by Paul C. Tumey
Before “screwball” became a movie genre, it was a staple of other forms of American culture, including newspaper comic strips. Emerging from the pressures of a rapidly accelerating technological and information-drenched society, screwball comics offered a healthy dose of laughter and perspective. The disruptive, manic, and surreal verbal-visual comedy of these “funnies” fostered an absurdist sensibility embraced by The Marx Brothers (who took their names from a popular comic strip), W. C. Fields, Tex Avery, Spike Jones, Ernie Kovacs, and Mad magazine.
Comics scholar Paul C. Tumey traces the development of screwball as a genre in magazine cartoons and newspaper comics, presenting the lives and work of around two dozen cartoonists, with an art-stuffed chapter on each. The book offers a wealth of previously un-reprinted comics unleashing fresh views of some of America’s greatest and most-loved cartoonists, including George Herriman (Krazy Kat), E.C. Segar (creator of Popeye), Winsor McCay (Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend), Rube Goldberg (The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K.) and Bill Holman (Smokey Stover). In addition, readers will be delighted to discover previously “lost” screwball masters, such as Gene Ahern (The Squirrel Cage), Gus Mager (Sherlocko the Monk), Milt Gross (Count Screwloose), George Swanson ($alesman $am) and others.