Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Age of Make-Believe

Cullen Murphy (God's Jury) did not have the traditional childhood growing up in Fairfield County, Conn., in the 1950s and 1960s. "Normal" for Murphy consisted of coming home from school with his seven siblings to find a father (who trained with and posed for Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post portraits) drawing pictures and watching TV all day. It meant taking Polaroid selfies of family members in various costumes and poses as inspiration for future comic strips or other artistic ventures. And it was hobnobbing with the brotherhood of artists and kings of the Sunday funnies collectively known as the Connecticut School--Jerry Dumas (Sam & Silo), Curt Swan (Superman), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) and Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones)--at dinner parties or in casual conversation.

In fact, the artists who called Fairfield County home were pivotal in advancing the art and business of the comic strip, and Cartoon County is Murphy's homage to these giants of the American Century and a loving tribute to his father, John Cullen Murphy. The co-creator of Big Ben Bolt and artist for Prince Valiant honed his skills painting portraits of General Douglas MacArthur while serving as an aide-de-camp in World War II. Through photos and personal sketches, Murphy explores the importance of the comic strip. (Readers came to rue its absence more than that of primary news in one Hearst newspaper study.) He provides insight into the multitalented artists whose wit and wisdom transformed the form into something otherworldly. Cartoon County is a revelation to comic newcomers and a nostalgic treat for those readers weaned on the Sunday funnies. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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