Kennedy in Cartoon

Political cartoons about John F. Kennedy almost seem strange now. After all, today we tend to think of Kennedy in rather revered terms, as a heroic martyr figure rather than some ordinary old politician. Cartoons, by definition bring political leaders down into the dirt, mocking and belittling their actions, appearance, and ideas. To do that to the slain Kennedy almost seems blasphemous today.

Of course, back in the early 60's no one knew JFK was going to be murdered in some tragic episode. To pundits of the day, he was simply yet another partisan president, no different than any of his predecessors. It's worth remembering that he was elected in one of the closest races in American history, and as a result his policies were never unanimously approved of.

Here are some editorial cartoons from the Kennedy years, showing the "other side" of America's beloved 35th President.


Kennedy by David Levine


Kennedy was unusual among American presidents in that he was actually a relatively handsome man. This made him hard to caricature, as he didn't really have a lot of facial flaws to exaggerate.

This caricature plays up his hair, and depicts him as a circus acrobat. "Pretty boy" metaphors of this sort were quite common.


Kennedy and Krushchev by Herbert Block


Much of Kennedy's two years and ten months in office were dominated by foreign policy concerns, most of which were Cold War related. JFK came to office at a period in which American-Soviet relations were at their most strained, a tension which would eventually erupt in the form of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In this toon we see Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev, leader of the Soviet Union, trying to keep the beast of "Nuclear War" in his cage. This was drawn shortly after the Missile Crisis.

Many cartoons drawn about the Kennedy administration featured JFK and Krushchev interacting side-by-side. The Cold War was frequently personified as a direct feud between the two men, often with both of them appearing equally bumbling.


Kennedy's America by Gerald Scarfe


Though we often remember the Kennedy administration as a sort of idyllic time in American history, JFK actually came to power at a time of great domestic turmoil within the United States. The fight over civil rights was raging, and America was witnessing the rise of a militant far-left, vigorous in their opposition to their country's "warmongering" foreign policy.

This toon, by a prominent British cartoonist, portrays a stereotypical view of early 60's America that was fairly common in Europe at the time. Cross burnings, police brutality, unrestrained sex... and of course an incompetent president with access to a button that could blow up the world.

This is probably one of the most grotesque caricatures of Kennedy I have ever seen. Most artists, even those critical of him, generally drew him in a relatively flattering manner.


Kennedy and Pearson by Duncan MacPherson

Another foreigner's perspective of Kennedy, this time by a Canadian.

In early 60's Canada, there was an ongoing debate about whether or not the country should acquire nuclear weapons to assist in the defense of North America. President Kennedy was a strong proponent of such a move, and his administration promised to provide the weapons Canada needed.

Prime Minister Lester Pearson, the figure in this cartoon, was a bit skeptical at first, but eventually agreed to the plan.

Many Canadian cartoons of this era portrayed JFK as a bit of a warmonger, and someone who was eager to meddle in Canadian affairs if it suited American security interests.



Kennedy by an unknown Cuban artist

Kennedy was not enormously popular in Cuba, as you may expect. Along with the Cuban Missile thing, JFK also launched the botched "Bay of Pigs" invasion of the country in an effort to depose Communist President Fidel Castro.

This cartoon, published in one of Cuba's state-run papers shows the president in a collar that symbolizes the fact that he is a slave to capitalism and fascism. The text at the bottom reads "a different dog, but the same collar," indicating the supposedly liberal Kennedy is really no different than any of the presidents who came before him.



When Kennedy was murdered, all the cartoonists abruptly stopped their attacks and turned into huge Kennedy-fans. In the immediate aftermath of his death, many memorial toons were churned out, mourning America's lost angel.

JFK's death also saw the rise of a lot of people who tried to profit off the assassination in some way. Writing quick, crappy memoirs of the president was one surefire money-maker, a practice this particular cartoonist seems seems to find offensive.