In my mind, this is the most important contribution to comic strip history published this year. Tumey’s excellent research validates and revives a dominant style of comics of the first four decades of the medium’s history that may seem shallow, silly or just unfunny to modern sensibilities. The imaginative verve is timeless, however. This book fills a real void in our historical sense of comic strips and leads to important questions about how the medium related to the times.
Nonsense, slapstick, harmless anarchy formed a kind of lightly transgressive response to modern times in both early comics and film. But even if we don’t quite get the humor anymore, the antic visual energy of overlooked figures like Walter R. Bradford, Eugene Zimmerman and Clare Dwiggins is irresistible. Tumey takes a biographical approach to the screwball style, highlighting fifteen artists. But along the way he also references scores of others to create a rich overview of a lost style of popular art.