Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 17th 2019

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‘Them Damned Pictures’

By Savannah Evanoff

Randy Bowden remembers his father with a pen in his left hand.

His dad was the one responsible for the ink stains on their kitchen table, the guy doodling on every blank page in the vicinity and the artist holed up in his office sketching his way through compositional notepads, some of which no one ever saw until he died in 2015.

J. Earle Bowden drew the world as he saw it—in cartoons.

J. Earle Bowden, a former sportswriter, editor-in-chief and vice president at the Pensacola News Journal, is one of three cartoonists represented in “Them Damned Pictures: A Brief History of Editorial Cartoons” expressing freedom of speech.

The exhibition at the Pensacola Museum of Art (PMA) will also feature cartoons from Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal and Pulitzer Prize finalist Ralph Dunagin of the Orlando Sentinel.

PMA Director Nicholas Croghan said the idea sprouted from the University of West Florida’s 2019 Seligman First Amendment Lecture Series, which also includes an event with Carl Hiaasen, the Miami Herald columnist and satirical novelist, and a musical event featuring UWF music professor Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy.

They spent hours sifting through the Pensacola News Journal archives to curate cartoons that addressed important issues to the area. Some of the pieces Croghan finds particularly poignant are the commentary on issues surrounding the Gulf and environmental stewardship, he said.

“Drawings communicate beyond the written word,” Croghan said. “What we’re trying to do with the cartoons is to examine these issues that have been pervasive in the local area, the region, nationally and internationally, and see how these issues have changed in terms of perspective and scope but also try and bring a playful quality to how they’re approached.”

After all, they are cartoons.

“Yes, they usually represent an editorial comment from that paper, but they’re also supposed to make you smile, think and hopefully open up a dialogue with other members of the community,” Croghan said.

‘A true unbiased journalist’
J. Earle Bowden was a rarity.

Not many journalists make cartoons for their own editorials.

He started his career at the Pensacola News Journal in 1953 and continued drawing cartoons even after he retired. The newspaper must’ve saved a bit of money using his drawings, Randy Bowden speculated with a laugh.

“His ability to do editorial cartoons allowed him to get a double whammy to the public out there about his message,” Randy Bowden said.

J. Earle Bowden started with a dip pen and drawings the size of an unfolded newspaper. As technology advanced, he traded the pen and ink holder for a uni-ball pen and downsized to a smaller sketchpad.

Then, the internet happened.

“He wrestled with that,” Randy Bowden said. “He was one of those believers in the printed word and that it was going to live on forever. He was a true unbiased journalist. You would not have known what his political nature was. He was a historian. He was preservationist. And he was a journalist. He married all of those things together.”

J. Earle Bowden was known for his bold-lined drawings addressing issues such as the Florida legislature, environment, taxes, tourism and international politics. But, like him, cartoons are twofold in nature—not only journalism but also art.

His father was self-taught, but he always wanted to go to art school, Randy Bowden said.

The newspaperman drew his whole life—sometimes a pile of leaves during a family trip to the Smoky Mountains, a Live Oak tree that hung over the patio or an old grist mill.

Randy Bowden could never forget his father doodling on the paper placemats at Angus Steakhouse, a former restaurant in East Pensacola Heights with a big banquet room.

“One day, we went there and there was six or seven of his placemats on each side of the wall that they had confiscated that he left on the table when he walked off. They had framed them and hung ‘em up,” Randy Bowden said. “He didn’t know about it. He walked in there and said, ‘Wow, look at this.’ He was always just leaving these little crumbs everywhere.”

Randy Bowden’s favorite of his cartoons is a Christmas caricature he drew for his daughter Jessica—named after his father.

“It was basically a little girl dressed in a Santa Claus suit ringing the bell and ringing in Christmas and the New Year,” Bowden said. “He added color to it. Every year, he would pin it up by the Christmas tree at their house. That’s a cherished item.”

Bowden is known for his commitment to environmentalism and historic preservation.

The headquarters of the UWF Historic Trust, The Bowden Building, is named for him and his endeavors.

“He always tried to impress on me that you need to leave the place better than you find it,” Randy Bowden said.

Randy Bowden didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps.

He couldn’t.

“I always thought he was so damn good at it,” Randy Bowden said. “I didn’t think I could ever do that.”

‘Cartoons are equalizers’
Andy Marlette isn’t the first in his family to use art like a weapon.

His uncle, Doug Marlette, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist.

“We were close growing up, and we always had his cartoon books lying around the house as a kid,” Marlette said. “So I was copying them, drawing cartoons of Reagan and Jimmy Carter before I really understood who the president was.”

Now, he makes it his mission to push the right buttons and annoy politicians—particularly Congressman Matt Gaetz, Marlette said.

Cartoons are “David’s sling and Robin Hood’s bow,” he said.

When asked to describe his style, Marlette modestly said “pretty immature and mediocre” but hopefully improving a little bit all the time, he added.

“I’m not really formally trained, so I’ve just sort of stolen things from all the picture-drawers I’ve ever seen and loved—everyone from Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to Picasso and Michelangelo,” Marlette said. “There were a lot of Ninja Turtles and Bart Simpsons as a kid. MAD Magazine and the cartoons in Playboy—mix in all that stuff, and that’s sort of where my goofy drawings come from.”

Marlette approaches cartoons a little like folk art.

“I try to work in the same spirit that Woody Guthrie played his guitar,” Marlette said. “At their best, cartoons are equalizers, tearing down and stripping naked the rich, powerful and phony folks for all of us poor folks to laugh at.”

Cartoons can neutralize authoritarians and narcissists in that way, he said. Those who we ridicule have no power over our lives.

“And in a nation founded by folks who gave the middle finger to a mad king, that should be a fundamental part of American patriotism,” Marlette said. “How bizarre and deranged that folks who proclaim ‘patriotism’ fill arenas and chant and cheer in ceremonial worship of politicians? This is America. Only Beyoncé deserves that sort of thing.”

Marlette doesn’t know which of his works are in the exhibition, but he thinks the concept is timely.

“In the sad, strange days of Facebook phonies and Russian trolls—where professional political liars cry ‘fake news’ and many people are duped into believing them—cartoons are important tools for revealing the truth about conmen,” Marlette said.

The exhibition is also the perfect complement to UWF’s Seligman First Amendment Lecture Series, he said.

“It’s very cool that Dr. Martha Saunders and the university wanted to include it—it actually says a lot about them,” Marlette said. “A lot of buttoned-down, respectable institutions get nervous around political cartoons. Their insecurities come out, and they get scared about any whiff of potential controversy. It’s why the New York Times Opinion page doesn’t have a staff cartoonist. They’re scared of what might happen.”

He thinks it’s cowardly, but he gets it.

“There’s a primitive power in these silly drawings,” Marlette said. “Good cartoons are the street fighters of political discourse. They have punch. They can be dirty and rough. They are cheap and quick to produce. They are inherently working class and anti-authority—a sort of unrefined art that reaches children and poor people and turns them against their parents and bosses. You know, sort of like rock and roll, but cartoonists aren’t cool enough to have groupies.”

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Seligman First Amendment Lecture Series Schedule

Them Damned Pictures: A Brief History of Editorial Cartoons
WHAT: The exhibition presenting three Florida editorial cartoonists
WHEN: On view now through Sept. 15
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $7 adults, $4 children (ages 3-14), $6 for military and dependents, seniors, UWF Historic Trust Members and UWF Alumni Association Members, free for children (under 3), PMA Members and UWF Students
DETAILS: pensacolamuseum.org

Artist Talk
WHAT: Featuring Andy Marlette
WHEN: 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: Free
DETAILS: facebook.com/pensacolamuseum

Banned and Forbidden–Prohibited Musical Masterpieces
WHAT: A a special concert dedicated to forbidden music under the direction of UWF music professor and director of strings Dr. Leonid Yanovskiy.
WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12
WHERE: Old Christ Church, 405 S. Adams St.
COST: Free
DETAILS: uwf.edu/cassh/community-outreach/seligman-first-amendment-lecture-series

An Evening with Carl Hiaasen
WHAT: A lecture featuring author and columnist, Carl Hiaasen
WHEN: 6-7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12
WHERE: New World Landing, 600 S. Palafox St.
COST: Free, but registration is required by Friday, Sept. 6
DETAILS: uwf.edu/cassh/community-outreach/seligman-first-amendment-lecture-series