The Man Who Filled Newspapers With Monsters

Library of Congress
Library of Congress / Library of Congress

Somebody has to terrify America’s children. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that person was Walter McDougall. As part of a series of stories for children, McDougall filled American newspapers with clever but alarming visions of child-eating monsters.

McDougall began his newspaper career in the 1870s, working as a political cartoonist at the New York Graphic. From there he began selling cartoons to Harper’s Weekly and Puck magazine. His career really took off on May 21, 1893, when one of his drawings became the first color cartoon printed in an American newspaper. One year later, his cheerful story “The Unfortunate Fate of a Well-Intended Dog” became the country’s first color comic strip. His illustrations for a weekly American Press Association editorial column also made him the nation’s first syndicated newspaper artist.

As his career progressed, his fame grew. In his heyday, McDougall was producing dozens of cartoons every week for regional and national newspapers and magazines.

McDougall’s monsters found a regular home in the humbly named cartoon series “McDougall’s Good Stories for Children.” His stories married obscure vocabulary, bizarre creatures, and child endangerment. Needless to say, they were a big success. 

By 1904, word of his weird drawings had reached L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum was about to release a second book and wanted to promote it with a weekly comic strip. The two put their rather strange heads together and came up with “Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz,” which ran from 1904 to 1905.

McDougall worked into his sixties, amassing a portfolio of hundreds and hundreds of comics. There would be no happy ending for his story, however; after retirement, he withdrew into seclusion for years, then committed suicide at the age of 80. You can remember him by seeing more of his monster images on the Monster Brains blog, or viewing his political cartoons at the Ohio State University Libraries.

All images are courtesy of the Library of Congress.