This article is about the cartoonist. For the minister and educator, see Charles Brooks (minister).
Charles G. Brooks (born 1920 in Hopewell, near Andalusia, Covington County; died October 1, 2011) was a well-known editorial cartoonist for The Birmingham News, where he worked from 1948 until his retirement in 1985. Since 1972 he edited an annual anthology of the "Best Editorial Cartoons" each year for the Pelican Press in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Brooks is the son of Gordie and Emmie Brooks and grew up in Andalusia, near the Alabama border with Florida. His first exposure to art was watching his grandfather detail horse-drawn carriages. He graduated from Andalusia High School in 1939 and entered Birmingham-Southern College that fall, where he had the opportunity to study under News art director Ernest Henderson. After two years he knew he wanted to be a cartoonist and decided to further his studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He ended up sharing a room with Carlisle Cooper, who had actually lived in the same house in Andalusia before Brooks' father bought it.
In Chicago, Brooks was instructed by Vaughn Shoemaker of the Chicago Daily News, and Don Ulsh. While there he met his future wife, Virginia Matson. She was appearing in a church play that he attended, under protest, rather than hear Wendell Willkie speak at Soldier Field.
World War II
On June 28, 1942 Brooks enlisted in the U. S. Army at Fort McClellan. He was sent to Fort McPherson in Georgia, where his ability to draw allowed him to spend a few weeks making posters before he was sent to basic training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After training he went to Officers Candidate School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Camp Swift near Austin, Texas where he took part in maneuvers. He was transferred to Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, where he married Virginia, and then was assigned to the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment preparing for the invasion of France in Cornwall.
Brooks' unit participated in the D-Day landing on June 6, 1944 at Utah Beach. The tug pushing his "Rhino" barge was hit by a bomb from a German plane during the crossing, and the barge was only able to make it to shore on the morning of June 7. His regiment was re-commissioned as the 3053rd Engineer Combat Battalion serving the 9th Army. The unit busied itself unloading supplies, clearing minefields and laying roadways in order to establish a transfer point for supplies brought by sea. In his spare time he drew cartoons which later appeared in Stars and Stripes.
That winter, Brooks' unit was enlisted for the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent from their station in Maastricht to Liege to retrieve parts for a Bailey Bridge, but the German advance cut them off from their return route. A long alternate route got them back to Maastricht safely and his unit advanced with the army deep into Germany. With the invasion a success, Brooks was sent home where he was able to meet his 18-month-old daughter, Barbara Jean, for the first time.
In order to support his new family, Brooks took a job coating chocolate-covered malt balls at the Brach's Candy Company. From there he joined his brother-in-law, Kenneth, as a bank guard. Before long he found a job with the Fred Zaner Advertising Cartoon Syndicate and partly realized his goal of becoming a professional cartoonist. Hoping to reach his real goal of editorial cartooning, Brooks took a chance with the Birmingham News, the paper he had grown up reading.
He wrote to the Birmingham Age-Herald's cartoonist, Hubert Harper to ask if the News had any interest in replacing their syndicated cartoons with the work of a local professional. He received a letter from News managing-editor Charles Fell that there was a possibility, "but nothing definite". It was enough for Brooks to travel back to Alabama to apply in person -- and to get the job.
Brooks began drawing cartoons for the Birmingham News in 1948 and was immediately popular. He became known for his clear, forceful and unambiguous panels which alternately expressed great faith in America and its people and pure revilement of anyone or anything which would detract from them. His cartoons critical of the Ku Klux Klan inspired a visit from four men who insisted that they be withdrawn. Fell explained that the cartoons had been cleared by the editorial department and would not be withdrawn. In 1952 FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover requested one of Brooks' drawings showing hooded Klansmen nervously reading about the FBI's infiltration of the group.
He was the winner of the 1959 "Sigma Delta Chi" award for the most outstanding editorial cartoon of 1959. His winning panel, entitled "Two Deadly Weapons" depicted a hand holding a revolver and a second hand holding an automobile in the same manner, labeled "reckless speeding driver."
Another cartoon on the same subject, which appeared during the holiday season, showed the three kings on camels following the star of David in the top panel and two colliding cars in the lower panel with the caption "Then...Bethlehem. Today...Mayhem." The Texas Highway Patrol distributed copies of the cartoon instead of warnings in 1960 and partially-credited Brooks with a drop in the number of fatalities during the Christmas season.
Brook's 1963 cartoon using a giant in a graduation cap and gown depicting "future college costs" towering over his dumbstruck father was used in a national campaign of the Higher Education Advertising Council. Another cartoon shows two policemen taking cover from robbers' gunfire while one says to the other "Quick! While I Keep 'Em Pinned Down, Run And Bring Each of Them a Lawyer-- And Don't Forget Ours!". That panel has been licensed more than any other in numerous books, periodicals, and law enforcement communications.
A 1973 "The Wizard of Id" strip, drawn by Brooks' friend Brant Parker, shows an editorial catroonist named "Charles" being punished by the King for lampooning him. Parker sent a personally-inscribed copy to Brooks.
Brooks' farewell to Walt Disney in 1966 showed dozens of Disney's cartoon characters gathered mournfully at his grave. Thousands of copies were requested from across the country and the original hands at Disney Studios. A 1975 cartoon lambasting Vice President Nelson Rockefeller for ignoring parliamentary procedure during debate of an anti-filibuster bill was passed around the Senate floor. A 1976 editorial in The Wall Street Journal referenced a Brooks cartoon entitled "All Things to All People" which showed presidential candidate Jimmy Carter standing at a church pulpit with a Bible in one hand and a copy of Playboy in the other.
Brooks was invited to the White House in 1982, where he presented his original of a cartoon making fun of Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill. John Glenn's wife, Annie, requested the original of another cartoon showing Glenn rowing alone in the center of a river while a donkey leads Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, George McGovern and Jesse Jackson in a larger boat on "the left". Glenn wrote Brooks that it was the best gift his wife had given him and that it was the only cartoon he hung in his office.
In addition to cartooning, Brooks was often loaned out by the newspaper to work with police and the FBI to create sketches of suspects from eyewitness descriptions.
He served as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in 1969 and has edited an annual volume of the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year for Pelican Books since 1972. The series was his idea, which he pitched to Milburn Calhoun and then brought to the Association. He retired from the Birmingham News in 1985. Since 1983, UAB's School of Community and Allied Health has presented the "Charles Brooks Award" to a graduating senior who has made a creative contribution to the school.
- Brooks, Charles G., Jr, editor (1986) Best of Brooks: 38 Years of Cartoons. Birmingham: EBSCO Media.
- Baggett, James L. (Spring 2004) "The Less Things Change: Charles Brooks and the Art of Alabama Politics." Alabama Heritage.
- Reeves, Mary (February 28, 2003) "Cartoonist Brooks returns to Andalusia. Andalusia Star-News.
- "Personnel Profile: Charles Brooks Sr." (January 13, 2011) Capitol Weekly.
- Daniels, Malcomb (October 1, 2011) "Award-winning former Birmingham News editorial cartoonist Charles Brooks dies at 91." Birmingham News