Here's my reviews from the International Journal of Comic Art 6:1, Spring 2004 in uneditred form. The part about Denver Square is sadly dated now especially the line about newspapers supporting their cartoonists:
Charles Brooks, editor. Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year 2003 Edition, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2003. ISBN 1-58980-090-7.
Ed Stein. Denver Square: We Need a Bigger House!, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2003. ISBN 1-58980-115-6.
John Chase. The Louisiana Purchase: An American Story, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2002. ISBN 1-58980-084-2.
Bob Artley. Christmas on the Farm, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2003. ISBN 1-58980-108-3.
Bob Artley. Once Upon a Farm, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2001. ISBN 1-56554-753-5.
Una Belle Townsend and Bob Artley. Grady’s in the Silo, Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2003. ISBN 1-58980-098-2.
The decline of comic art in America, whether comic strips, comic books, editorial cartoons or most recently hand-drawn animation, has been an accepted belief for at least a decade. Given the proliferation of cartoon characters in all media with attendant licensing, the movies based on comic books, dozens of museum and library exhibits per year, and the rising consumption of manga, I wonder how accurate this truism is. When a small American publisher like Pelican publishes over a dozen books by cartoonists, perhaps the field is changing and not diminishing. Pelican’s recent offerings run an interesting gamut – for this review, I have one editorial cartoon collection, one comic strip collection by an editorial cartoonist, one historical comic strip collection, and three apparent children’s books by an editorial cartoonist (see IJoCA 3:1 & 4:2 for other Pelican reviews).
Brooks’ 31st collection of editorial cartoons continues his useful sampling and should be a regular purchase by anyone interested in the field. Clay Bennett of the Christian Science Monitor (see IJoCA 5:1) won most of the major awards in 2002, including the Pulitzer, but to my eyes, his obviously computer-generated work is overly slick and reproduces badly in black and white. Ongoing Catholic church scandals got a hard-hitting section, as did, in a sign of the second Gilded Age, Enron’s collapse. 2002, and thus the book, was heavy on terrorism cartoons, and the youthful suicide bomber wrapped in dynamite sticks needs to be retired. An especially unfortunate example of a terrorism cartoon was Steve Kelley’s cartoon of Snoopy deciding to go after Bin Laden. Inexplicably, no cartoons by 2001 Pulitzer winner Ann Telnaes were included.
Ed Stein is a political cartoonist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and he also does a non-syndicated comic strip for them. “Denver Square” has been published since 1997, and a selection of strips from five years is included in the book. The strip follows a middle-class family of three, who are joined by live-in in-laws. Stein consciously decided to make his strip local, so the Denver Broncos football team, local wildfires, the Columbine High School murders, and the excesses of the tragic Jon Benet Ramsey murder investigation all are topics of the strip. As this list makes clear, Stein’s political cartoonist instincts are frequently on display in the strip. Both despite and because of its local focus, Stein’s strip is a good one, and this book is a nice example about what is still possible when newspapers support their cartoonists.
Non-fiction comic strips such as “Texas History Movies” (see IJoCA 5:2) have recently been rediscovered, and Chase’s “The Louisiana Purchase” is a reprint of 1950s strips with a text introduction that adds more detailed context. Moving far beyond Jefferson’s purchase, Chase begins with the discovery of America, and slowly moves through various explorers and a basic history of the settlement of the United States, even including two strips on the creation of the dollar sign. The strips are well-drawn competent basic history which I enjoyed, and much of IJoCA’s readership should too, but I am not sure today’s students have enough interest in comic strips for this reprint to attract a school-age audience.
Cartoonists have written children’s books (i.e. books written specifically for children and not collections of their work) throughout the entire twentieth century, and many recent notable examples spring to mind – masters such as Steig and Seuss, but also Breathed, Larson, Bliss, Spiegelman, Sfar, and Stamaty. Retired midwestern editorial cartoonist Artley illustrated Townsend’s true story of a cow caught in a feed silo. There is nothing particularly ‘cartoony’ about his illustrations, and my five-year-old daughter pronounced the story as ‘nice.’ Artley’s other two books recall his experiences growing up on a farm in the 1920s and collect drawings from his syndicated cartoons and “Once Upon A Farm” weekly half-page. These books are packaged as children’s books, but are really for an older audience; perhaps even one that remembers a lost rural way of life. Artley’s text is serviceable, and his drawings, either pen and ink or watercolor, are very good. There is some overlap between the two books, and the cartoon component of either is slight, but both are recommended.
News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.