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Cowpokes to Kings: The Cartoons of Ace Reid & Charles Barsotti


Logo for Cowpokes to Kings exhibition

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Cowpokes to Kings celebrates two successful Texas cartoonists: Ace Reid and Charles Barsotti. While they both were from small Texas towns and were close in age, the contrasts between these two masters are easy to see in their lives, their careers and their cartoons.

 

Reid was born in 1925, while Barsotti was born eight years later in 1933. Although the difference may seem slight, they were effectively from two separate generations—being of age to serve in World War II versus being born a few years later was a monumental distinction. Reid grew up on a ranch in north Texas during the Great Depression, served in the Navy during World War II, and settled in Kerrville for his cartooning career. His Cowpokes fondly depict the hard life of ranchers he had grown up around during the lean years of his boyhood. His cartoons flourished and ran in more than 400 weekly newspapers at their peak; his Cowpokes calendars and books were also extremely popular.

 

Barsotti was born in San Marcos and grew up in San Antonio. He had a typical middle-class upbringing, graduated from Southwest Texas State University in 1955, and he lived the bulk of his professional career in Kansas City, Missouri. Barsotti’s cartoons focus on contemporary issues in American society and were published in a wide range of magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Parade, Barron’s, Texas Monthly, and the British humor magazine, Punch. He was, in fact, so admired in the U.K. that three of his cartoons were issued as postage stamps in 1996.

 

Despite their obvious differences, Reid’s and Barsotti’s cartoons share many qualities. Their tone is always warm, and sometimes absurd, but they are rarely caustic—they both gently poke fun at their characters and depict difficult real-life situations with humor. Reid and Barsotti both took authority figures to task, and they always empathized with individuals faced with situations beyond their influence or control.

 

Regardless of differences in each of our own backgrounds, we all can recognize and relate to Reid’s cowpokes and Barsotti’s kings, dogs, and office workers. That recognition, according to renowned cartoonist Pat Oliphant, is the most important facet to any successful cartoon.

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