Drawing Distinctions - American Cartoonist George Fisher
“Drawing Distinctions: The Life and Work of American Cartoonist George Fisher” provides samples of the life and career of a Little Rock political cartoonist whose work documents Arkansas and American history since World War II.
This digital exhibit presents a sample selection of fifty digitized items from the George Fisher Collection, which is in the process of being organized by Special Collections for use by future researchers. Examples provided here span the entirety of Fisher’s distinguished career as a political cartoonist, and letters and photographs highlight significant moments in his personal life.
The full collection documenting Fisher’s life and work contains thousands of items, including cartoons and drawings, correspondence, memorabilia, and scrapbooks. All told, the George Fisher Collection comprises a substantial record of this important Arkansas artist. The collection includes examples of his work from every stage in his career--from some of his earliest published cartoons during World War II through his vast output of published works over the following five decades. The various subjects that drew the attention of Fisher’s unique artistic voice and keen vision as a social and political commentator touch nearly every important Arkansas issue in the second half of the twentieth century--from veterans’ affairs to environmental policy, political campaigns, and civil rights.
The collection contains published cartoons, preliminary sketches, unpublished finished pieces, commercial art, and other types of materials that incorporated his artwork, such as board games and calendars. Handmade books and sketchbooks, including the Fisky Limps cartoons he began drawing at age eight, show Fisher’s earliest strides at honing his artistic style and his technical development as an illustrator. The collection contains numerous photographs of Fisher and his wife throughout their life together and images of Fisher at public events. The collection also presents letters between Fisher and his father and other friends and loved ones, many of which were personalized with elaborate and amusing illustrations.
This exhibit is an ongoing project presenting just a fraction of the wealth of materials currently being processed by Special Collections. Once processing is completed, all of the thousands of different items included in the collection will be available to researchers on-site and many will become available through this website.
Janet Parsch and Joan Watkins initially coordinated this digital exhibit in 2011-2012. Others involved included Tom Dillard, Annie Dowling, Judy Ganson, Jordan Johnson, Beth Juhl, Deb Kulczak, Arthur Morgan, Tim Nutt, Geoffery Stark, and Joshua Youngblood. This exhibit tripled in size in 2015, with Janet Parsch and Martha Parker serving as project coordinators. Jason Dean, Cody Hackett, Jordan Johnson, and Deb Kulczak participated in the second phase of the project. The 151-item exhibit went live in July 2015. The citation for this exhibit is: “Drawing Distinctions: American Cartoonist George Fisher.” Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville. July 2015. http://digitalcollections.uark.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/GeoFisher .
This project was funded by a generous donation from Kathryn and Tommy May and Simmons First National Bank.
About George Fisher
Born to Charles W. and Gladys Fisher on April 8, 1923, George was reared in Beebe, Arkansas. His father was a plant nursery owner and a home builder. His mother died when George was five, and he was raised by his loving father—who never remarried. Fisher’s father encouraged his son’s interest in drawing and cartooning. At the tender age of seven, George created his first comic strip, “Fisky Limps.”
Fisher attended the public schools of Beebe and then attended the local community college for one year. He also took advantage of additional art education while serving in Britain during World War II and later spent one year studying art at the University of Arkansas.
World War II had a significant effect on Fisher. He served in the infantry during the war and participated in the Battle of the Bulge near the end of the war. He earned two bronze stars for his service in the war. While stationed in England, Fisher met a young art student named Rosemary Snook of Bournemouth. They were married shortly after the war and moved to Arkansas upon George’s discharge.
Fisher and his bride settled in West Memphis where he and other returning veterans established a reform newspaper, the West Memphis News. In 1948, Fisher supported another veteran for governor, Sidney S. McMath—in what was known as the “GI Revolt.” Fisher remained a loyal supporter of McMath for the remainder of the former governor’s life.
Fisher began doing commercial art while living in West Memphis right after the war. Later, he would work for a wide variety of politicians, businesses, and non-profits.
In 1949, Fisher and his wife left West Memphis and moved to Little Rock where he did commercial art for the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. He also convinced Bob McCord, owner and editor of the North Little Rock Times, to begin publishing his political cartoons. In 1972 the Arkansas Gazette began reprinting the Fisher cartoons, and three years later he joined the Arkansas Gazette as its lead cartoonist.
Fisher’s cartoons were exceedingly popular with people throughout Arkansas. Early in his career, Fisher began hiding his wife’s nickname, “Snooky,” within his cartoons—and a generation of young students grew up trying to locate the name within the drawings. His series of cartoons on the “Old Guard Rest Home” caught on with the public and became a staple of Fisher’s work. He was also known for his cartoons critical of the impact of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the state’s natural resources.
Perhaps Fisher’s most famous cartoon was a drawing of Gov. Orval Faubus addressing the state legislature in which everyone present, including the mice, had the distinctive face of the powerful six-term governor.
The popularity of Fisher’s cartoons resulted in them being reprinted in 15 books. His caricatures were used also to decorate the popular “Farkleberry Restaurant” in Little Rock.
Fisher had many interests beyond cartooning, most notably folk music. He was a founder and member of the musical group “Rackensack,” playing the guitar and singing with gusto. Fisher also found time to support his wife’s professional activities as a ceramics artist and teacher at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. Rosemary Fisher died in 1983.
Fisher became a fierce defender of his employer when the owner of the Arkansas Democrat began to challenge the Gazette for survival in a town that was not large enough to support two daily newspapers. When the Democrat won the “newspaper war,” Fisher joined the weekly alternative newspaper, The Arkansas Times. Fisher was still drawing for the Times when he died on December 15, 2003.
George Fisher was buried in his hometown of Beebe, Arkansas. His papers were donated to the University of Arkansas Libraries shortly before his death.
George Fisher: Chronology
|1923||Born George Edward Fisher on April 8 at Higginson, near Searcy, Arkansas, to Charles W. and Gladys Fisher. Raised with his two brothers and sister in Beebe, Arkansas, by his father after his mother passed away when George was five.|
|1935-36||As an eighth-grade student, started Beebe Grammar School News, and made arrangements with the school to print it|
|1941-1942||Attended Beebe Junior College while serving in Army Reserves|
|1943||Called to active duty by U.S. Army for service in World War II|
|1944||First published cartoon dealt with Governor Homer Adkins taking credit for so many war plants around Arkansas|
|1944||Shipped to Plymouth, England, as part of the 417th Regiment. Attended drawing classes at the Municipal College of Art at Bournemouth, where he met fellow art student Rosemary Snook.|
|1944-45||Served as infantryman in Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Maintained sketch diary of fighting experiences and drew cartoons for regimental newsletter|
|1946||Married Rosemary Beryl Snook (nicknamed “Snooky”)|
|1946||Attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, taking art classes for one semester|
|1946||Began drawing political cartoons for West Memphis News, a reform weekly newspaper started by returning World War II veterans as part of the “GI Revolt.”|
|1949||Moved to Little Rock after the closing of the West Memphis News to work for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., doing commercial artwork for their Yellow Pages|
|1953-54||Developed and produced syndicated puppet show on Little Rock ABC television station KATV called “Phydeaux and His Friends,” which featured puppets made by himself and his wife|
|1954||Started his own commercial art service, Fisher Art Service, in Little Rock|
|1964||Began drawing cartoons for North Little Rock Times, many being reprinted in the Pine Bluff Commercial and the Arkansas Gazette, the state’s largest daily newspaper|
|1968||Provided art for booklet “Cranking Up the Old Machine,” which helped Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller defeat Marion Crank, an ally of former Gov. Orval E. Faubus|
|1972||Began drawing cartoons twice a week on commission for the Gazette|
|1976||Became full-time regular editorial cartoonist at the Gazette|
|1983||Rosemary Fisher died August 25, 1983|
|1986||Drew most famously reprinted cartoon of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, depicting a weeping eagle|
|1991||Continued to draw cartoons for the Arkansas Times with the closing of the Gazette|
|1994||Presented cartoons as part of TV show on Little Rock television channel 11|
|2002||Donated his papers to University of Arkansas Special Collections in October|
|2003||Died on December 15 at his home at age eighty from heart attack; buried in Beebe Cemetery|
George Fisher: Bibliography
Allin, Richard, and George Fisher. 1983. Southern legislative dictionary: Words used by Southern legislators. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Pub. Co.
Allin, Richard, and George Fisher. 1984. The second Southern legislative dictionary. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Pub. Co.
Diverting disaster: An activist chronicle, 1962-1972. 1982. Ozark Society Bulletin 16 (2): 7-14.
Fisher, George. 1967. All around the farkleberry bush. No publisher or place of publication given.
Fisher, George. 1969. Fruit of the farkleberry. Little Rock, Ark.: Progressive Litho & Printing Co.
Fisher, George. 1972. U.S. Corps of Engineers coloring book: Plus other Arkansas environmental cartoons. No publisher or place of publication given.
Fisher, George. 1973. Fisher's gallery. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Pub. Co.
Fisher, George. 1978. Fisher. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Pub. Co.
Fisher, George. 1980. Fisher's annual report 1980. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Publishing Co.
Fisher, George. 1983. God would have done it if he'd had the money. Little Rock, Ark.: Arkansas Wildlife Federation Conservation Foundation.
Fisher, George. 1984. Old guard rest home. Little Rock, Ark.: Rose Publishing Co.
Fisher, George. 1987. There you go again: Editorial cartoons of the Reagan years. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press.
Fisher, George. 1987. Fisher's comic relief: Editorial cartoons on Arkansas in the 80s. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press.
Fisher, George. 1993. The best of Fisher: 28 years of editorial cartoons from Faubus to Clinton. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press.
Fisher, George. 2000. Oral interview by Ernest Dumas for the [Arkansas] Gazette project, August 5, 2000. http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/projects/arkansasgazette/GFisher.pdf .
Fisher, George, and Ernest Dumas. 2004. White County cartoonist. White County Heritage 42: 71-79. [Excerpt from oral interview conducted by Ernest Dumas on August 5, 2000]
The George Fisher Collection, Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Arkansas. Houses 3,000 of Fisher’s original cartoon drawings dating from 1971 through 1991. Website: http://www.arkarts.com/collection/special_collections/coll_display_fisher.asp
Glaze, Tom, with Ernie Dumas. With cartoons by George Fisher. 2011. Waiting for the Cemetery Vote: the fight to stop election fraud in Arkansas. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press.
Parks, Susan, and Kim Allen Scott. 1992. Comics and candidates. Arkansas Historical Quarterly 51 (3): 247-263.
Portrait of the artist as a young soldier: Footprints in the E.T.O. 1986. Arkansas Times 12 (6): 82-87.