Sunday, February 18, 2024

Jack Higgins drew from the heart of Chicago

     His reputation preceded him. Long before I set eyes on Jack Higgins, the man, I knew of the gifted editorial cartoonist who, for some unfathomable reason, was stuck drawing for the Daily Northwestern.
     Actually, we all knew the reason: Jack was knocking at a barred door. Editorial cartoonist jobs were scarce even in 1978, the year Jack joined the Daily. The Chicago Tribune had Dick Locher and would soon add Jeff MacNelly — syndicated in almost 1,000 newspapers and drawing the popular comic "Shoe." And the Sun-Times had even better — Bill Mauldin, the World War II legend with two Pulitzer Prizes, plus John Fischetti.
     So where was Jack supposed to go? He couldn't leave Chicago — the son and grandson of Chicago cops, he had Chicago politics, like art, in his blood. So work for a tiny student paper at a suburban college he didn't himself attend? Sure!
     "He was a mensch," remembered Robert Leighton, Jack's editor at the Daily, now a veteran cartoonist for The New Yorker. "He was a sweet, sweet guy. He taught me how to draw clothing on people. He said you have his arm going up and the lines on his shirt going down."
     That was Jack. Helpful. Good-natured enough to take orders from kids. Not that he'd be drawing for a student newspaper long — by 1981, he was freelancing for the Sun-Times. He joined the staff in 1984; two years later, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which he won in 1989.
     Like all the greats, Jack loved what he did. It wasn't a job but a calling, like being a priest.
     "Jack found politicians and their antics endlessly amusing," said his wife, Missy. "He tried to be a voice for the citizens of Chicago who had no voice and had a great feel for the regular working people, across many classes, in Chicago. He sensed their resentments, sadnesses and outrages, but, when he found something just plain ridiculous, he reveled in it."
     Jack was the last of a breed going back to Thomas Nast, who brought down New York's Boss Tweed singlehandedly. Editorial cartoonists were once household names drawing unforgettable images — Herblock at the Washington Post, having Nixon arrive at a campaign rally by crawling out of a sewer. "Here he comes now!" an enthusiastic supporter cries. Mauldin, at the Sun-Times, depicting the statue at Lincoln Memorial, face buried in his hands, weeping at the death of John F. Kennedy. No words needed. Just the perfect drawing.

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In the 1981 parody issue of the Daily Northwestern, produced by the school's humor magazine,
cartoonist Robert Leighton, imitating Jack's already distinct style, poked fun at him for drawing
for a student newspaper.


  1. Very nice choice of Higgins's cartoons there, Great to see them again.

  2. Higgins drew some geat ones. He nailed Daley Junior's character and schemes. Is it me, or do Hiigins's characters look a bit like Higgins himself? Especially the chin and mouth?

  3. His signature itself, just a masterpiece. The man had style

  4. A very nice appreciation. Also nice is the generous amount of space it was given in the paper. Some fine cartoons, indeed.

    If that heron in the photo atop the blog is hanging out in the lagoon at the south end of the Botanic Garden, we saw either it or one of its buddies a couple weeks ago. Thanks to some propitious timing, it decided to leave its spot on the eastern shore and fly all the way across to the western shore while we happened to be watching. Quite a wingspan; it was an impressive sight.

  5. Mitch Dudek did a fine obit, but I'm so glad that the S-T found space for your memories as well. The selection of cartoons makes it obvious what a genius he was.

  6. A wonderful tribute, Mr. S. Now I need to find “My Kind of 'Toon, Chicago Is"--the 2009 collection of approximately 250 editorial and political cartoons by Jack Higgins. I wish there were more.

    When I moved to Northeast Ohio, thirty-plus years ago, herons were a rare sight. Apparently, they've made quite a comeback, and I'm privileged to be living near the Rocky River, and to see them quite often. A beautiful sight, especially in flight, walking in a water wonderland. (SG)

  7. Very touching and revealing description of Jack's opening and closing days at S-T. Thank you NS for this much deserving tribute to a wonderful person and artist.


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