The Hubenthal Galleries

Hubenthal Biography

Hubenthal: An Analysis

Hubenthal: In His Own Words

The textual contents of this site remain © 2013 by Bob Staake. The art is © 2013 by Karl and Elsie Hubenthal - All Rights Reserved. No portion of this web site may be used without the consent of the copyright owners.

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A Tribute to One of the All-Time Great Cartoonists and Illustrators


A prodigy of Karl's explains what Hubenthal meant to him -- and offers some observations and insights into his work.

 By Bob Staake
Copyright © 2013 by Bob Staake All Rights Reserved

He was the first cartoonist I ever wrote to, the first to write me back, the first to invite me to his studio, the first to give me an original drawing.

Karl Hubenthal was just that kind of guy.

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960's, there were two types of people -- those who read the Los Angeles Times, and those who read the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner -- and our family was of that latter persuasion -- Dad not knowing that the "Herald" wasn't the best of papers, Mom not really caring, and me delighted just to be able to see Hubenthal's cartoons each day.

Hubenthal. I'd heard it said as "hoo-ben-thal" once or twice, yet Dad had always pronounced it (rightly) "hugh-ben-thal", and while at the time I wasn't sure which was correct, one thing was certain: this Hubenthal could draw.

His lush, intoxicating sports cartoons were the first thing I recognized -- bold, high contrast, wildly animated, brilliantly executed -- and reproduced almost head to toe on the front page of the Herald's sports page. Only later did I begin taking note of his political cartoons. I studied them, I clipped them out, I taped them to my bedroom walls. Most kids spent hours alone drooling over smuggled copies of Playboy -- I ldrooled over Hubenthal cartoons.

I last saw Karl in April of 1998 at the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Weekend in Los Angeles. He looked well. At that time I was honored to receive the NCS Reuben Award for my Newspaper Illustration work, and nothing delighted me more than winning the award in the presence of Karl and Elsie. Afterwards, Karl beamed and congratulated me, and I explained that had he not encouraged me as a young teenager, I probably wouldn't have grown up to become a professional cartoonist myself. Karl, of course, in his typically humble manner, would hear nothing of it -- insisting he only did for me what his mentor, Willard Mullin, did for him.

I had no idea that would be the last time I would see Karl.

I thought about him for months afterward. I looked through files of his old cartoons. I reflected on my memories of him, and one thing was certain: I wanted to "give something back to Karl". In January of 1999, I called Elsie with my suggestion for a comprehesive web site -- an authoritative internet home for Karl and his work. She thought it was a splendid idea.

Please enjoy it .

All we can hope for is that Karl finally has internet access!

Bob Staake

First Contact

I was sixteen in 1974 when I first met Hubenthal at his home studio, and when the tall, goateed man greeted me at the door with a broad smile and that baritone voice of his, it sounded eerily like the guy in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas TV special who sings the title song. Booming, strong, lowwwwww.

He was gracious, and he was kind -- clearly he remembered being young and in my position -- perhaps when he first met George Herriman -- and so he insisted I call him "Hubie"and then proceeded to put me at ease by showing me around his studio.









A Hubenthal self-caricature

   It was just how I had imagined it would look. Original cartoon art by the greats on his walls, neat rows of reference books, another wall of awards and photos of him with Presidents, filing cabinets filled neatly with reference, an easle with a painting in progress, a long counter for spreading things out, and finally an angled, kingly-looking drawing table. Beside the table was a "tabouret" with pens, pencils, brushes, an ink well, bowl of fresh water, and a old-fashioned headset connected to a rotary phone dialer that I assumed allowed Hubenthal to work on a drawing with two hands while he took important calls from some cigar-chomping, gruff-voiced editor downtown at the Herald-Examiner city room.

My eyes drifted all over the room, he showing me this and that, but for some reason I was most interested in his filing cabinets. "That's where I keep my scrap", said Hubenthal. I played along, I'm sure, doing my best to convince him I knew what "scrap" was. He pulled out the top drawer revealing a conga line of manila dividers and folders, each tab with various words written in that beautiful Hubenthal hand-lettering of his: Egypt, Aircraft Carriers, Soviet Party Leaders, Bears -- you name it. He tugged out a folder titled Ocean Liners and opened it to show me a dozen or so perfectly clipped magazine photos of huge boats taken from every conceivable angle. He explained that most cartoonists had these filing cabinets loaded with photos, which they called their "morgues". Two new words that day -- "scrap" and "morgue". Hubie put the photos back in the folder, but instead of just tossing it on-top of the filing cabinet, he put it back where he found it -- somewhere between New York City and Owls. The message wasn't lost on me: "Be organized".

We sat down and talked cartooning all that morning. Hubie praised the cartoons I brought along, he told me to go to college, he explained how a little talent and a lot of hard work makes for good cartoonists and how editorial cartoons were about ideas through art, not the other way around. He inspired me.

We became friends that day, later colleagues. Indeed on that morning in 1974, Karl Hubenthal firmly convinced me that I would in fact become a professional cartoonist, and for his encouragement, creative generosity and friendship, I shall always be grateful.


Biographical and clinical information about Karl Hubenthal abounds on this web site. However, I think it is important for me to provide here an observational analysis on a few issues that I hope will set the record straight and put Karl Hubenthal, and his work, in the proper historical context.

Bob Staake


Truly A Master

When it comes to creating art for reproduction, any cartoonist or illustrator is saddled not only with the need to create a piece of artwork that indeed "works" on both conceptual and aesthetic levels, but also prints cleanly, and readably, on cheap newsprint for millions of eyes to see. Indeed, the mass-communicative arts are not ideally suited for wispy, aesthically tenuous, or even hyper-detailed artwork that cannot be easily, quickly reproduced, and Hubenthal understood this thoroughly.















Few cartoonists had better command of their medium than did Hubenthal. His original art is simply breathtaking, the brushwork and pen strokes always exuding uncommon confidence. In this 1966 editorial cartoon (above) , Hubenthal invokes a sporting theme to editorialize (and not too politically-correct by today's standards) on the subject of North Vietnamese "guerrilla tactics"


He worked large -- typically 12" x 16" for an editorial cartoon -- and owing to his meticulous nature, the tips of his brushes were always sharp with rarely a wisp of sable out of place. After lightly penciling in his drawing, he would begin inking in brush strokes that appeared at the same time both spontaneously slashed and purposefully placed, a "zone" of sorts that he surely felt himself slip into when the ink spread just right, the brush danced ever-so-lightly, and his creative spirit urged him to simply enjoy himself at the drawing table.

Yet his ability and confidence engenders artwork that will technically reproduce well, Hubenthal's use of coquille board certainly complemented the bravado of his india-inked lines. He used the pebble-embossed

board because it was created for the distinct purpose of ensuring that drawn gray areas would indeed print as gray -- and not mud. After inking his artwork, Hubenthal would rub a grease pencil, or chunk of conte crayon, against the paper, the black picking up the raised surface, while allowing portions of the white paper beneath to show through -- thus, the "illusion" of gray when the artwork was photographically reduced, and ultimately reproduced.

However, Hubenthal's acceptance that his art would be primarily printed, rather than hung on a gallery wall, did not prompt him to simply "draw for reproduction", a time-saving tactic used by many deadline-pressured commercial artists. Rarely does one find cut out elements on a Hubenthal original, or new faces glued over old (inferior) ones. Liquid paper or opaque white masked out real estate on Hubenthal's coquille board? I've never seen it. In Hubenthal's mind, problem solving at the drawing table was done during the penciling out stage -- and when he inked, he committed himself. Clearly, he approached his editorial and sports cartoons as fine art -- not as simple, fleeting, reflective matter for a dark room negative camera.

Another testament to his generosity, when asked to talk at civic groups, Hubenthal would often bring along an armful of original drawings. "After the talk", recalled his wife, Elsie, "he'd spread them out on a table and tell everyone to feel free to take a couple."

Mulling Over Mullin
While a student at Hollywood High School in 1934, Hubenthal first met Willard Mullin, the long reputed "Dean of Sports Cartooning". Mullin's work, particularly the joyous spontaneity of his linework and his understanding of the human form, remains awe-inspiring to this day. So it's no surprise that when Mullin took the talented youngster under his wing, more than a little Mullin rubbed off on Hubenthal. Throughout his life, Hubenthal affectionately referred to Mullin as "Uncle Will", and Mullin respected the younger cartoonist's work so much that he once said "your stuff looks like mine on a good day!". Hubenthal was always tickled by Mullin's quotable endorsement, but looking at the body of their work, the argument can be made that Hubenthal was technically a far more talented sports cartoonist than Mullin.




Classic Willard Mullin (left) -- Hubenthal always referred to his mentor as "Uncle Will"

(Collection of Bob Staake)

It's a controversial assertion, one not made often, yet as an avid student of their work, it is clear that Hubenthal may have built on a graphic foundation of Mullin aesthetics, a comparitive study of their original artwork graphically demonstrates this. It was Mullin who first adapted a most unusual way of inking with a brush, dripping it into the ink, then probably making a couple test slashes to remove most of the ink from the brush, causing the bristles to "split", the result being two, three even or four side-by-side, parallel brush lines.


Willard Mullin's (circa 1945) "split brush" effect...   ...evident as well in this 1957 Hubenthal sports cartoon

The Mullin effect was subtle, often diminished (or altogther negated) in the reproduction process, but Hubenthal was apparently intrigued enough to experiment with the same technique -- if only for a while. However, once he firmly understood his mentor's work and moved beyond the youthful, graphic emulation stage, Hubenthal developed wings and soared entirely on his own -- in all likelihood intentionally dropping his graphic idolatry of Mullin, as continuing it would have been professionally unwise. Ultimately, Hubenthal's work became far more graphic, animated, intentional and aesthetically inspired than Mullin's ever was.

Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that Mullin's output of sports cartoons and sport-related illustration was far more than Hubenthal's, and for his prolific body of work alone, Mullin will always have his more than rightful place in cartooning history. Hubenthal's sports art developed a more regionalized following and acceptance (primarily in Southern California), while Mullin's reach was more national in scope.

Classic Karl Hubenthal (Right) -- Detail from an April 21, 1972 sports cartoon

Strip Mullin of the unofficial (yet broadly accepted) moniker of "Dean of Sports Cartooning"? Certainly that's ridiculous, and the suggestion alone would have made Hubie uncomfortable. Yet when the subject of sports cartoons is approached and names like Mullin, Ray Gotto and Bill Gallo are tossed about, no authoritative discussion of the topic can be complete without invoking the name of Karl Hubenthal.

Overlooked By Pulitzer?

He never won the Pulitzer Prize, though it has been reported that he was nominated five times.

Hubenthal was literally hand-picked by William Randolph Hearst to become a political cartoonist -- it wasn't something he necessarily desired to be, and he certainly never trained for such a vocation. It's unclear what Hearst saw in Hubenthal's sports cartoons and humorous illustrations (other than his obvious artistic talent) to convince him that he could become a political cartoonist.

Historically, Hubenthal's political cartoons were always anchored in an illustrative, rather than a commentative, mind set. Often his cartoons are clever visual twists on a news headline of the day, and just as often Hubenthal failed to "go out on a limb" by presenting a strong self-editorialized point of view, except for his omnipresent, if sometimes only hinted at, conservative leanings. He took strong, conservative stands on push-button, emotional issues such as draft "dodgers", anti- Americanism, military spending,and even Richard Nixon.  



















October 29, 1962 editorial cartoon (above) on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here an always pro-American Hubenthal practically gloats over the Kruschev "retreat" in the face of American force. As good as any editorial cartoon of the day, and exactly the kind of work that was begetting Pulitzers Prizes for American cartoonists. (Collection of Elsie Hubenthal)

Indeed, Hubenthal remained a Nixon supporter -- even embarrassingly so -- almost to the end. It wasn't until the 1974 release of the secret tapes that Hubenthal (and other, hard-line Republicans) began to question Nixon the Man. Even when Nixon was forced from office, Hubenthal focused on the "tragedy" of his departure, an emotional reaction if there ever was one, rather than boldly commenting on the bigger issues surrounding Nixon's fall from grace.

Strictly on an aesthetic level, Hubenthal is best remembered -- and was certainly viewed in the contemporary context of 1960s and 1970s journalism -- as an "old Guard" editorial cartoonist, comfortable with old-fashioned coquille board and grease pencil, labeling his characters and props with verbs, nouns and adjectives such as "executive privilege", "reform attempts", and "Red China".

More than ever with the emergence in the 1970s of a more British approach to visual satire in the American political cartoon (ushered in by Pat Oliphant, and supported by Jeff MacNelly, Mike Peters, Don Wright, et al), Hubenthal's work had that "look" of being less than modern. Other old guarders -- including Tom Englehardt, Don Hesse, and to some degree Bill Mauldin -- were surely looked at in the same light. Ironically, both Herblock and Paul Conrad continued to work on coquille board as well, though the two have always used their cartoons as vehicles for projecting their liberal commentary, Conrad even asserting that a good political cartoon is "95% idea", only five percent drawing.

As deserving as any editorial cartoonist to bring home a Pulitzer, Hubenthal ultimately received five nominations throughout his career -- but never the award itself. In this circa 1966 cartoon, Hubenthal remains as pro-American as ever by supporting President Johnson's efforts to end the Vietnam War. Indeed, Hubenthal, a lifelong Republican, would always align himself on the pro-American side, even when it meant supporting a Democrat like LBJ.



In Los Angeles, Hubenthal was also the victim of Conrad's notoreity. Conrad, after all, won Pulitzers (three in all) with oftentimes vicious, scathingly strong political commentary. In fact, so liberally-minded was Conrad that he even made Richard Nixon's infamous "Enemies List". Juxtaposed next to one another, Conrad's cartoons in the respected Los Angeles Times may have had the effect of almost dismissing Hubenthal's Herald-Examiner cartoons as nothing more than "illustrations" (to use Conrad's own word) of

headlines. Even while they worked at the competing newspapers, the two rarely communicated -- partly, itcan be assumed, because each cartoonist was on opposite ends of their political philosophies. Between Conrad and Hubenthal, one gets the sense that there was no love necessarily lost.

Regardless, it remains a mystery why Hubenthal never did bring home a Pulitzer in his career-- especially given that, up until the 1970s, it could be argued that the award was bestowed on cartoons that projected a decidedly jingoistic, pro-American point of view -- an ideology from which Hubenthal was never far removed. Pat Oliphant first saw this pattern in the mid 1960s with the Pulitzer award process and calculatedly submitted cartoons with clear, blatantly patriotic themes. The result? Oliphant won his first Pulitzer in 1967.

Was Karl Hubenthal overlooked by the Pulitzer Board? If you understand what the award was in the 1960s and 1970s, and if you remain a student of the historical recipients -- most worthy, some not -- the answer is an undeniable "yes".

The Switch To "Grafix"
In July of 1975, Hubenthal effectively quit creating his editorial and sports cartoons with pen, brush, ink and grease pencil on coquille paper and began using "Grafix" board -- the specially-manufactured paper used by practically all editorial cartoonists since 1972 or so, but he gave the paper, at least initially, a less than ringing endorsement. In a July 15, 1975 letter to me, Hubenthal wrote:
"...about the chemical benday (Grafix) paper I have been
experimenting with for the last two weeks, I'm not sure I will
continue to use it or not. It tends to become a little too
mechanical for my tastes."
Mechanical indeed. Grafix is a board (or paper) in which mechanical gray tones are invisibly printed, and to reveal them a cartoonist must brush a chemical developer to make halftones appear, and though Hubenthal may have questioned the paper initially, he did in fact use it exclusively until his retirement from the Herald-Examiner in 1981.


As this original Hubenthal "Grafix" board editorial cartoon of 1980 attests, the chemical compounds in the paper do not age gracefully, causing the gray areas to become splotchy (or even disappear) over time.

While Hubenthal's 1975-1981 work reflected noticeable aesthetic experimentation (and not always for the better), his Grafix board work appeared flat, even less meticulous than his work of decades past --attributable in part to his working smaller (approximately 10" vertical by 12" horizontal). Coquille board, however "old-fashioned" a drawing surface, had always been Hubenthal's home turf -- the place where he always performed best -- and so it remains a mystery why he continued working on Grafix board, particularly given his stated concerns over the medium's "mechanical" nature.
I can only speculate that his continued use of Grafix came from circulation-wary Herald-Examiner (or Hearst) executives who may have "suggested" Hubenthal use the same paper that editorial cartooning's (younger, broadly syndicated) practitioners -- from Peters to MacNelly, Oliphant to Auth -- were utilizing. This argument can be further supported in light of Hubenthal making a complete editorial cartoon format change around the same time -- from vertical to horizontal. In 1975, vertical format editorial cartoons were becoming uncommon, even viewed as passe, and when Hubie adopted the horizontal format, editorial cartooning's remaining "vertical formatters" could be counted on a single hand. Hubenthal's cartoon changes also roughly coincided with the Herald's newly-introduced tabloid format -- clearly the paper's effort to boost lagging circulation figures and make a last-ditch effort to take on (with any measure of success) the powerhouse Los Angeles Times.