"The Wasp" of San Francisco was one of many weekly tabloid publications of the late nineteenth century which thrived on a mix of satire and political commentary, centered around a pair of biting full-color cartoons which appeared on the front cover and in the centerfold. Though Ambrose Bierce was its most noted editor, there were countless others in its 64-year existence. During Bierce's editorship, "The Wasp" assumed a somewhat unusual pose, with Bierce's calls for racial tolerance clashing with the xenophobic cartoons of George Frederick Keller and Henry Barkhaus, which you will see here. After Bierce's departure, the magazine began a slow but steady decline, culminating with the ending of the color cartoon feature in 1899. After all illustrations ceased two years after that, "The Wasp" could only be compared to a young man who suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of 50, only to survive another 40 years attached to life-support tubes in a Home for the Incurables. They finally pulled the plug in 1941. We present here some of the more famous, or rather notorious, cartoons from "The Wasp's" glory period.
The images from "The Wasp" are courtesy of a good friend of ours, Richard Samuel West, who has just written the definitive book on the subject, The San Francisco Wasp: An Illustrated History, a beautifully bound limited edition of 400 with 88 color plates. It is available from his website at www.periodyssey.com. For those of you who live in the Bay area, the San Francisco Museum of Cartoon Art will be running an exhibition of these images from May 22nd to October 17th, 2004. The museum is located on Mission Street in the Castro district.