Mystery Cartoonist: “Kaulee”

I was recently contacted by Karen Green, curator of comics and cartoons at the Butler Library of Columbia University regarding some comic strips she found. They were discovered in the papers of the Society for the Prevention of Crime (ironically, an organization that vilified comic books). What she found were a couple of proof sheets for strips titled Hopeless Henry and The Same Old Hokum, bylined by “Kaulee.” 

Green contacted me on the chance that I might be able to ID the artist. Unfortunately I could not do that, and I had never seen the comics strips either. 

Online research led me to an obscure set of series evidently issued through the auspices of the United Nations. There seems to have been three series, the first of which was titled Hopeless Henry. In this series the UN keeps a relatively low profile, concentrating more on material about European war relief. Some strips don’t even mention the UN. Green has two proof sheets for this strip, with the strips numbered 1 through 7, which appears to be the extent of the series. Here are some samples:

The proof sheets credit Community Relations Service, located at 386 4th Avenue in New York City. I can find little on this organization, but it seemed to be in the business of issuing pamphlets and other printed materials for various religious, community and social do-gooder organizations. Whether “Kaulee” worked for them, the U.N., or some contracted art agency is unknown, but the latter seems like the best bet.

Hopeless Henry strips were issued as freebies to newspapers, and so assigning definitive dates to the series is relatively meaningless since the issuer does not seem to have prescribed specific running dates. Very few papers took the bait to run strips from this series, and I found none that printed all seven. Of those few who did use Hopeless Henry, the earliest I can find ran it in July 1947. 

Although Hopeless Henry failed to get many takers, a second series was issued, this time titled Hopeless Herman. Why the name change? I dunno. Maybe they ran out of rhymes for Henry. But the new series was also credited to “Kaulee”. Here’s a few samples:


For this series we don’t have the benefit of proof sheets, so these samples are from digitized microfilm. The highest number strip I can find is #6, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this series also consisted of seven strips. This series is more openly cheerleading for the U.N. and lobbies primarily for the Universal Bill of Human Rights, which would be passed in December 1948 and would become quite influential in world politics. The earliest I can find Hopeless Herman strips running is in October 1948.

Finally there is a third U.N. series, yet again with a new title, this time the cheerier outlook of Hopeful Herbert. “Kaulee” is credited once again, and once again the series seems to consist of seven strips. Here are some samples from microfilm:

The earliest printed example from this series I’ve found is from October 1949. 

This appears to be the last U.N. series produced, but “Kaulee” has another credit, on The Same Old Hokum, a series that uses the same style and format as the U.N. ones:

This series is aimed at combating racism and promoting ethical behavior in veterans. It is not at all obvious who paid for this series to be produced, but it seems unlikely to be the U.N. as the subject seems a little out of its purview. This was apparently quite a long series in comparison to the others; the highest number found is #22. It also varies from the other series in that it appears to have only been distributed to military base papers and veterans’ publications (thanks to Alex Jay for ferreting out these appearances).This series has been found running as early as 1947 and as late as 1949. 

“Kaulee” also produced some other material for Community Relations Service, including a pro-immigration booklet titled The Face At The Window, which impressed the editors of the Des Moines Tribune enough to run it on their op-ed page. The pamphlet seems not to have credited the work, but it is obviously our “Kaulee”:

 Green alerted me to another booklet obviously produced by “Kaulee”, this one about workplace discrimination and unionism. It was titled “Discrimination Costs You Money” and it was produced for the National Labor Service:

In researching this pamphlet I came upon several different versions of it floating around the interwebs. The typical version, as usual, offers no creator credits, but finally I hit paydirt on the Civil Rights Movement Archive website, where they have a digitized version of the pamphlet that offers full credits at the back. And that’s where the mystery ends, because they tell us that “Kaulee” is  the team of writer Sonya Kaufer and artist Lee Levy. 

Sonya Kaufer pops up in newspaper archives during the 1950s as a pamphlet writer, poet and civil rights activist, but sadly for artist Lee Levy the trail goes cold.

2 comments on “Mystery Cartoonist: “Kaulee”

  1. I've seen some of these UN handouts in several papers in different states. They apparently came with further UN propaganda in the form of editorials, columns and photos to the same papers.

  2. Poking around a bit, there's a listing for a Sonya Firstenberg Kaufer, nee Sonya Ruth Firstenberg, born January 7, 1921 in Bialystok Poland, and who died August 21, 2004; if these strips came out in the mid to late 40s, they were done when she was rather young. Since at least 1977 through 2002, she lived in Putnam Valley, NY; in the 1930 census, she's listed in the Bronx (under "Sonya Firstenperg" [sic], having come to the US in 1928 (as a Yiddish speaker) and in 1940, as "Sonia [sic] Firstenberg," a clerk in a cleaning and dyeing shop, living in Brooklyn; she'd briefly attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.

    One item that caught my eye in noodling around was that there was a comic artist for DC comics named Harris Levey, also born in 1921, who worked under the pseudonyms Lee Harris, Leland Harris, and Harris Levy. Could it be possible he also worked under the name Lee Levy, mixing names from two of his pseudonyms? I admit that's a longshot, but it's a very curious coincidence. As of February, 1942 (his draft registration card), at the age of 20, he was living in the Bronx, and working for "Superman, Inc." He died, it seems, in 1984, up in Lake Placid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *