pulitzer) that we published on the op-ed page. He drew Dan Quayle as a white feather and Newt Gingrich as a bomb. (I saved many of these cartoons, hoping one day to plaster my office wall with them.)

I also wrote a magazine article for the late Tar Heel magazine in February 1981 about the unusually large number of state cartoonists. Impossible to believe now, there were eight cartoonists practicing in North Carolina, including Dwane: Lambert Der, Dana Summers, Doug Marlette, Gene Payne, Bob Gorrell, John Branch, and V. C. Rogers. That number has more than dwindled, and today Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer is one of the very few daily cartoonists still standing, along with Capital Broadcasting Opinion’s Dennis Draughon. Dwane, always generous with fellow cartoonists, helped Branch, Der and others get started.

What separated Dwane from other cartoonists, in my opinion, was his talent as a caricaturist like Thomas Nast. None of our stable of cartoonist masters, except for MacNelly, could match Dwane’s talent and artistry for caricature, and yet, the Pulitzer escaped him.

Friends who went to restaurants with Dwane may have saved a napkin on which they found themselves skewered by his notorious doodling. He could pick out a facial feature or personal trait that stuck. His caricature of Jesse Helms with oversized glasses and outraged eyes, and the comb in “good buddy” Jim Hunt’s earnest pompadours were often copied by other cartoonists. A cartoon of the late Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green as a wrinkled, smoking porcupine nemesis on a leash to a forlorn, quill-stuck Hunt (for once, without the comb) is a classic in caricature. And when evangelist Billy Graham, was exposed for hiding a slush fund, Dwane caricatured a dead-solid perfect Graham opening a wall safe hidden behind a picture of Jesus. It should have won the Pulitzer.

Barlow Herget, a Raleigh writer, worked with Dwane Powell at the N&O from 1974 to 1976. Herget is a former Nieman fellow, Raleigh City Councilor and author of five books.

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