Women In Comics – Etta Hulme, by Michael H. Price
During 1992–1993, my newspaper-of-record became a sponsor of a traveling exhibition of art tracing the centuried history of editorial-opinion cartooning in Texas. Curators Maury Forman and Bob Calvert, seeking to preserve the display as a book, enlisted me to edit their program notes into manuscript form. The finished result, Cartooning Texas (Texas A&M University Press; 1993), has outlived the exhibition by a good many years – but of course could use an update by now.
One timely offshoot was that our expo-opening ceremonies involved such working cartoonists as Ben Sargent, of the Austin American-Statesman, and Etta Parks Hulme, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in panel discussions and sketch-demonstration sessions that served to bring the exhibition into the here-and-now. Or the there-and-then, as it were. Etta and I officed within shouting distance of one another at the Star-Telegram, and I had been pressing the Powers That Did Be for a couple of years about devoting a Telegram-spinoff book to her cartoons.
The leverage of the exhibition proved sufficient, if only just, to encourage a Hulme book from the Star-Telegram. More of a pamphlet, actually, but it rounded up a fairly generous selection of ’toons, with a page for each piece. I had suggested that we call the thing Ettatorials, but the newspaper’s marketing office preferred UnforgETTAbly Etta.
And UnforgETTAbly Etta went promptly out-of-print as a subscription premium, priming the pump for a Pelican Publishing Co. collection of Etta’s work. That one surfaced in 1998 as The Ettatorials: The Best of Etta Hulme. Sometimes it takes a while for a good title to kick in.
Around the time of the Cartooning Texas exhibition, I also had been visiting back-and-forth with Trina Robbins in San Francisco in connection with her research for A Century of Women Cartoonists (Kitchen Sink Press; 1993), suggesting such Texas talents as newspaper cartoonists Nell Williams, from Amarillo, and Etta Hulme. Trina’s interest lay less with editorial cartooning than with comic-book and comic-strip artistry. But I kept pressing the idea that Trina should take a closer look at Etta – who had worked for the Disney machine during WWII, and who, I sensed, must have something of a comics pedigree.
During one of the Cartooning Texas presentations, I asked Etta about a comics background.
“Oh, yeah – you bet!” she answered. “Did you ever hear tell of ‘Red’ Rabbit?”
“You did ‘Red’ Rabbit?” I asked. The title, from Chicago-based Dearfield Publishing, had been an early-childhood favorite of mine – a funny-animal comic with an unusual ring of cowhand authenticity.
“Oh, yeah,” Etta said. “One of my more ambitious youthful efforts. Had a pretty good run with it. I was Etta Parks, in those days. Sometimes signed myself as just-plain ‘Etta.’
“And ol’ ‘Red’ Rabbit, now, those funnybooks gave me good excuse to take off from my Disney-studio experience and combine it with an interest in wild-and-wooly Western adventures.”
Etta Parks Hulme was born Dec. 22, 1923, at Somerville, Texas. She has been a widely distributed opinion-page mainstay, based at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, since 1972.
Having completed a fine-arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin, she spent two years in the Disney animation shop during WWII, after military conscription had caused the studio to relax some of its more rigid barriers against the hiring of women.
(Some pertinent ComicMix-columnbackground here from Michael Davis.)
Etta returned to Texas during the postwar years as a commercial artist and art instructor. She spent a late-1940s/early-’50s stretch with Dearfield in Chicago, working on the “Red” Rabbit comics.
Back in Texas by later 1950s, Etta began cartooning for The Texas Observer. She and her husband, a coal-company executive named Vernon Hulme, settled in Fort Worth.
“Mr. Hulme and I made a good team,” Etta told me several years ago, “what with my left-of-center political-cartooning career and his corporate-industrial career – coal-mining exploration, at that, during a time [the 1970s] when Texas was just starting to develop an environmental conscience.
“But Mr. Hulme also was ahead of his time, in that regard,” she added. “He had a policy of taking great care to minimize the damages of any mining operation, and when his company [Texas Industries] located one huge vein of coal in 1977 at Thurber, Texas, he even took pains to protect the migratory route of a rare breed of bird in that area.” (Vernon Hulme died in 1983.)
The lapse from the Old Guard Liberalism of the Texas Observer to the hometown-daily Star-Telegrammight have found Etta’s readers expecting a softening of her social-critic voice. The Hulme cartoons have retained their edge, from then to now, at the mainstream daily.
“Good old-fashioned ridicule – that’s the ticket,” Etta says. “And a lot of absurdity, too. Let the readers know you’re having fun, poking fun at the politicians and taking a stand on the issues, and they’re likely as not to get a kick out of a cartoon even if they disagree with it. All except for those miserable souls who can’t take a joke.
“I love gettin’ disagreeable letters,” she adds. “I just love stirrin’ the pot until it boils over.
“Objections from the readers, disagreements with whatever stance I might take – nothin’ to ’em. Just give me some real-world abuses of power or political absurdities to work with, and I’ll find the humor necessary to point up the seriousness of a situation.
“The only obstacles I’ve ever encountered,” she continues, “have been the occasional editors who are leery of my gettin’ ‘too opinionated,’ as they’ll say, and want to slam on the brakes for me.
“Well, y’know, there’s a reason we call these things ‘editorial opinion cartoons,’” says Etta Hulme. “I’m in this business to dispense opinions, and – if the job gets done right – to get people stirred up while keepin’ things on the funny side.”
Prowler and Fishhead co-author Michael H. Price is responsible for the Forgotten Horrors series of movie-history books, from Baltimore’s Midnight Marquee Press. Price’s arts-scene commentaries can be found at www.fortworthbusinesspress.com, and in the Times Leader of Wilkes–Barre, Pa.