Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Monday 21 June |
Saint of the Day: St. Aloysius Gonzaga
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

From Nast to Family Circus, Philadelphia exhibit shows how Catholics have been depicted in cartoons

John Burger - published on 10/19/19

Catholic Historical Research Center mounts display of drawings by and about Catholics.

“Cartooning Catholics” is an exhibit in Philadelphia examining how Catholics were portrayed in secular drawings and how Catholics portrayed their own beliefs through cartoons.

Bob Humble, an area cartoonist who had a long running feature in the Delaware County Daily Times, kicked off the exhibit with a lecture at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Historical Research Center, housed in the former Our Lady of Ransom School, October 17. The free exhibit will be there until October 1, 2020.

It features some specimens of cartoons that would be considered highly offensive today, but which once expressed the anti-Catholic feelings of a good portion of the American population.

Exhibit A for that history is Thomas Nast’s “The American River Ganges,” which depicts a group of frightened children standing on a river bank, cowering as a bunch of crocodiles emerge from the water. Look a little closer, and the crocodiles are actually bishops wearing miters. On the opposite shore is a building in the form of St. Peter’s Basilica, but with “Tammany Hall” written across the front. On the near shore is an American public school in ruins, flying the U.S. flag upside down, a symbol of distress.

AMERICAN RIVER GANGES
Catholic Historical Research Center

Nast, who published in Harper’s Weekly in the latter half of the 19th century, was “very fearful of Irish-Catholics coming in and kind of changing the cultural landscape of America,” Patrick Shank, an archivist at the center who curated the exhibit, told the Northeast Times. “He saw the rise of parochial parish schools and high schools as an attack against public schools.”

There are also modern depictions that are critical of the Church, such as comics from Jack Chick.

“These cartoons deal with Anti-Catholicism in two different ways, the first focused on the menace of the pope and the second dealt with the threat to the public school system,” the research center says in a press release.

But there are other other cartoons, drawn by Catholics and often published in Catholic newspapers, that served two different functions.

“The first was to offer commentary on current events and the second was to offer humor on daily Catholic life,” the center said. “The editorial cartoons drawn from the 1950s through the 1970s cover major historical events, including the Second Vatican Council and the Civil Rights Movement. Featured here are cartoonists Earl H. Wolf (1915-1999), Robert F McGovern (1933-2011), and John James Knudsen (1923-2008). Examining the drawings reveals how Catholics reacted to world events.

One, from the now-defunct Catholic Standard & Times, is a 1964 drawing titled “Complete Education,” showing a student working at a desk strewn with books on math, science, economics and other secular subjects, but also a Bible at hand.

CATHOLIC CARTOON
Catholic Historical Research Center

The exhibit also features Marvel comics based on the lives of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul II and others, as well as some strips from “Family Circus,” a comic created by Philadelphia native Bill Keane. Keane’s cartoons, said the center, “reveal the lighter side of Catholic social thought by highlighting religion as expressed in daily life.”

Tags:
Catholic history
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
SUMMER SHED
Zelda Caldwell
Catholic priest’s chapel is finalist in “Shed of the Year&#...
2
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
3
KSIĄDZ
Theresa Civantos Barber
5 Thoughtful ways to honor a priest this Father’s Day
4
SAINT PETER AND JESUS
Philip Kosloski
Who started the Catholic Church?
5
FATHER ANIMATION
Zoe Romanowsky
Animated film shows the power of fatherhood in just one minute
6
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
7
REFUGEES DURING THE HUNGNAM EVACUATION
Larry Peterson
Korean War hero advanced on path to sainthood
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.