Vaughn Richard Shoemaker (1902-1991), an American editorial cartoonist, won the 1938 and 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning for his work with the Chicago Daily News. He was the creator of the character, John Q. Public, and a faithful Assemblies of God layman.
As a boy born before radio, movie theaters, or television, Shoemaker looked forward to the delivery of the evening newspaper and reading the comics page on the living room floor. His first attempts at drawing consisted of sidewalk art drawn with a piece of lime found at a construction site.
At age 14, heart trouble sent him to the hospital where their family was given no hope for his survival. With her son placed in a sanitorium outside Chicago to await death, Shoemaker’s mother prayed earnestly for God to heal her son. When the doctor later examined him, he declared, “It’s almost as if you have a new heart!”
Shoemaker’s own faith journey was based on his mother’s conviction that God was personally involved in their lives but he did not have much in mind for life beyond his job as a lifeguard on Lake Michigan. When he found the girl he wanted to marry, Evelyn Arnold, a Miss Chicago winner, he proposed only to be told, “I like you, but until you set a goal for yourself and show me you’re working hard toward it – well, nothing doing.”
Exhibiting more confidence than he felt, Shoemaker went to the offices of the Chicago Daily News to ask for a job. Told there were no openings, Shoemaker returned the next day, and the next, and the next, until his presence became annoying. One day he was waiting in the office to see if there were any openings when one of the newspaper artists, an alcoholic who often failed to meet his deadline, did not appear for work and the editor was in a bind. He looked at the 19-year-old Shoemaker and put him immediately to work, with a seat next to Chet Gould, the eventual creator of the Dick Tracy cartoon strip.
Three years later, the chief cartoonist at the Daily News took a job at the New York Herald. Two weeks later, his replacement was offered a job with King Features Syndicate. The third man to try the job was distracted with family issues and failed to meet deadline three days in a row leaving the presses on hold while the art department tried to find a cartoon for the front page. With the staff decimated, the art director looked at Shoemaker and said, “Kid, do you think you can draw the cartoon while I try to send out of town for a cartoonist?”
Not even knowing if the paper was Democratic or Republican, Shoemaker said, “Sure I can!” When he marched into the chief cartoonist’s office, he realized he had just offered to draw his first political cartoon for a paper with a staff of 3,000 and more than half a million readers. Shoemaker later said, “I froze up. My stomach was churning and I started to sweat. Then I remembered my mother, who prayed to God every day. I was desperate. So I got down on my knees, alone in the middle of the chief cartoonist’s office, and asked God for help. And He gave it to me.”
He continued this practice of asking God for an idea for the next three days. After a string of successful cartoons, the Daily News made him chief cartoonist. He was not much of a Christian, but he found himself kneeling every day to ask for help and realized that, for the first time in his life, God was real to him. Soon Evelyn agreed to marry him, and he began to grow in his faith, joining the Stone Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Chicago. From his first day in his new office, he never started a day at his drawing board without praying and reading from the Bible.
However, he discovered that “when you become a Christian, you’re all alone in the world — especially if you work in a newspaper office.” He invited the only other Christian he knew at the Chicago Daily News to weekly lunches for mutual encouragement. Sometimes they would ask young pastors to join them, including a young Wheaton college student named Billy Graham. These meetings soon grew until they expanded to include other Chicago businessmen and developed into the Gospel Fellowship Club, which developed into the Christian Business Men’s Connection.
In 1934, Shoemaker was under pressure to create a Christmas cartoon for the front page. The only idea coming to him was overtly Christian — a simple manger scene with John 3:16 included in the heading. The editors all nixed the idea but their new publisher, Frank Knox, who went on to become Secretary of the Navy, liked it. The cartoon was a success and it set a precedent for hundreds of other spiritual cartoons that Shoemaker published, including one that was picked up by the Pentecostal Evangel in the Feb. 24, 1940, issue.
In the spring of 1938, Shoemaker was sent by the paper to visit 17 countries in Europe to produce cartoons portraying the mood of the people caught up in the rise of the Nazi party and its leader, Adolph Hitler. He had recently drawn his first Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon, “The Road Back” and Herman Goering criticized his cartoons as “horrible examples of anti-Nazi propaganda.”
He served as chief cartoonist for the Chicago Daily News from 1925 until 1952, creating the beleaguered taxpayer character, John Q. Public, said to been more recognizable by Chicagoans than their own mayor.
In 1952, Shoemaker moved to the Chicago Tribune. By 1963, his cartoons were syndicated to more than 75 newspapers. In his later years, Shoemaker traveled the United States giving presentations in churches called, “God Guides My Pen” as he drew cartoons with spiritual application. He died in 1991 at his home in Carol Stream, Illinois, believing that “everything I’ve done worthy of recognition came about because I realized I couldn’t do it alone. God had to help me.”
See one of Shoemaker’s cartoons on page 5 of the Feb. 24, 1940, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Sealed Unto the Day of Redemption” by E.S. Williams
• “Does God Work Miracles Today?” by Howard Taylor
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.