Against the Grain
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Against the Grain

Bombthrowing in the Fine American Tradition of Political Cartooning

Bill Sanders

Foreword by Jules Feiffer

Title Details

Pages: 232

Illustrations: 201 b&w photos and political cartoons

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Pub Date: 06/01/2018

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8294-8

List Price: $27.95


Pub Date: 06/01/2018

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8389-1

List Price: $27.95


NewSouth Books

Against the Grain

Bombthrowing in the Fine American Tradition of Political Cartooning

Bill Sanders

Foreword by Jules Feiffer

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Editorial cartoonists are an endangered species, and even in their heyday they were rare birds—at the top ranks of print journalism, only a few hundred such jobs existed worldwide in the 20th century. Yet those who wielded the drawing pen had enormous influence and popularity as they caricatured news events and newsmakers into "ink-drenched bombshells" that often said more than the accompanying news stories. Bill Sanders, working in a liberal tradition that stretches back to Thomas Nast and in more recent times includes Herblock, Oliphant, Feiffer, and Trudeau, began his career in the Eisenhower era and is still drawing in the age of Trump. In Against the Grain, he shares the upbringing and experiences that prepared him to inflict his opinions on the readers of the three major newspapers he worked for, the 100-plus papers he was syndicated in, and now, an internet channel.

Sanders's memoir is both personal and political. He reveals his small-town Southern roots, his athletic exploits and military service, his courtship and enduring marriage, and his life-long passion for music. These threads are woven into his main narrative, explaining how a cartoonist works and why: "The cartoon should be a vehicle for opinion and it should be polemical in nature—otherwise, it is a waste of time."

Along the way he shares vignettes about people he encountered and events he witnessed, illustrated here with a few photos and scores of the cartoons he produced to meet daily newspaper deadlines. He notes that while a cartoon is a simple communication, it is based on reading and research, and only then comes the drawing. Finally, there is this:

"While there may be—to varying degrees—two sides to some issues, don't bother looking for that posture on the following pages."

While political cartoonist Bill Sanders’s book may be a memoir, it is primarily a chronicle of his brushes with history during the era that stretched from the presidency of John Kennedy to that of Barack Obama—and of his good fortune to have had personal contact with some of the major actors on the political and social stage.
After briefly telling of his roots in Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky and how he became a cartoonist, Sanders leads the reader on a guided tour—illustrated with photos and his cartoons—through the headlines of the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.

Following World War Two, the “between” generation entered the young adult world of the early 1950s. It was a time of panty raids, Levittown, Dixieland jazz, early rock and roll, and television’s coming of age. It was a time when “war” morphed into “conflicts” and Korea took some from this transitional generation to their graves, calling into question the United States’ role as a global power.

As the era unfolded, the cold war and civil rights challenged Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Meanwhile, extremism found regional traction in the John Birch Society, the Minute Men, the bombast of Southern demagogues, and Barry Goldwater’s campaign. LBJ redeemed the national pledge on civil rights but was diverted into the swamp of Vietnam’s civil war where his political career perished. Richard Nixon then rose like Lazarus and eventually truncated the Vietnam War, but his personal demons led to the corruption of Watergate.

Bookended by the Jimmy Carter and George Bush I interludes, the carefully constructed myth of Ronald Reagan closed the door to progressive taxation, caged the regulatory watchdogs, and flowed massive wealth to the 1%. Stained by Monicagate and hindered by the Blue Dogs, Bill Clinton did not reverse this course. Then came the age of preemptive war and torture after the Supreme Court elected George Bush II by a 5–4 vote. Dubya and his fellow neocon draft dodgers—aided by a new age of partisan TV pundits and internet bloggers and an arthritic print media—lied and deceived the American public into an unjustified war of aggression. On the other hand, a new era began with the election of Barack Obama, the hijacking of the Republican Party by a coalition of rich white men and Tea Party fanatics, and the Supreme Court’s awarding of “personhood.”
All in all, the era has been a cartoonist’s feast.

In Against the Grain, Bill Sanders offers revealing insights into the makings of a bitingly good editorial cartoon, while highlighting the juicy scandals and bureaucratic wranglings of five presidential administrations from Eisenhower to Trump. Sumptuously illustrated with some of his best work, Sanders’s witty and engaging memoir makes irresistible reading for humor buffs and political junkies alike.


In Against the Grain, a political cartoonist shares his work and memories of his career while lamenting the current state of journalism and politics. The tone of his writing suggests a genial man, but Sanders has spent an illustrious career wielding a sharp pen. His memoir serves as an overview of the political currents that have roiled the nation. His work potently captures the tumult of the civil rights era, Vietnam War, Watergate, and, most recently, what he considers the unfathomable election of Donald Trump. A solid encapsulation of a significant, occasionally controversial career.

—Kirkus Reviews

A gorgeously designed book, Against the Grain by Bill Sanders is a fresh, exciting look at several decades of US political history along with insights into the challenges of a demanding cartooning career.

—Ft. Myers/Southwest Florida Magazine

Against the Grain is certified 100 percent gluten-free. Read it and take years off your mental health.

—Dr. Oz

No President in history has been treated as mean by Bill Sanders as me. Sad. Sad.

—Donald Trump

If this book had come out last year, I'd be President.

—Hillary Clinton

Bill Sanders chose for himself the job of explaining to us who we were . . . and the form he used was the editorial cartoon, which laid waste, in single-panel, deft, ink-drenched bombshells, to our institutional lies and brazen hypocrisies. Being in the business, five days a week, of yelling, as the parade of puffery passed by, that the emperor had no clothes.

—from the foreword by Jules Feiffer

This is the best book by a cartoonist I ever saw.

—Ray Charles

About the Author/Editor

WILLARD "BILL" SANDERS began drawing while in grade school in his hometown of Springfield, Tennessee, and never stopped. Also a gifted athlete and musician, he was the starting quarterback at Western Kentucky University, where he met his future wife and played in a band. Drafted during the Ko­rean War, he became an Army journalist and taught himself political cartooning. After his service, he worked first at the Greensboro Daily News, then the Kansas City Star, and finally at the Milwaukee Journal. Sanders has joyfully skewered the powerful and the corrupt, and his cartoons have won many awards and have been syndicated to more than a hundred newspapers. Retired since 1991 -- but still drawing -- he lives with Joyce, his wife of 60-plus years, in Fort Myers, Florida. His current cartoons can be seen at