Powerful cartoons on display at Brunnier

Rua Pokladnik

Three Des Moines Register cartoonists have their work featured in an editorial cartooning exhibit at the Brunnier Art Museum titled “Frank Miller: Cartoonist in an Iowa Tradition.”

The exhibit highlights Miller, former Register cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling and current Register cartoonist Brian Duffy.

“It started out as a focus on Frank Miller, who was the lead editorial cartoonist at The Des Moines Register from 1953 to 1983,” said Ivan Hanthorn, head of the ISU Preservation Department and guest curator of the exhibit. “I looked forward to his Sunday cartoons because I always thought they were very funny, and I liked his sarcastic edge. I still remember some of his cartoons as well as his paintings, but I certainly don’t recall anything else about the news I read in The Des Moines Register over all those years.”

Through the exhibit, Hanthorn wanted to show Miller in more dimensions than only as a cartoonist.

“In looking at Frank Miller the man, you see that he was not only the well-known cartoonist but also a very accomplished watercolorist,” Hanthorn said. “That was one of the threads that led me to bookend Frank Miller, if you will, with evidence and reference to his predecessor and successor [Darling and Duffy].

“There’s a continuity between these three artists or cartoonists,” Hanthorn added. “All three of them were and are award-winning cartoonists for a well-known, well-respected paper that’s been a statewide paper almost since its founding. In addition to being very successful, publicly respected, liked cartoonists, all three were and are artists in their own right. I’ve included suggestions of the graphic work of Ding Darling, watercolors of Frank Miller and watercolors of Brian Duffy.”

Dana Michels, curatorial assistant at the Brunnier Art Museum says that the cartoons are so wonderful because a lot of the humor is pretty timeless.

“It’s nice to see the tradition of excellence of editorial cartooning in the state of Iowa,” Michels said.

Hanthorn agrees.

“I tried to capture a view of life,” Hanthorn said. “One of the things I had said on the wall is a snippet of a quote of [Miller’s], but it certainly seemed to be a part of his world view, and I find that it’s something I believe in. It was that ‘humor is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.’ I think it’s the glue that keeps us together as a society. Humor is what truly keeps us from wanting to kill each other.”

Hanthorn said he believes students should attend the exhibit to see the relationship between art and cartoons and the power in visual communication.

“Images are very powerful,” Hanthorn said. “They can say things very quickly and deeply that words cannot. I think that it is one of the essential points of the show. All three of these cartoonists were excellent at communicating ideas and points of view with just a few strokes of a pen.”

Hanthorn also said he believes that despite the coming of new technology, the future of cartooning as a medium of expression is very secure.

“Even in a digital world, cartoons will remain a very important means of communicating point of view,” Hanthorn said. “It may be created on the [computer] screen, rather than with pen and brush. It may be mounted on the web, rather than on a piece of newsprint, but the cartoon, I think, is very much alive and well, and I would expect it to remain so.” The exhibit runs through July 30.