The University Record, September 13, 1999

Workers’ plight featured in cartoon exhibition

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Cartoonist Ben Yomen with some of his works that are on display in the North Lobby of the Hatcher Graduate Library through December. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
A harrowing experience during the 1932 “job march” at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant was the impetus for a career as a labor cartoonist. When Ben Yomen was jailed as a “suspect” while sketching the violent scene at the Ford plant, his drawing took on a new mission: cartoons and caricatures that lampooned the “bosses.”

An exhibition of works by the artist, once considered by many editors of labor union publications as “the most popular cartoonist in the labor press,” can be viewed through December in the North Lobby of Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.

A Massachusetts native who grew up in an auto industry family in Detroit, Yomen sold his first cartoon to a humor magazine, but struggled as an artist in New York City. At times he made his living by doing everything from sign painting to caricaturing patrons in bars and nightclubs and teaching drawing and painting to children as part of the federal WPA Art Project.

During this period, he continued to submit cartoons to labor newspapers, where he became known for his views on the struggles of the trade unions organizing for better working conditions. In his spare time, he painted oils and watercolors and exhibited in various galleries, including the Brooklyn Museum.

In the early ’40s Yomen introduced “Congressman Dripp,” distributed weekly to as many as 200 publications across the country. “Dripp” was described by the editor of the International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, CIO, as “the artist’s conception of the typical stuffed-shirt reactionary, bought-and-paid-for representative of the worst anti-labor elements in his home district.”

By 1945, Yomen was back in Detroit as art director of the UAW publication Ammunition, handling all artwork for the union’s education department. He also continued selling his cartoons and wrote and illustrated a children’s book Roberto, The Mexican Boy. Never one to be idle, in 1980 Yomen began drawing a cartoon series called “Senator Rightwing” for the UAW’s international publication Solidarity.