Reviews

New York Times, review by Garry Trudeau, December 11, 2017

Cullen Murphy has had other notable successes as an editor, essayist and author, all presumably head-clearing pursuits that give him a valuable perspective lacking in those of us who rarely come up for air. I was especially moved by his modest appraisal of the ultimate significance of our profession: “Was it anything more noteworthy than bringing laughter (and adventure) to other human beings, while keeping the show on the road?

Wall Street Journal, review by John Canemaker, November 17, 2017

Mr. Murphy knows intimately the milieu of which he writes. His father, John Cullen Murphy, drew the popular dramatic strips “Big Ben Bolt” and “Prince Valiant,”... The younger Murphy worked with his father on “Prince Valiant” for 25 years, gaining hands-on experience in the craft of popular art making. That, and his familiarity with his family’s artist neighbors, form the heart of a personal account he shares here with great affection and veracity.

Washington Post, review by Glen David Gold, December 22, 2017

[T]his book is seriously charming, in the sense that it made me want to travel to the enchanted time and place that Murphy presents. “Cartoon County” made me wish I lived in a world where Dad made the mailman pose as a Greek statue for a photo reference for his strip, where the evening watering hole was called The Pen & Pencil, and where having a lousy golf handicap was the worst of all realities.

Boston Globe, review by Dan Wasserman, December 8, 2017

The art in “Cartoon County’’ is as lovingly reproduced as the anecdotes, showcasing the strips as well as the artists’ preliminary drawings, war sketches, and other pieces. The senior Murphy’s loose, expressive watercolors are particularly striking and a surprising contrast to the realistic renderings of his strips.

National Book Review, review by Ann Fabian, January 23, 2018

We learn a lot from Cullen Murphy about how cartoonists worked, plotted their stories, sharpened their pencils and polished their gags.... Women could wear bikinis in cartoon country, but never show a belly button.  Sloppy soldiers couldn’t leave dirty socks on chairs.  Boxers, barbarians, and cavemen could bare their chests but bare-chested men couldn’t have nipples—a challenge, for sure, for a man drawing a story about Big Ben Bolt.

Washington Post, review by Michael Cavna, January 11, 2018

On one level, Murphy has crafted a tender memoir to his late father, John Cullen Murphy, the virtuosic artist who drew the comic strips Prince Valiant (created by the legendary Hal Foster) and Big Ben Bolt. But more broadly, the author’s beautifully filigreed work is a love letter to both a place — the then-affordable Connecticut suburbs where scores of cartoonists and commercial artists all lived, door to door and nib to nib — as well as to a time, the “high summer” of the American midcentury, when syndicated comics held a central place in pop culture.

Open Letters Monthly, review by Steve Donoghue, November 10, 2017

Cartoon County is in its own way every bit as gripping an adventure as any of the cartoon adventures created by its many subjects. It recounts in lively detail the great heyday of the American cartooning industry and peoples that heyday with rogues, villains, time-servers, worrywarts, pranksters – and, perched at a tilted drawing board and armed with ink-dipped brushes, a hero at heart of the story.

Kirkus, September 12, 2017

Part memoir, part cultural history, part treasure trove of drawings and photographs, many previously unpublished—and all thoroughly delightful as a celebration of the golden age of newspaper comics.

National Book Review, November 11, 2017

[I]n his enchanting memoir and cultural history, Vanity Fair editor-at-large Murphy illuminates how the arcane knowledge, trade secrets, and apprenticeships involved with cartooning and illustrating harked back to the medieval guilds. For years, Murphy wrote Prince Valiant, the comic strip illustrated by his father, John Cullen Murphy (who had apprenticed with Norman Rockwell) and in Cartoon County he has now vivified his father’s world in living color.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2017

Cullen crafts an immensely evocative look at an art colony many don’t know existed. He writes with a personable mix of affection and realism that offers a vivid sense of what it was like to be in that crowd, and to be a working cartoonist in the decades following WWII. Particularly fascinating are the parts of the book on Cullen’s father’s experiences in the Army and on his father’s relationship with his mentor, Norman Rockwell.


Press

NPR, "Fresh Air," with Terry Gross, December 5, 2017

"One of the characteristics of cartooning families was that the cartoonist had somehow figured out how to live his life on his own terms... It took a lot of ingenuity and creativity to cobble the right ingredients together. And they had all somehow managed to do it."

Atlantic Monthly, by Corby Kummer, November 21, 2017

It is a loving, precise, and delightful portrait of a world Murphy was “powerfully drawn to” as a child, though he knew “even then that its days were numbered and that before long it would disappear.

New York Times, by John Williams, December 21, 2017

Murphy’s graceful tribute to his father, John “Jack” Murphy, the artist behind the majestic “Prince Valiant,” knows comics creators are among the most dimly perceived of celebrities. In his review, Garry Trudeau calls the book a “stylishly written and illustrated field guide to the American Cartoonist and his midcentury habitat.”

Vanity Fair, August 3, 2017 

"In boxes at my home I keep hundreds of the old Polaroids that my father took of himself, a photographic record as prodigious as that for any president, though pictures of Eisenhower and Kennedy using a garbage-can lid as a shield or delivering a right hook to a floor lamp are rare. My father is in his mid-30s when the pictures start. He is in his mid-80s when they stop. His hair thins and whitens. A beard appears. The exaggerated facial posturing (“Happy!”) never really changes, but the trim former army officer slowly morphs into Don Quixote."

Poynter, by James Warren, January 2, 2018

In journalism, people of our generation can fall prey to mythologizing the past. But I found myself reading this and saying, "Oh, my goodness, what a stunning array of talent, what artistry, what often provocative creative vision!" There's no real counterpart today..."

Daily Mail, by Ann Schmidt, January 10, 2018 

The comics section of the newspaper holds any number of worlds in its pages: the Norwegian village where Viking Hägar the Horrible had his mishaps, the fictional US Army military post where Beetle Bailey avoided responsibility and Camelot where Prince Valiant went on daring, epic adventures as a knight of King Arthur's Round Table.... In his new book Cartoon County, Cullen Murphy tells of growing up at the heart of that world...

The American Scholar, with Stephanie Bastek, December 8, 2017 

Cartoon County is part memoir, part history of the giants of the comics world, who drew Superman, Beetle Bailey, Hägar the Horrible, The Wizard of Id … and a bevy of strips and gags read by millions of Americans.

The Comics Journal, with Alex Dueben, January 24, 2018 

"There is a nostalgia.... everyone lived relatively close to each other and weren’t just talking on Twitter but were actually spending time together. It was something that had a physical reality."

WSHU Public Radio, with Tom Kuser, December 25, 2017 

In his latest book, Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe, Cullen recalls the unusual circle of friends that his family was a part of and their work world of make believe that were strands in the fabric of daily American life for decade.

The Virtual Memories Show, with Gil Roth, December 11, 2017

[Cartoon County] tells the story of Prince Valiant cartoonist John Cullen Murphy and the community of cartoonists, illustrators and comic-book artists who settled the southeastern corner of Connecticut in the ’50s and ’60s. 

Bloggingheads.TV, with Robert Wright, December 19, 2017

The world [Cartoon County] conveys is an idyllic world...

Washington Post, by Michael Dirda, December 11, 2017

[C]ombines pictures and text in striking ways... Cullen Murphy reminisces about 1950s and '60s comic strips and the artists who drew "Beetle Bailey," "Blondie," "Popeye" and "Prince Valiant" (this last the work of his father, John Cullen Murphy).

Work in Progress, with Annie Fadiman, November 2017

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.

NPR "Marketplace," with 

"I don't think my mother's parents ever really fully accepted that what he did was work. I don't think he really regarded what he did as work. One of the happiest places that he ever spent time in was the studio. His family came out there all the time. He was living in something of an invented world, creating stories that weren't real — except that they were putting food on the table."  

WICN, with Mark Lynch, October 18, 2017

[Cartoon County] is a wonderful memoir about growing up in the house of a comic artist...

Literary Hub, November 29, 2017

"My father’s fluidity with a pencil is one of my earliest memories of him, and a reliable and familiar constant ever after. There was a practiced thoughtlessness and an easy physicality to it that you also see in chefs and carpenters, barbers and tailors. He never sharpened a pencil mechanically. The tip was trimmed with a single-edged razor, the wood shaved off in thin wedges as the pencil turned in his fingers after each slice."

Connecticut Post, by Joe Meyers, November 7, 2017

“It was a different world — more like a small town,” [Murphy] adds of his memories of the Cos Cob section of Greenwich before Interstate 95 sliced through Fairfield County. In those days, teachers, merchants and laborers could still afford to live in the towns in which they worked. “Cartoon County” was prompted by Murphy’s desire to tell the story of his dad’s many years as an illustrator and cartoonist, but also to present the Connecticut community that nurtured him.

Greenwich Time, by Alexandra Villarreal, November 30, 2017

Inside this artistic microcosm, Cullen spent formative years snapping photos of his father, or listening to dad speak with other cartoonists about the industry. Formatted as part memoir, part history, “Cartoon County” is his way of paying homage to a universe that is now dwindling and might have been forgotten if it were not for his writing.

Boston Athenaeum, by Mary Warnement, December 2017

Murphy’s book is an evocation of a now-vanished world, when scores of the country’s top comic strip artists lived and worked a few miles from one another in Connecticut. As Murphy put it when we spoke, “Fairfield County, with its large concentration of cartoonists in the mid-twentieth century—my father centrally among them—is the locus of my book.” Cartoon County ranges widely—where did cartoonists get their ideas? what were their ideas? were they funny in person? could they draw?—and is held together throughout by a son’s loving portrait of a father.

Vanity Fair, by Lindsay Schneider, December 22, 2017

In this charming, quirky, and life-affirming memoir, Vanity Fair’s editor-at-large, Cullen Murphy, assesses the legacy of his cartoonist father, John Murphy. Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe celebrates the spirited work of Murphy and some of the many illustrators, comic-strip, and comic-book artists who lived and worked in idyllic southwestern Connecticut.

Folio, by Steve Smith, December 2017

This personal account is part biography of his father, thoughtful contemplation on the art of illustration and comics history, and part history of this small colony of creatives. Murphy is at his best reflecting on the personalities behind the pictures and how they informed the characters and comics we saw.

Valley News, by EmmaJean Holley, January 11, 2018

Cartoon County also shares a collection of previously unseen, often remarkable sketches, paintings and unpublished cartoons by Murphy’s father and his contemporaries, as well as old photographs depicting them. Mostly, though, it’s a love letter to the bountiful funny pages of yesteryear, and an ode to the servicemen-turned-suburbanite oddballs — especially his father — who created a shared experience for millions of readers.

New York Times, January 31, 2018

"But it wasn’t just the craftsmanship that Mort sought to preserve. It was also the history — the picture of ordinary life that comic strips capture in ink. Imagine the insights we might glean from a year of “Beetle Bailey” created in some lonely Roman outpost on Hadrian’s Wall. Or a year of “Family Circus” from a medieval quill in Aquitaine. A year of “Pogo” as the trauma of the Reformation unfolded. A year of “Blondie” from riotous Tudor England. A year of “Doonesbury” from the time of the American Revolution.