A Century of Cartooning

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, January 6, 1991

The Great American Comic Strip
By Judith O'Sullivan

"ONE HUNDRED Years of Cartoon Art'' is the subtitle for this marvelous book that recounts the history of comics, concentrating primarily on the syndicated daily newspaper strips, secondarily the recent surge of underground comics, with a brief nod to the superhero comic book. It contains 17 color and 120 black-and-white illustrations, including nearly every famous name in comicdom, from R.F. Outcault (creator of the first regular comic character ''The Yellow Kid'') to Berke Breathed. A biographical listing in the back is even more complete, with capsule biographies of dozens of artists and writers not mentioned in the text, as well as everyone who is.

Judith O'Sullivan is also responsible for the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service show, The Great American Comics. Most of the original pieces in that display are reproduced here.

There is always something to argue about with a compendium like this - not enough attention paid to this or that favorite artist, too much emphasis on another. But one could hardly argue with the broad strokes of the historical outline presented here, or the importance of the cartoonists on which O'Sullivan concentrates.

In the end, though, a book like this succeeds or fails not on the analysis presented in the text but in the quality of the pictures. The illustrations are all either wonderful to look at or representative of some aspect of cartooning, and usually both. If fault is to be found with the book, it is only because we wish that it could be longer.