As an editorial writer at the News & Observer for three years, I worked closely with my fellow Arkansan, Dwane Powell whom I called “Deewayne” to remind him of his roots. One of my assignments was to select cartoons to go on the op-ed page.
This was a golden age for newspaper cartoonists, thanks to Richard Nixon. (Much like today, given our worst President, Donald Trump.) Thanks to Frank Daniels Jr. and editor Claude Sitton who paid for the syndication rights, I saw the work of the best cartoonists in America:
The famous “Herblock” (Herb Block) of the Washington Post, Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun Times, Don Wright of the Miami News, Paul Conrad of the Los Angeles Times, Pat Oliphant of the Denver Post, North Carolina’s own Jeff MacNelly of the Richmond News Leader, and a Dwane contemporary, Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News.
Each had their trademarks. Herblock was straightforward, Conrad and Mauldin (of World War II’s Willie and Joe) were more subtle but deadly. MacNelly was brilliant and more of an artist in the Thomas Nast tradition. Oliphant could set a tone, like dressing President George H. W. Bush in a dress, much like the great comic strip writer Garry Trudeau that we published on the op-ed page. He drew Dan Quayle as a feather and Newt Gingrich as a bomb. (I saved many of these cartoons, hoping one day to plaster my office wall with them.)
I also wrote an article for the late Tar Heel magazine in February 1981 about the unusually large number of the state’s cartoonists. Impossible to believe now, there were eight (8) cartoonists practicing, including Dwane: Lambert Der, Dana Summers, Doug Marlette, Gene Payne, Bob Gorrell, John Branch, V. C. Rogers. That number has more than dwindled and Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer is probably the most published. Dwane, always generous with fellow cartoonists, helped Branch and Der get started.
What separated Dwane from other cartoonists, in my opinion, was his talent as a caricaturist like Thomas Nast. None of our stable of cartoonist masters except for MacNelly could match Dwane’s talent and artistry for caricature.
Friends who went to restaurants with Dwane may have saved a napkin on which they found themselves skewered by Dwane’s notorious doodling. He could pick out a facial feature or personal trait that stuck. His caricature of Jesse Helms with oversized glasses and outraged eyes and the comb in “good buddy” Jim Hunt’s earnest pompadours were often copied by other cartoonists. A cartoon of the late Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green as a wrinkled, smoking porcupine a leash to a forlorn Hunt stuck with quills is a classic in caricature. His cartoon of Billy Graham at a wall safe behind a picture of Jesus should have won the Pulitzer.
Dwane would practice in editorial meetings drawing some of his co-workers. His notebook is littered with drawings of editorial writer and columnist Jim Jenkins, and Dwane told me once that I was the model for all of the stern, square-jawed FBI agents in his cartoons.
I write this memory of Dwane in the hopes that the News & Observer will enter his cartoons to the Pulitzer committee for caricature. It’s long past time that this unmatched talent be recognized.
Barlow Herget, a Raleigh writer, worked with Dwane Powell at the N&O from 1974 to 1976. Herget is a former Nieman fellow, Raleigh City Councilor and author of five books.