Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Larry's Cartoon Vault: Art Young and the Espionage Act

Reading a news item recently regarding national security issues, I was surprised to learn that the Espionage Act was currently being used to prosecute government employees for leaking classified information to journalists.

In my innocence, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the Espionage Act --enacted in 1917-- was still in existence at all.   I only knew of the law in association with a series of infamous trials during World War I.

For me, the term “espionage” conjures up images of invisible ink, secret passwords, spies thwarted from blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge or some such.

However, the case I’m most familiar with from the WWI era had to do with the activities of a “dangerous” cartoonist who used very visible India ink.  

Art Young.

Self portrait from Art Young's Inferno (1934)
 Young was one of a number of artists and writers who were placed on trial for conspiring to obstruct military enlistment under the Espionage Act.

Young, a well-known and successful cartoonist, had a career that began around 1889.  He worked for a variety of newspapers and freelanced to major humor magazines such as Puck, Life and Judge. He drew straight gags, social satire and progressive political cartoons. He also was a frequent contributor the Socialist magazine, The Masses (many of the finest cartoonists, illustrators and artists of the day contributed to The Masses including John Sloan, George Bellows, Robert Minor, Broadman Robinson and Robert Henri).

The Espionage Act was originally enacted on June 15, 1917 to prevent the support US enemies during times of war.   During WWI, the Espionage Act was broadly interpreted to include pretty much any criticism of Woodrow Wilson administration’s war efforts.

Below is "Exhibit F" in Art Young’s trial for sedition:

"Having Their Fling"

It’s hard today to imagine that an editorial cartoon that disapproves of war so generically could be viewed as a kin to an act of violence or sedition.

Somewhere along the line a law intended to thwart foreign subversion –like blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge—was instead being employed to censor the press.

 Young’s take on the proceedings was remarkable:

“… I did not expect to be hung if found guilty, or shot at sunrise. At the worst I was sure it would be but a few years in prison.” (Italics my emphasis).

He may be best remembered for falling asleep during the “trial for his life”.

Young later did this sketch of his famous nap.

Among other writers and artists tried at the time included editor Max Eastman, H.J. Glintenkamp, John Reed and even poet Josephine Bell (she wrote a poem about Emma Goldman).

Ultimately, the jury split and the judge called a mistrial.  On Oct 1918, a second trial for conspiracy was held. Again resulting with a split jury.

Art Young, a great cartoonist, is unjustly forgotten today. 

Here’s one of my favorite Young cartoons (actually one of my favorite cartoons, period)

Here's a couple more:

This was one of Young's most reprinted cartoons

For more on the subject check out these books by Art Young:

On My Way 

Art Young: His Life and Times

Art Young’s Inferno

The Best of Art Young


Art for the Masses by Rebecca Zurier

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