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The Genius of James Thurber and The Pick of Punch
posted December 31, 2000

Selectors: Michael J. Rosen, Miles Kington
Publishing Info: The Folio Society, $26.25, 1997 (Thurber); The Folio Society, 1998 (Punch)
Ordering Numbers: None

London's Folio Society operates as a sort of high-end book club mining upper middle class tastes and predilections by offering well-considered novels and collections in crisp editions at a price much more reasonable than the originals and much more expensive than an equivalent release from a major publisher. One imagines it being used to build libraries by those who don’t read very much but want to adhere to certain standards of acknowledged taste.

With the qualification in mind that these books are not essential collections, the two comics-related volumes offered by the society are tastefully assembled and serve as fair overviews of their respective subjects. Thurber novices in particular would be well-served by Thurber's book, which includes a number of his expressive cartoons, including an all-cartoon section that shows off the humorist’s range. The Punch collection’s cartoons seem more diplomatically chosen than some of the still-required cartoon collections, and some artists left out of entire volumes of that series, such as Rowland Emett, find a place here.

If the volumes have anything in common it’s that each book’s concentration on essays places the cartoon work in context, to different ends. While the Punch artists add a dash of whimsy to the nasty satirical bite of several essays, Thurber's cartoons abuse the audience’s cultural attitude towards humorous illustration to take nastier and more direct shots at his usual targets.

Handsomely produced, the Folio Society books are worth more than a trip from mailbox to bookshelf.

Originally published in The Comics Journal #219.