No Laughing Matter: The editorial cartoons of Karl E. Mundt, an exhibit of cartoons
chronicling the life and times of Karl E. Mundt, is on display in the Mundt Foundation
at Dakota State University from Sept. 1 through the month of December.
The collected cartoons, 40 of which are original drawings, span Mundt’s 34-year
congressional career. He served South Dakota in the House of Representatives from
1938 to 1948 and as a senator from 1948 to 1973. During that time he participated in
major events in American history like the investigation of communist activity in the
motion picture industry that created the Hollywood black list. He served on the
committee that investigated racketeering and chaired the special Senate
subcommittee conducting the Army-McCarthy hearings.
“It’s a walk back through history -- 34 years of history and they’re very entertaining,”
said Bonnie Olson, the archivist for the Foundation and Dakota State University’s
archives. “It’s just a fun way to reminisce about our history.”
Throughout his congressional career Mundt amassed a comprehensive collection of
documents, photographs, more than 100 scrapbooks, gifts from foreign dignitaries
and memorabilia from his travels. His archives present a fairly complete record of his
time in Washington.
“He was in office so many years – a person starts to collect things,” Olson said.
Olson said his well-developed sense of humor might be what led Mundt to include the
cartoons in his collection, particularly those that didn’t portray Mundt in a favorable
“He was a very personable person,” she said. “He had a good memory. He liked to
come back to South Dakota to visit with his South Dakota constituents.”
The exhibit is made up of 60-plus cartoons -- 40 originals, and 20 that were pulled from
newspaper clippings. Many of the drawings are signed and contain personal messages
to the congressman. Exhibit designer Lisa Bretsch organized the work by cartoonist
and included biographies of the men who created the art.
“It’s cool,” she said. “One of the reasons that we’re putting these cartoons up for
exhibit is because they’ve never been exhibited.”
The earliest dated original cartoon on exhibit, a black and white drawing from 1943 by
Will B. Johnstone, addresses an acronym Mundt created called GWIBIT, which stands
for Guild of Washington Incompetent Bureaucratic Idea Throatcutters. The cartoon is
one of many done by Johnstone who was a political cartoonist for the New York
World-Telegram. To get to the paper each day, Johnstone walked past the Woolworth
Building in New York City. After the stock market crashed in 1929, he said that he
should be getting combat pay because of the dangerous walk past the building where
many market losers were leaping out of windows committing suicide. Johnstone died
Mundt has work by well-known cartoonists like Herb Block, a long-time Washington
Post cartoonist who won Pulitzer prizes in 1942, 1954, 1979 and shared a Pulitzer in
1973 for his coverage of the Watergate scandal.
The work of Jim Berryman is also featured. In 1949, he became the chief editorial
cartoonist at the Star and in 1950 won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for a
cartoon titled, “All Set For A Super-Secret Session In Washington” a drawing of a
McCarthy era committee hearing room filled with microphones and cameras.
The mostly black and white pencil compositions in the exhibit range in size from 21
inches by18 inches to 8.5 by 11-inch drawings.
“The range of topics covered on these cartoons are anything from the Un-American
activities committee to the Councilor Treaty with Russia to the Dixiecrats, which was a
group of conservative Democrats that banded together to oppose the re-election
campaign of President Harry Truman; to the Army-McCarthy trial,” Bretsch said.
Benjamin Franklin produced America’s first political cartoon in 1754. His Join or Die
slogan advocated an intercolonial association to deal with the Iroquois at the Albany
Congress. Thomas Nast used his cartoons in Collier’s to expose