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posted March 3, 2006
Various; edited by Thomas Craven
Simon and Schuster, 1943, 442 pages.
Why doesn't this book come up when comics scholars and critics gather (if only virtually) to write about greatest collections ever? This was a popular enough book my parents and grandparents had one, as did the little old lady at the library book sale where I purchased a copy for $1, unless she's lying. Perhaps the context for this book, an appreciation of the HM Batemans, AB Frosts and Robert Days, was simply slow in coming, or perhaps fewer people than I thought still have yet to rediscover it. It's not that the individual volumes fell apart. Anyone who's read enough in the way of modern comics will find it tough not to laugh at the note up front that asks for forgiveness for the war-era thinner paper; this new copy, nothing special in terms of the cover's condition, boasts better-looking pages than almost any comic book I own made between 1960 and 1985.
Those thin pages yield page after page of black and white cartooning glory, back when the field was soaking in exemplary, well-paid talent. The creative line-up this book features is absurd -- everyone from Caniff to Arno to Herriman to Disney to Thurber to Sogolow. The book is imaginatively designed, with well-selected comics broken in two or wound around other comics to get more work in in a way that doesn't really upset like you think it might. The introductory sections, written by maverick art critic and Mencken protege Thomas Craven, is cursory at times (so many artists!) but sophisticated and lively. Mostly, this is just a wicked sampler of the top names and the just below the top names and the popular at the time but now mostly forgotten. The only things I can see to which the average comics fan might object is too many cartoonists (although I like that part of it -- there's a cartoonist named EW Kemble with whom I'm not familiar but now want to be), the focus on humor (which loses the woodcut folk and that's about it; it also allows comics purchase in a slight bettery ghetto than they're used to), and the cursory samples of strips from which these days we see long sequences, it being the age of graphic novels.
There are a few books I remember from my childhood as being so awesome that I had to have them right away when I could find them as adults; Cartoon Cavalcade
wasn't one of them. What a pleasant surprise.
from EW Kemble