John Knott’s editorial cartoons for The Dallas Morning News

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For over 50 years, Dallasites has opened The morning news from Dallas and seen caricatures drawn by John Francis Knott. His art has delighted generations of readers, captured the spirit of the times and struck a chord with his audience. To his companion New members of staff, Knott’s work broadened editorial caricature as an art form.

Just as his posts satirized current events, he also advanced causes important to North Texas. His style and characters have become synonymous with Texas in popular culture, and his images of Texan life have spread across the world.

In the first of a recurring series on Knott, The news looks back on his longtime designer to learn more about what made his work so memorable.

The young artist

John Francis Knott was born on December 7, 1878 in Pilsen, Austria (now Plzeň, Czech Republic). When he was 5, his family immigrated to Sioux City, Iowa, and as a young man his drawings were first published in the Sioux City Journal. He then moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in the Holmes School of Illustration.

In 1901 he moved to Dallas after accepting a job offer at the White Engraving Co. of Dallas, where he illustrated harness and saddle catalogs. In 1905, New editor D. Prescott Toomey offered him a full-time artistic job.

John Knott’s first signed cartoon appeared in The Dallas Morning News on January 1, 1906.(The Dallas Morning News | John Knott)

Knot and The news

Old Man Texas advertisement for the Texas State Fair.  Published in The Dallas Morning News on October 2, 1921.
Old Man Texas advertisement for the Texas State Fair. Published in The Dallas Morning News on October 2, 1921.(The Dallas Morning News | John Knott)

On January 1, 1906, the first cartoon signed by Knott for The news has been released: a stork carrying a baby to celebrate the new year. In the following years, he also occasionally drew sports cartoons, mainly about baseball. In 1910, Knott moved to Munich, Germany, to study at the Royal Academy of Art (now the Munich Academy of Fine Arts), where he spent three semesters.

Knott returned to Dallas in November 1911. Soon after, his work began to appear on the front page of The news. Knott’s style often featured cartoonish individuals and raised shapes, with heavy use of hatching to establish dark colors or shadows. In 1912, during Woodrow Wilson’s first presidential campaign, Knott was promoted to full-time editorial cartoonist, and his work was subsequently published almost daily.

Knott was first acclaimed and popular during World War I. The news described his war cartoons as “as unforgettable as they were devastating”, and in June 1918 one of his pieces was presented before “a French photo exhibition”.

The 1936
The 1936 “Nature’s Answer” earned Knott an honorable mention in the Pulitzer Prize committee editorial comic.(John Knott | The Dallas Morning News)

Knott’s wide reach is partly attributed to increased sales of Liberty Bonds, which were sold to support American troops during the war. After the end of the war, a book of the work of Knott, War Cartoons, has been published.

Knott is perhaps best known for his famous Old Man Texas character. Inspired by Lancaster postmaster and farmer James “Uncle Jimmy” Boyd, Old Man Texas was meant to symbolize what the average Texan might look like and what he might think. He was tall, lanky, and wore a 10 gallon hat and handlebar mustache.

Old Man Texas promoted honest governance, land ownership, and low taxes. He was considered a symbol of Texas, just like Uncle Sam is a symbol of America. Knott was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoon for a play featuring Old Man Texas standing amid the dust storms of the 1930s.

Awards

  • Honorary Doctorate in Literature from Baylor University in 1920
  • Honorable mention for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoon in 1937
  • National Headliners’ Club Award in 1939
  • National Security Council Prize in 1941
  • State Department quote in 1950
  • Honored as Best Cartoonist by the Society of Professional Journalists in 1951

Knott’s legacy

Knott’s cartoons were considered universally accessible. They were praised for the efficiency found in their simplicity, and his messages could be grasped within seconds of reading. Knott was said to have a supernatural ability to know what would be relevant for years to come, which gave his work a lasting quality. His cartoons were also known for their incisive humor.

Dick West, the former director of the editorial page of The news, Knott said “popularized the cartoon as a powerful vehicle” for editorialization. Former colleagues have commented on how he was an “accomplished artist” whose artistic style ensured that his designs could be reproduced but never reproduced.

At the end of October 1918, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria-Hungary demanded an immediate armistice on all fronts of the First World War and the start of peace negotiations.  This Knott play, “German 'Repentance',” was published on October 30, 1918.
At the end of October 1918, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria-Hungary demanded an immediate armistice on all fronts of the First World War and the start of peace negotiations. This Knott play, “German ‘Repentance’,” was published on October 30, 1918.(John Knott | The Dallas Morning News)

Knott’s distinguished career at The news lasted over 50 years. His work has been reprinted in newspapers across the country, including The the Wall Street newspaper and the Los Angeles Times. He received an honorary doctorate in literature from Baylor University and taught art in Dallas for almost 20 years. The State Department acknowledged him for providing “a valuable weapon in our campaign to tell the truth about Soviet aggression.” When he retired in 1957, Knott had drawn over 15,000 caricatures for The news.

Knott died on February 16, 1963. The news praised him for “[u]undoubtedly the outstanding editorial designer of the Southwest for decades, ”and his designs have been reprinted for years. Old New editor-in-chief Tom Simmons called him “the greatest cartoonist of our time.”

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