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Editorial cartoons that won Paul Szep acclaim — and got him sued by the governor

The Globe’s first editorial cartoonist shares memories of his early work about Nixon, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and former governor Ed King.

Published in the late ‘60s, this Paul Szep cartoon shows caricatures of Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh adding “tokens” of soldiers and planes to the table during the Vietnam War.Paul Szep

As told to Jules Struck

The Globe’s first staff editorial cartoonist, Paul Szep, chronicled the issues and daily turmoil of the 1960s, and continued through 2001. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 and another in 1977 for his work. He credits the Globe’s leaders for their courage in upholding free speech principles during that tumultuous time. “Charlie Whipple was an amazing [editorial page] editor,” Szep recalls. “And frankly, the Taylor family, that owned the Globe — it took a tremendous amount of courage on their part. I was a beneficiary of that because as a satirist or a cartoonist, I could really let it go. I didn’t have constraints.”

Published in the late ‘60s, this cartoon shows caricatures of Lyndon Johnson and Ho Chi Minh adding “tokens” of soldiers and planes to the table during the Vietnam War. “That’s how I saw it. It was like a poker game, except they were using human pawns,” says Szep, now 80 and living in Florida. “The Globe was one of the first papers that went against that war. It was not a popular position to take. I literally got toilet paper in the mail. I got blackballed at four golf clubs. But that came with the job.”

President Nixon's taxes were fodder for this 1973 cartoon by Paul Szep, among the selection that won him a 1974 Pulitzer Prize.Paul Szep

The man waiting at the IRS office looks over at the disgruntled fellow seated next to him — President Nixon — and says, “I tried to beat them for 70 bucks ... how about you?” It was classic Szep, and among the editorial cartoons that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

“I was always consumed with getting an idea; drawing was easy. Once you got a subject, it was a case of, How do you turn that into satire? How do you do that visually? ‘Seventy bucks’ was paltry compared to what Nixon was accused of. Nixon’s taxes were very much an issue,” Szep says, “as [former president Donald] Trump’s are now. It was a big issue and it was part of his identity.”

This cartoon stemming from the “Saturday Night Massacre” was among Szep's pieces awarded a Pulitzer in 1974. Paul Szep

The Saturday Night Massacre happened in October 1973 when the US attorney general and the deputy attorney general both resigned rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor — who was then fired anyway, by the US solicitor general.

“I wrestled with it all day. I went through a lot of different concepts. Tom Winship, the editor, said, ‘You’ve been at this thing all day, why don’t you go home. It’s 5 o’clock.’ And then the light went on [in my mind]. Just, something happened. The boat was Integrity; Archibald Cox, Elliot Richardson [and William Ruckelshaus] were in the boat. Those were the only three people with integrity. The White House was sinking in the background.” This cartoon was among those by Szep that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

One of Paul Szep's editorial cartoons featuring Massachusetts Governor Edward King.Paul Szep

In 1982, Massachusetts Governor Edward King filed a libel suit against Szep, the paper, and two columnists, alleging their work had harmed his reputation. “He hated the Globe, for obvious reasons. I would draw him with that little beanie,” Szep recalls. “I did the same thing with John Volpe when he was governor. They all made great fodder, and you’d hear back from these guys. That just inspired you to press a little harder on the pen, I guess.” The judge dismissed the case.

Among the political cartoons by Paul Szep that won him a 1974 Pulitzer Prize, this one also includes his daughter's name. Paul Szep

Szep occasionally drew the word “Amy” — his daughter’s name — into his cartoons, like he did in this 1973 caricature of John Dean, White House counsel from 1970-73 during the Nixon administration. “This was really initially between my daughter and me — it was always just our little game,” he remembers. “It was not meant for public consumption, but a reader found it and wrote [a letter about it] and then it became popular. But I can’t say I originated the concept. Al Hirschfeld was a great caricaturist — he did the theater for The New York Times on Sundays — he put his daughter Nina in.”


Jules Struck is a writer in Revere. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.