Literary Lampoons: The Cartoonist Ambitions of a Great American Writer

Special note: This blog post was written by Bryant Scott, M.A. ’14, East Carolina University Department of English, as part of a special series highlighting the Stuart Wright Collection.

In a review of Updike, Adam Begley’s new biography of the beloved American writer, Orhan Pamuk writes that, “in a way, what Melville did for whales, Updike did for upper-middle-class life in suburban America: He produced partly allegorical realist novels containing an encyclopedic array of the thousands of facets of human experience, all collected with loving attention to his subject matter.”

What is less known about one of the great writers of his generation is that long before John Updike began semi-autobiographically chronicling the anguish of American middle-class torpidity, he aspired to be, in his words, “the next Walt Disney.” In fact, as a youth he wrote frequently to his cartoonist heroes, stylized his artwork after theirs, and even modeled notable protagonists after aspiring cartoonists.

Newly added to the Stuart Wright Collection in Joyner Library is a modest yet exclusive supply of Updike material. Among the annotated manuscripts, personal notebooks, and correspondence is a wealth of sketches, drawings, political cartoons, various works published in the Harvard Lampoon and local newspapers, and other original art that expose the famous writer’s earliest ambitions—to be a great cartoonist.

The collection ranges from figure drawings to newsprint, spanning roughly the decade in which Updike was emerging as a major American writer.  At Harvard, Updike was in full form on the editorial board of the Harvard Lampoon, where, alongside poems and longer articles, he published cartoons frequently. The image below, from Updike’s own marked-up copy of the Harvard Lampoon, for instance, showcases an early bit of Updike’s sense of social irony.

Updike, John. Harvard Lampoon. Feb. 1954. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Augmenting these Lampoon editions, in the 50s and 60s Updike published frequently in newspapers, as is shown in the following example from the Amesbury Daily News. Here, as is typical of his cartoons, Updike displays political and social acuity at a young age.

Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. June 21, 1958. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

As seen above, these cartoons also nicely showcase the political environment of the time, often exposing the underlying social fears of a nation in the midst of the Cold War.

Interestingly, the collection houses various doodles and sketches that show the evolution of an Updike cartoon from brief sketches to prints to published cartoons, as is shown through the sequence of Nixon and Kennedy cartoons below. The first image is an undated pencil sketch from Updike’s composition notebooks while at Harvard, the second is an original pen and ink cartoon (one of many in the collection) that Updike submitted to the Amesbury Daily News, and the published cartoon is the third image below.

Updike, John. Personal composition notebook. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.
Kennedy: “What the American vision needs is a vision of a vision—more homes for our senior citizens. More schools for our junior citizens—I call all citizens to greatness! Hurrah!”
Nixon: “I, for one, thank the dear lord for the strength that enabled me to stand up to Khruschev [sic], and for the wonderful leadership provided by that master among men, Dwight David Now-is-the-Hour! Whee!”

Updike, John. Original Drawing. Undated. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C


Updike, John. Amesbury Daily News. August 23, 1960. Stuart Wright Collection. J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.


Alumni Day 1968

Source:  University Archives Image Collection (UA55-01-9775)

Staff Person:  Arthur Carlson

Description:  This image from the University Archives features the layout of J.Y. Joyner Library on Alumni Day in 1968.  Joyner Library was dedicated on March 8, 1955 as part of that year’s Founder’s Day celebrations.  The growing student body forced campus administrators to add air conditioning and two additional floors in 1964. From 1994-1999, a third major renovation added the rounded tower and Sonic Plaza which make Joyner among the most recognizable buildings on campus.  Its namesake, James Yadkin Joyner, was a career educator and served as state Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1902-1919.  He was instrumental in the modernization of the North Carolina public school system.

Plan for 7′ 9 Pram

Source: Hagerty Company Collections (EC Manuscript Collection # 1084 Os1)

Staff Person: Ralph Scott

Description: The Douglas Fir Plywood Association founded in 1933 in Tacoma, Washington was one of many trade associations that that were set up following the National Recovery Act. The Association set standards for plywood manufacture and in 1938 became the holder of an industry wide trademark on plywood. Prior to that each manufacturer had their own brand logo. The new DFPA Construction Standard was accepted by the Farm Home Administration for interior and exterior use of FHA approved homes. In addition to developing industry-wide standards the DFPA also promoted consumer use of member plywood. One such promotion is shown here in a plan for a 7′ 9″ pram. Construction techniques for the pram as well as a bill of materials were supplied on this plan dated 1940. During World War II DFPA plywood was used in barracks, life-boats, and gliders. The Hagerty Company of Cohasset, MA constructed PT boats, skiffs, sailboats and dinghies from DFPA plywood.

Great American Cock, Male (Wild Turkey)

Source:  Rare QL674.A9 2006

Staff Person: Ralph Scott


Study for the Great American Cock, Male one of the major plates in the large elephant folio edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851), artist, and William Home Lizars (1788-1859), engraving done around 1826, in Lousiana. Watercolor on paper, 37 ­x 25 1/2 inches. This print is from the New-York Historical Society edition of Audubon’s fifty best watercolors from the original watercolors preparatory for John James Audubon’s Birds of America, Chicago, Oppenheimer editions, ca. 2006.

Der Bat Artist / Maurice Sendak RIP

Source: Stuart Wright Collection – Randall Jarrell Papers #1169-005.6.u

Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo


Poet Randall Jarrell collaborated on three children’s books with illustrator Maurice Sendak: Fly by Night (1976), The Animal Family (1965) and The Bat-Poet (1964). Of the three, The Bat-Poet has always been my favorite.  Shortly before publication of The Bat Poet, in 1964, Sendak sent this undated letter to Jarrell.  In place of a signature, Sendak signed his letter with a characteristically charming and tiny pen & ink cartoon of himself in the guise of “Der Bat Artist” flourishing his brush in hand (or foot) and about to create.  The miniature drawing perfectly captures the spirit of Jarrell’s poetic hero, who, like a real human child, tale is just so eager and sweet and shy and curious, yet manages all this without being too cloying. The small bat wants to know things, and then he wants to sing, and when that doesn’t work, he begins to make up poems, trying to express himself. He sets out to explore the day world, for example, and he gets a creative crush on the vain yet talented mockingbird. Little by little, he puts his observations into words.  When he received Sendak’s letter, Jarrell filed it carefully inside his copy of The Bat Poet, where it remained until Joyner Library acquired it in 2010.

This post is in honor of Maurice Sendak who died on 8 May 2012 in Danbury, Connecticut at age 83.

Rebel Prisoners being brought to Headquarters, Petersburg, 1865














Source: Frances W. Knowles Papers, #164, East Carolina Manuscript Collection

Staff Member: Ralph Scott


The Francis W. Knowles Papers consist of a diary scrapbook (1862-1865) written by Private Knowles while serving in Company B of the 36th Massachusetts Volunteers. The diary records the activities of Knowles, who was mainly a clerk, as he participated with the IX Corps at Fredericksburg (December, 1862), in the District of Indiana and Michigan (June-September, 1863), the Knoxville Campaign (November-December, 1863), the Wilderness campaign (May, 1864), the Spotsylvania Courthouse campaign (May, 1864), at Cold Harbor (June 3-4, 1864), and in the Petersburg campaign (June, 1864-April, 1865). This sketch from the Knowles scrapbook shows a long line of Confederate prisoners being led to a holding area at the headquarters of the 1st Division, 9th Corps Army of the Potomac on March 25th, 1865.

First Floor Plans of the Austin Building

Source: University Archives Architectural Collection, 55-08-0043 

Staff Person: Kacy Guill 

The Austin Building was constructed in 1908 and 1909 and served for many years as the main classroom building and library at East Carolina Teachers Training School.  The Austin Building also included the school’s administrative offices, including the president’s office, and an auditorium.  The building was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Jenkins Fine Art Center.

 The plan of the first floor of the Austin Building dates before 1914 when an east wing was added.  A west wing was added in 1922.

Wild Cat


 George Willcox McIver Papers Manuscript Collection #251)

George Willcox McIver was born on December 22, 1858, at Carthage, N.C., and died in 1947 at the age of eighty-nine. He was the son of Alexander McIver, a noted North Carolina educator, and Mary Ann Willcox. McIver was appointed to West Point in 1877 and graduated with the class of 1882. Upon graduation, he began a military career of forty years of active service including duty in the United States, Alaska, Cuba, France, and the Philippine Islands.

Before U.S. intervention in World War I, McIver was promoted to Brigadier General and took command of the 161st Brigade of the 81st (Wild Cat) Division which trained at Camp Jackson and Camp Sevier, South Carolina. This unit became incorporated into the American Expeditionary Force and participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. From 1919 until his retirement in 1922, McIver was stationed at Fort Pike, Arkansas, and Fort Slocum, New York.


Staff person: Ralph Scott

Wahl-Coates Training School Philosophy Chart

Source:  Walhl-Coates School Collection, East Carolina Manuscript Collection #6

Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo


The image below entitled “Relation of Training School to College” is an original design drawing for an illustration that appeared in The Training School issue of the East Carolina Teachers College Bulletin Vol. 30, No. 4 (August 1939). The design expressed the Wahl-Coates Training School’s philosophy of teacher education. The ink on cardboard design shows the Training School students and their pupils at the center of a radiating circle of educational levels including student teaching, child study and psychology courses, courses in education, and subject matter courses.

The Training School was an elementary school that provided student teaching opportunities for E.C.T.C. education students. It was located on the campus of East Carolina University until 1972, when the university and the city of Greenville built Wahl-Coates Public School on Fifth Street. Originally established as the Model School in 1922, the institution was renamed the Training School when it moved into a new building in 1928 (now the Messick Theatre Arts Center). In 1959, the school received its present name, Wahl-Coates, created in honor of Miss Dora Coates and Miss Frances Wahl, two former teachers and supervisors of the school during its formative years.

Wahl-Coates Training School Philosophy Chart

Wahl-Coates Training School Philosophy Chart

Source: Wahl-Coates School Collection, #6.1.a.5, Special Collections Department, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University.

American Indian Drawing by John White (Wife of an Indian werouwance or chief of Pomeiooc, and her daughter)

Source: The American drawings of John White, 1577-1590, with drawings of European and oriental subjects, Joyner Rare Oversize NC 242.W53 H8

Indian woman and young girl.

Indian woman and young girl.

Staff Person: Ralph Scott


The image shown below is a drawing ca. 1585 by the English adventurer John White. White joined the group of colonists who came to North Carolina under the patronage of Sir Walter Raleigh. His drawings are the only surviving sixteenth century watercolors of the people, places, animals, and things that he discovered in “Virginia”. After just staying in the New World about fourteen days, White returned to England. There is some evidence that his original sketches were further enhanced with coloring later in England. The original watercolors were purchased by the British Museum in the mid-nineteenth century and were reproduced here in 1964 in a joint publication by the Museum and the University of North Carolina Press. A number of White’s original watercolors are currently on loan from the British Museum and are on display from October 2007 until January 2008 in an exhibit in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, North Carolina along with the Joyner Library copy of Thomas Hariot’s A Brief and true relation of the new found land of Virginia, London, 1588.

In the drawing the girl shows her mother a small dressed doll she is holding along with her necklace which appears to be of copper or gold. Both of these items were rather expensive items for a child and it may be an attempt on the part of White to show the riches that the children of the New World owned. The mother displays facial, neck and arm tattoos as well as a decorated apron. She holds in her right arm several necklaces a gesture which Thomas Harriot noted was “particular” to this tribe of Native Americans. In her left hand she holds a gourd which was used to carry water. Kim Sloan, Curator of British Drawings and Watercolours at the British Museum, notes that by carrying this gourd White shows that even the wife of a chief was not free from some of the more routine tasks of the community. Other members of the community are depicted in various tasks in the other watercolors in the book.

Paul Hulton and David Beers Quinn,The American drawings of John White, 1577-1590, with drawings of European and oriental subjects.London and Chapel Hill, the Trustees of the British Museum and the University of North Carolina Press, 1964. 2 v., illus. (part colored), 40 cm. Joyner Rare Oversize NC 242.W53 H8 Purchase 1964 State Funds.

Click on the image to see an enlarged version.