Fairfax native George Booth makes history as cartoonist

Fairfax native George Booth makes history as cartoonist

Fairfax resident Betty Wennihan shared photos and original cartoons by George Booth with the Atchison County Mail staff. Pictured above is a collection of George’s work, including the book “Hey George” by Sandra Boynton and illustrated by George, original drawings featuring an FHS basketball player and numerous family photographs.

George grew up in Fairfax with his parents and two brothers, Gaylord and James Booth. The brothers are shown in this photo rough housing in their front yard in the late 1930s.

George, shown here in a school photo, graduated from Fairfax High School in 1944. He enlisted in the Marines following high school and later studied art in college.

George Booth’s comics are known for their witty, sarcastic and ironic captions that accompany his creative drawings. He is known for depicting husbands and wives in funny situations and for including his infamous pets in his stories.

George Booth grew up on a farm in Fairfax, Missouri, on the north end of town, but his extraordinary artistic talent led him east, where he made a name for himself in New York as a famous cartoonist.
Booth’s father was William Booth, the Fairfax school administrator in the 1930s and 1940s. His talent for drawing most likely came from his mother, Irma, who was an artist and cartoonist herself and recognized George’s talent when he was just three and half years old. He drew a sketch of a truck stuck in the mud and she immediately recognized his talent.
His parents made sure he had plenty of paper, which George put to good use. In an interview on the New Yorker Radio Hour program in 2015, George explained to fellow cartoonist Matt Diffee that when his father saw his first drawing, he said, “Let him have as much paper as he wants, as long as he doesn’t waste it.”
George said, “I drew all the time at home and in school.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)
George enlisted in the Marines in 1944, serving in the 4th Marine Division. He started his magazine career by working for Leatherneck magazine.
In an article published by Jane Mattimoe for her blog, A Case For Pencils, he explained how he got the job:
“When I was drafted in ‘44, the recruiting sergeant said, “What do you want to do in the Marine Corps?” and I said “I want to draw cartoons.” I didn’t happen to notice there was a world war going on! And so at the end of the war, they sent a telegram to Pearl Harbor, everyone was getting out, it was VJ day, and they sent a telegram from Washington because I had said I wanted to cartoon. They were losing their staff [at Leatherneck], and the telegram said PFC Booth can come to in Washington as Staff Cartoonist.” (A Case for Pencils, 2014)
After his discharge, he moved to New York City and worked publishing for many years. He sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1969. He’s been delighting readers with his witty, sarcastic cartoons ever since.
Now at the age of 92, he’s been contributing to The New Yorker for nearly 50 years. His work has been on the cover of several editions. The National Cartoonists Society recognized his work with the Gag Cartoon Award in 1993 and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He is the author of several books and collections of his cartoons. In 2009 he illustrated one of best selling children’s author, Sandra Boynton’s books, called “Here, George.”
It’s easy to see that some of his cartoons echo the rural lifestyle that George grew up in. Many drawings depict farm houses with porches filled with chickens, dogs and cats. During his interview with The New Yorker Radio Hour, George explained where some of his inspiration comes from:
“I believe greatly in drawing cartoons of what I see in real life, people recognize it and they love it. They laugh at themselves.” He also said that his New Yorker cartoons featuring a fictional “Miss Rittenhouse” are inspired by his mother.
In 2001, all of the cartoonists were notified that in the September 11 issue, there would be no cartoons in light of the tragedy at the World Trade Centers, but George submitted a drawing anyway and the editors decided to run it. It was the only drawing in that week’s magazine. It was a sketch depicting Miss Rittenhouse, who is usually jovial, energetic and playing her fiddle, doing something loud or musical. In this cartoon, however, she was sitting in a chair with her hands folded in her lap in prayer, with her fiddle laying silent on the floor and a cat at her feet, covering his eyes with his paws. There was no caption needed.
George lives in New York City and continues his artwork. His Facebook page is full of humorous stories and inside looks of his daily life.
George is most remembered by his classmates at Fairfax High School for his cartoons and contributions to the yearbook and newsletter. He also designed prom invitations and more.

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