Flannery O’Connor’s Satirical Cartoons: 1942–1945

Sci-fi author B.C. Kowal­s­ki recent­ly post­ed a short essay on why the advice to write every day is, for lack of a suit­able euphemism, “bull­shit.” Not that there’s any­thing wrong with it, Kowal­s­ki main­tains. Only that it’s not the only way. It’s said Thack­er­ay wrote every morn­ing at dawn. Jack Ker­ouac wrote (and drank) in binges. Every writer finds some method in-between. The point is to “do what works for you” and to “exper­i­ment.” Kowal­s­ki might have added a third term: diver­si­fy. It’s worked for so many famous writ­ers after all. James Joyce had his music, Sylvia Plath her art, Hem­ing­way his machis­mo. Faulkn­er drew car­toons, as did his fel­low South­ern writer Flan­nery O’Connor, his equal, I’d say, in the art of the Amer­i­can grotesque. Through both writ­ers ran a deep vein of pes­simistic humor, oblique, but detectable, even in scenes of high­est pathos.


O’Connor’s visu­al work, writes Kel­ly Ger­ald in The Paris Review, was a “way of see­ing she described as part of the ‘habit of art’”—a way to train her fic­tion writer’s eye. Her car­toons hew close­ly to her autho­r­i­al voice: a lone sar­don­ic observ­er, supreme­ly con­fi­dent in her assess­ments of human weak­ness. Per­haps a bet­ter com­par­i­son than Faulkn­er is with British poet and doo­dler Ste­vie Smith, whose bleak vision and razor-sharp wit sim­i­lar­ly cut through moun­tains of… shall we say, bull­shit. In both pen & ink and linoleum cuts, O’Connor set dead­pan one-lin­ers against images of pre­ten­sion, con­for­mi­ty, and the banal­i­ty of col­lege life. In the car­toon at the top, she seems to mock the pur­suit of cre­den­tials as a refuge for the social­ly dis­af­fect­ed. Above, a cam­paign­er for a low-lev­el office deploys bom­bas­tic pseu­do-Lenin­ist rhetoric, and in the car­toon below, a cranky char­ac­ter escapes a horde of iden­ti­cal WAVES.

O’Connor was an intense­ly visu­al writer with, Ger­ald writes, a “nat­ur­al pro­cliv­i­ty for cap­tur­ing the humor­ous char­ac­ter of real peo­ple and con­crete sit­u­a­tions,” ful­ly cred­i­ble even at their most extreme (as in the increas­ing­ly hor­rif­ic self-lac­er­a­tions of Wise Blood’s Hazel Motes). She began draw­ing at five and pro­duced small books and sketch­es as a child, even­tu­al­ly pub­lish­ing car­toons in almost every issue of her high-school and college’s news­pa­pers and year­books. Her alma mater Geor­gia Col­lege, then known as Geor­gia State Col­lege for Women, has pub­lished a book fea­tur­ing her car­toons from her under­grad­u­ate years, 1942–45.

More recent­ly, Ger­ald edit­ed a col­lec­tion called Flan­nery O’Connor: The Car­toons for Fan­ta­graph­ics. In his intro­duc­tion, artist Bar­ry Moser describes in detail the tech­nique of her linoleum cuts, call­ing them “coarse in tech­ni­cal terms.” And yet, “her rudi­men­ta­ry han­dling of the medi­um notwith­stand­ing, O’Connor’s prints offer glimpses into the work of the writer she would become” with their “lit­tle O’Connor petards aimed at the walls of pre­ten­tious­ness, aca­d­e­mics, stu­dent pol­i­tics, and stu­dent com­mit­tees.” Had O’Connor con­tin­ued mak­ing car­toons into her pub­lish­ing years, she might have, like B.C. Kowal­s­ki, aimed one of those petards at those who dis­pense dog­mat­ic, cook­ie-cut­ter writ­ing advice as well.

via Geor­gia Col­lege/The Paris Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revis­it Her Sketch­es, Self-Por­traits, Draw­ings & Illus­trat­ed Let­ters

The Art of Franz Kaf­ka: Draw­ings from 1907–1917

Rare 1959 Audio: Flan­nery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flan­nery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Kevin says:

    See this excerpt from the arti­cle “Bar­ry Moser describes in detail the tech­nique of her linoleum cuts, call­ing them u201ccourse in tech­ni­cal terms.u201d” I pre­sume the word should be ‘coarse’. Flan­nery would be delight­ed, I feel sure.

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