Workers’ plight featured in cartoon exhibit

September 1, 1999

ANN ARBOR—A harrowing experience during the 1932 “job march” at the Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant became the impetus for Ben Yomen’s career as a labor cartoonist. When Ben Yomen was jailed as a “suspect” while sketching the violent scene at the Ford plant, his drawing took on a new mission: cartoons and caricatures that lampooned the “bosses.”
An exhibit of works by the artist once considered by many editors of labor union publications as “the most popular cartoonist in the labor press” can be viewed through December in the North Lobby of the University of Michigan Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library.
The Massachusetts native, who grew up in an auto industry family in Detroit, sold his first cartoon to a humor magazine but struggled as an artist in New York City. At times he made his living by doing everything from sign painting to caricaturing patrons in bars and nightclubs and teaching drawing and painting to children as part of the federal WPA Art Project.
He continued to submit cartoons to labor newspapers, where he became known for his views on the struggles of the trade unions organizing for better working conditions. In his spare time, he painted oils and watercolors and exhibited in various galleries, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
In the early ’40s Yomen introduced his “Congressman Dripp” panel, which was distributed weekly to as many as 200 publications across the country. “Dripp” was described by the editor of the International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers, CIO, as “the artist’s conception of the typical stuffed-shirt reactionary, a bought-and-paid-for representative of the worst anti-labor elements in his home district.”
By 1945 Yomen was back in Detroit as art director of the UAW publication “Ammunition,” handling all artwork for the union’s education department. He also continued selling his cartoons and wrote and illustrated a children’s book, “Roberto, The Mexican Boy.” Never one to be idle, in 1980 Yomen began drawing a cartoon series called “Senator Rightwing” for the UAW’s international publication “Solidarity.” The series ran for five years.
Yomen is now retired and lives in Ann Arbor.
There is no charge to view the exhibit featuring his humorous yet provoking cartoons. The Hatcher Library is located on U-M’s Central Campus in Ann Arbor and is open 8 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m.-midnight Sunday.

Harlan Hatcher Graduate LibraryWPABrooklyn Museum of ArtUAWCentral Campus