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William Karr (Bill) Graham (1920–1994)

William Karr (Bill) Graham is best known as the longtime editorial cartoonist for the Arkansas Gazette. He also published a book of cartoons and had his work exhibited in the United States and abroad.

Bill Graham was born on December 14, 1920, in Coshocton, Ohio, the only child of Lorenzo Karr Graham and Zola Jean McGinnis Graham. He received a BS in social science from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1942, studying history and economics. He had no formal artistic training but was influenced by reading the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Columbus Dispatch, the Philadelphia Record, and the Sunday edition of the New York Times. He liked the cartoons in the Record and the reprints of editorial cartoons from across the nation in the Times. While at Centenary, he contributed cartoons to the college yearbook, the Yoncopin.

During World War II, Graham worked as a U.S. Army training artist and created the comic strip Stinky while stationed at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

Graham met Wilma Lee Been while stationed at Fort Chaffee, and they married in 1945. They had one son, Joe.

After the war, he was hired in 1946 as a reporter at the Coshocton Tribune in Ohio. While there, he drew a Sunday cartoon panel called Smoke Signals. In 1948, he was hired as the editorial cartoonist for the Arkansas Gazette, and he worked there until he retired decades later.

Graham, who met every president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, kept up with every aspect of politics: international, national, and local, although he maintained a light approach in his work regardless of subject matter. During the 1957 Central High School desegregation crisis, he often featured Governor Orval Faubus in his cartoons; he once said of Faubus, “I could draw him in my sleep.”

Graham held membership in the National Cartoonists Society and the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. One book of his cartoons was published by the Gazette in 1974: A Little Drum Roll, Please: The Second Term of Richard M. Nixon: A Collection of Cartoons. Graham’s work has been exhibited several times: as part of a National Cartoonists Society and U.S. Treasury Department traveling exhibition in 1950, in England in 1951, and with a traveling exhibit of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists in 1960. His cartoons were also displayed at the Pavilion D’Humor in Montreal, Canada, in 1971.

Graham retired from the Gazette in 1985. When Graham retired, Harry S. Ashmore, the former Gazette executive editor and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his editorials during the Central High crisis, said of him, “He was an innocent in a cynical trade, and I can think of no one who takes more good will with him as he heads for the pasture.”

He died on September 9, 1994, of lung cancer. His papers are in the Special Collections Department at Syracuse University, and a collection of his cartoons is held by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture.

For additional information:
Bill Graham Papers. Special Collections Research Center. Syracuse University Libraries, Syracuse, New York.

Obituary of William K. “Bill” Graham. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 10, 1994, 6B.

Revis Edmonds
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Last Updated 3/9/2017

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