The Cartoon World of Cleveland

In the annals of American journalism, the Cleveland Press was a long-running and influential daily newspaper known for its attention to working class issues. As a result, many of the newspaper’s articles dug deep in the muck of city business—from sanitation strikes and public transit problems, to urban renewal backlash and pollution control.

This morning, I happened upon the history of the newspaper while attempting to learn more about the pollution of Lake Erie. My fact-finding mission, if you want to call it that, was inspired by a recent visit to the Cleveland shores of Lake Erie, where my family and I were treated to beachfront views of hypodermic needles, Oreo wrappers, tampons, and a decomposing deer carcass. (“Great idea to visit the beach Dad!“)

During my research, I discovered a trove of Bill Roberts’ Cleveland Press editorial illustrations via the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University. Roberts’ cartoons, which hit a brilliant sociopolitical stride in the late 1960s and early 1970s, address issues that still haunt cities like Cleveland to today. Most notably, his cartoons depicting the contamination of Lake Erie speak to the industrial origins of the problems that I encountered on the beach this past Saturday (i.e., manufacturing contaminants, medical waste, etc.). For a better view of the issues that Bill Roberts and the Cleveland Press addressed during the newspaper’s post-World War II heyday, see the gallery of cartoons included below. Sadly, after publishing the paper for more than 100 years, the Cleveland Press was eventually shuttered in 1982.

bill-roberts_the victims_cleveland-press

“The Victim” by Bill Roberts, depicting the Cleveland garbage collectors’ strike in 1970.

bill-roberts-issue-6_cleveland-press

“For a Brighter Future” by Bill Roberts, depicting the passage of Issue 6 in 1968 as a beacon of light for children living in Cleveland’s inner city.

bill-roberts-weeding-cleveland-press

“Time to Start Weeding” by Bill Roberts, which depicts Mayor Carl Stokes in 1969 weeding a tiny circle of grass labeled “Lee-Seville,” while ignoring the tall weeds around him.

bill-roberts_crime_cleveland-press

“Just remember I’m the Law ‘Round Here” by Bill Roberts, 1971.

bill-roberts_garbage-strike_cleveland-press

“Garbage Strike” by Bill Roberts, characterizing the result of garbage strikes throughout Cleveland in 1970.

(Illustration: Bill Roberts. Caption: “The Big Sleep.” Bill Roberts’ depicts a giant sleeping amidst a decaying neighborhood. The giant is snuggling with a house labeled “Urban Renewal.” Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection.)