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May 18, 2009

Draper Hill, 1935-2009


L. Draper Hill, the longtime Detroit News cartoonist perhaps best known for his stinging cartoons during Coleman Young's five terms as mayor, died last Wednesday. He was 73 years old.

Although he would become a noted fixture of Midwestern media, Hill was born in the Northeast, in Boston, and raised in nearby Wellesley Hills. He attended and then graduated from Harvard, class of 1957. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London on a Fulbright scholarship. He almost immediately settled into his chosen career, working from two papers in Massachussets, starting with the Patriot Ledger in Quincy. During that period, 1958-1964, he doubled as a reporter and a cartoonist. From there he moved to the Worcester Telegram and then the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He joined the Detroit News in 1976.

Hill employed inventive visuals to make his point, often at the expense of Coleman Young, who began his legendary 20th Century run as a major city mayor two years prior to Hill's arrival on the scene.

Hill was also a well-known writer about comics, writing the history column in the magazine published by the Association of American Editorial cartoonists. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983 to work on his biography of Thomas Nast, that eventually became Doomed by Cartoon: How Cartoonist Thomas Nast and the New York Times Brought Down Boss Tweed and His Ring of Thieves, republished in 2008. The Detroit News obituary mentions another book, on James Gillray, which he wrote for Phaidon in 1965. Hill also penned a book on Illingsworth that came out in 1970 from the publishing arm of the Boston Public Library.

Hill illustrated books by Sonny Eliot (Sonny Sez!), Edward Morin (The Dust Of Our City) and James Roper (The Decline And Fall Of The Gibbon). Books of Hill's cartoons were published along with special events in 1975 (accompanying a Memphis-area art show) and in 1978 (accompanying the second inauguration of Coleman Young). In 1985, the book Political Asylum was published in conjunction with a show in nearby Windsor, Ontario. He won the Thomas Nast Prize in Landau, Germany in 1990.

The cartoonist retired in 1999. He is survived by a wife, a daughter, two brothers and two grandchildren.
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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