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Digital Collections

Sykes Editorial Cartoon Collection

Charles Henry 'Bill' Sykes (1882-1942) was a well respected editorial cartoonist whose work appeared in a number of periodicals including newspapers in Philadelphia. James Branch Cabell Library Special Collections and Archives acquired this collection of original circa 1940 drawings in 1980.

Born in Athens, Alabama, in 1882, Sykes graduated from Philadelphia's Drexel Institute in 1904. For a short time he did freelance art work and then was employed by the North American, Williamsport News, and Nashville Banner. In 1911, he returned to Philadelphia to work for the Public Ledger. In 1914, he became the first and only editorial cartoonist employed by the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia), until it ceased publication in 1942. Before he died later that year, Sykes, who smoked four packages of cigarettes a day, received a commission to draw a series of anti-smoking advertisements.

From 1922 to 1928, he was the regular editorial cartoonist for Life magazine, producing full-page weekly editorial cartoons. Also during that time, Sykes inherited the weekly and annual cartoon roundup of news subjects upon the death of F.T. Richards. He was a consistent contributor to Collier's magazine and his cartoons have appeared in the New York Evening Post. His most famous cartoon, "Madonna and Child A.D. 1940," depicts the ugliness of war; the image shows a mother and child wearing gas masks.

The Sykes Editorial Cartoon Collection consists of 297 original editorial cartoons, four unfinished sketches, a U.S. War Bond poster, and a U.S. Victory poster by Sykes. The cartoons appeared in the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia) and illustrate the events of the late 1930s and early 1940s with a focus on American reaction to the aggressions of the Axis powers before the U.S. entry into World War II. Other topics represented include: John L. Lewis and coal miners, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics, the Turner-Kilroy Bill, and baseball.

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Sykes created his early cartoons using the unusual patterns of coquille board for the shading effect. His later works were created with a crayon and wash technique. His cartoons were usually funny, filled with delightfully distorted figures while offering his unique perspective on the current news events.

In the "before and after" views of selected cartoons below, the image to the left of the bar comes from the original cartoon art. The image to the right of the bar shows how the cartoon looked when published, taken from microfilm of the cartoon's appearance in the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia).

For more information on the Charles Henry Sykes Cartoon Collection, see the finding aid.

Copyright for the materials in this collection is managed by the VCU Libraries. The use of these materials is subject to the stipulations specified in the VCU Libraries copyright page.

Drag the bars to view the before and after of each image

Syke's Madonna and Child
Syke's Madonna and Child
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