A poignant history of the cartoonists and illustrators from the Connecticut School
For a period of about fifty years, right in the middle of the American Century, many of the the nation’s top comic-strip cartoonists, gag cartoonists, and magazine illustrators lived within a stone’s throw of one another in the southwestern corner of Connecticut—a bit of bohemia in the middle of those men in their gray flannel suits.
Cullen Murphy’s father, John Cullen Murphy, drew the wildly popular comic strips Prince Valiant and Big Ben Bolt, and was at the heart of this artistic milieu. Comic strips and gag cartoons read by hundreds of millions were created in this tight-knit group—Superman, Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, Rip Kirby, Hagar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, Nancy, Sam & Silo, Amy, The Wizard of Id, The Heart of Juliet Jones, Family Circus, Joe Palooka, and The Lockhorns, among others. Cartoonists and their art were a pop-cultural force in a way that few today remember. Anarchic and deeply creative, the cartoonists were independent spirits whose artistic talents had mainly been forged during service in World War II.
Illustrated with never-before-seen photographs, cartoons, and drawings, Cartoon County brings the postwar American era alive, told through the relationship of a son to his father, an extraordinarily talented and generous man who had been trained by Norman Rockwell. Cartoon County gives us a glimpse into a very special community—and of an America that used to be.
About the Author
Cullen Murphy is the editor at large at Vanity Fair and the former managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of The Word According to Eve, Just Curious, and God’s Jury. He lives in Massachusetts with his family.
"Warm and graceful . . . [a] stylishly written and illustrated field guide to the American Cartoonist and his mid-century habitat." —Garry Trudeau, The New York Times Book Review
“A rich, clever, and affectionate account of a tight-knit circle of cartoonists . . . The art in Cartoon County is as lovingly reproduced as the anecdotes.” —Dan Wasserman, The Boston Globe
“A lovingly observed tribute to that magical mid-twentieth-century never-never land (suburban Connecticut), where cartoonists of newspaper strips and magazine gag panels commuted to the top floor or the basement of their homes, or to nearby studios, to turn out a form of art that was, in its day, an integral part of American culture, rivaling today’s TV, cable, or the web. John Cullen Murphy was the illustrator of the classic Prince Valiant Sunday page, and his life, and that of his cartoonist friends, is recorded in anthropological detail in this beautifully composed and delightfully illustrated love letter from his son.” —Jules Feiffer, cartoonist and illustrator, author of the noir graphic novel trilogy Kill My Mother
“Imagine growing up in a bucolic Eden populated by dozens of oddball cartoonists and you’ll have some idea of what Cullen Murphy’s youth was like. In Cartoon County, Murphy—son of the admired Prince Valiant illustrator—gives us a glimpse into the curious lives of these masters of pen and ink, and an unforgettable portrait of his father: independent, quirky, funny, and wise. A gem.” —Edward Sorel, cartoonist and illustrator, author of Mary Astor's Purple Diary and Unauthorized Portraits
“A lavishly illustrated memoir of the boom years of the American comic strip from Peanuts to Prince Valiant, as told by an insider.” —Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff
“What a find this book is for anyone who grew up, like me, devouring the funnies, cartoons, and comic books. Where did all these delightful things come from? A lot of it was from one neighborhood in Connecticut. With wit, deep affection, and playful erudition, Cullen Murphy has sketched and inked the backstory of this unique literary and artistic subculture, and wrapped into it a colorful, loving memoir of his parents and their very large family.” —Mark Bowden, author of Hué 1968 and Black Hawk Down
“An enchanting and irresistible memoir by the son of one of the great illustrators of the Connecticut School of artists. Cullen Murphy’s Cartoon County takes us back in time on a sentimental journey to his childhood and a lost world full of innocent splendor and delight, and makes our hearts glow.” —Christopher Buckley, author of The Relic Master and Losing Mum and Pup
“Cullen Murphy and I grew up in Connecticut during a golden age of cartooning and share many memories of those spirited times. The colorful characters from this vanished era come back to life in this heartfelt family history, which is also an outstanding work of comic scholarship.” —Brian Walker, son of Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), cartoonist, author of The Comics: The Complete Collection
“Part memoir, part cultural history, part treasure trove of drawings and photographs . . . and all thoroughly delightful as a celebration of the golden age of newspaper comics.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Cullen Murphy’s] memoir provides sharp but loving observations of the tight-knit clan that shared a strong commitment to family, a love of golf, and ‘that early-’50s Clark Kent-ish look’ . . . Nearly all the Connecticut School members are gone now, and newspaper comics, like newspapers themselves, are on the wane. Murphy’s paean to this bygone era and endangered art form make the reader keenly feel what’s been lost.” —Gordon Flagg, Booklist
“Immensely evocative . . . [Murphy] writes with a personable mix of affection and realism that offers a vivid sense of what it was like to . . . be a working cartoonist in the decades following WWII.” —Publishers Weekly